There’s silly string on stage, and dancing, and formalwear, and talk of hope and dreams for the future. Ben Kulchivit and Clara Potter-Sweet’s debut performance is every celebration rolled into one surging, joyful package, undercut with a hint of melancholy. Because both their stated aspirations and their whole lives (they’re frighteningly young, barely 20) exist in a moment before it all happens, before the confetti lands.
They start the performance with a series of promises: they wed themselves to not being boring, to remember their lines, to a host of other aspirations that feel like they’re culled from primers or set texts. These vows feel heartfelt, cliched – and doomed. Because like any number of other celebrations, this performance lives in the gap between expected and real outcome, between intention and reality. It’s like a wedding (all romantic dreams, no dull practicalities) or a graduation party (all bright future, no grim un- or underemployment figures).
These festivities involve a lot of dancing. And it’s GREAT. Kulchivit and Potter-Sweet have this gangly awkwardness that makes everything they do a bit touching, a bit poignant, especially as they mix what could be physical abandon with the serious face of someone-trying-to-get-a-move-right. This is DIY, with none of the bravado and all of the seriousness. And I like that they’ve made some of their own songs, too, and the sing the other ones in off-key duets, instead of relying on the emotional insta-high of party bangers.
They’re capturing a hyper-specific state of dreamy euphoria, a sense heightened both by their own spontaneous feeling, halting speeches. They’re consumed by a longing, a kind of wild optimist dreaming for the future that traps them both in the present moment and in their own heads. What shakes them out of it is the intervention of an outside voice: they get a different person each day to come and read a prepared piece. At the show I see, it works brilliantly: it’s a story about the weirdly existentialist angst that pretty much everyone gets when they turn 26, and lose their Young Person’s Railcard (National Rail probably never dreamt they were creating a quiet, painful life marker of their own).
Like any number of performances by older artists, the most obvious criticism you could make of Celebration is that it feels a bit like a collection of interesting moments and ideas, layered together. You can definitely tie each section to the others, but sometimes it feels like reaching, gazing into the show’s visible entrails and inner workings and making a prediction.
That’s extra true of the show’s sections on Greek mythology and art and read out bits of theory, quoted verbatim. They feel like favoured moments culled from an arts degree’s worth of omnivorous reading. For me, they needed more unpacking, more space to breathe, maybe something to make their origins more legible.
But then, celebrations are the start of something, and that’s what this feels like. A gawky evocation of the present moment, a halting statement of intent, a beginning. I want to see what comes next.
Celebration is on at ZOO venues until August 28th. Book tickets here.