If, at the basest level, comedy is something which makes you laugh and tragedy is something which makes you cry, then TOOT have created a kind of nostalgiady with Be Here Now, a show which seems to be trying to elicit that most slippery of feelings, something so personal and so hard to predict: a sense of nostalgia.
But nostalgia is a complicated thing, much more likely to blindside you on a Tuesday morning, when a room you’ve never been in before smells a certain way, than to come on command. Though TOOT work hard to artificially provoke that feeling, Be Here Now feels half-formed, like an hour of watching people sort of, kind of, agree with each other that the 1990 was something which happened.
This is the decade in which company members Stuart Barter, Terry O’Donovan and Clare Dunn were teenagers, and while TOOT do evoke something of time they don’t seem overly interested in discussing or critiquing the 90’s much beyond its musical output. A song belongs to you from whenever you first hear it: conjuring up the autumn when it was released for some, a fondly remembered hot summer afternoon for others. It’s hard to generate any sense of a universal experience from music alone, it’s just too personal, and the individual stories here, such as they are, are too thinly sketched to sustain a show if you don’t or can’t bring much of yourself to it.
All three performers play a stylised version of themselves, chatting directly to the audience and reminiscing, and each has a story of their own – a memory or a love story they are keen to relive. Barter asks the audience to participate in recreating a particular teenage party, at which he plans to meet a recent ex-girlfriend; O’Donovan talks to his Kylie poster and suffers through advice about girls from the male friend he is secretly pining for; Dunn unpicks a brief but formative relationship via a mix-tape, or rather, mix-minidisc.
There are some nice bits and pieces in here. Dunn’s plotline feels the most developed, and the moment when she is given the music by the boy she likes, noticed by the boy she likes, is evocatively jubilant. There’s a lot of movement and dance in Be Here Now, not all of it successful, but when the movement sequence Dunn made while listening to the mix-tape is echoed upon meeting this boy again, now a man, after all these years and in spite of her marriage, TOOT succeed in communicating very simply an idea that they do not generally do enough to explore: that nostalgia is ultimately a trap, a kind of illusion. That we can’t go back.
But these moments of depth and originality are too few and far between. The show tends to languish, caught between three plot-lines that have very little distance to travel, and filled instead with gimmick after gimmick: people are pulled from the audience and stuck on a beanbag in the middle of the floor to listen to the song that reminds them of their first love; then, at one point, the whole audience is asked to listen to music with their eyes closed, passing objects from person to person.
If Be Here Now has a point, beyond the fact that most people’s first experiences of love tend to be fairly awkward and silly, and that music is evocative, it’s hard to say. TOOT’s last show, Ten Out of Ten, worked chronologically through one fictional character’s life and achievements to look at the arbitrariness of the way we define success. Although some of its content bordered on faddy, there was narrative drive, a much clearer voice and far more depth there than there is in Be Here Now, which feels rather wan in comparison.