Stan’s Cafe’s show, The Capital, is set on two twin travelators. It is a capitalist’s idea of heaven, where everyone is always moving, progressing, and life is never fully stopped. In a world where nothing is still, to be in transit is the only way to live. When everything is in transit we grasp for meaning in every step – the speed, the angle, the emotion that it carries. We see people moving from A to B, walking in the hinterland that happens when walking becomes a mechanism for progress, rather than something that is performed for the joy of it.
Stan’s Cafe ensure the company distance themselves from the audience as they morph from actors into moving statues. Nina West’s cacophonous sound design fills the huge theatre until it feels bulbous, like we are being slowly compressed. Her squeaks, glitches, and crescendos jar up against each other, scratching at the meaning of the moving images presented in front of the audience. The soundtrack spans the whole 90 minutes, becoming white noise, fading in and out of focus, and drowning out any glimpses of dialogue. The Capital makes a most perfect mirror image of its audience with no words at all.
By this I think I mean that the only true way to represent us, to represent modernity (in all its monotony and darkness) is for the company to move across the stage in opposite directions, so that we follow an endless movement; the truest way to reflect us is in a way we find hard to understand (and by that I think I mean live art or dance or shows that don’t always tell you what they’re doing) because what modernity show us is that a strange durational art piece might be the most true articulation of our experience yet.
Airport lounges, hospital waiting rooms, bus stops, queues for the post office: places that are not places at all. Places that sit in stasis in a world that encircles them. Their function is transit, to move people somewhere, to get to something; a place to wait in order to go elsewhere. These are the places that James Yarker’s show creates (at least in its first moments). Meaning is made and destroyed in seconds – no scene can last for long, because the travelators do not allow for that. The constant flow interrupts stories, introduces new people, creates catalysts, and changes fates.
Just as scenes in The Capital have a limited time span, so do the sections of this review. Each paragraph is 100 words exactly, and the switch in direction echoes that of the moving floor on Yarker’s stage. Meaning is made in those moments, and the individual stories stand on their own, but more crucially create a kaleidoscopic view of an inner city drenched in inequality. What is driven at throughout the show is that the stories intersect and merge and diverge, but what you see is the gradually expanding gap between those that have and those that do not.
As stories repeat and echo, images shift and take on new meanings. Yarker appears to be interested in how inequality might be signified. A white woman walks next to a black woman, both in business wear but soon the black woman is stopped by chairs that appear in her way. She steps over them, moves them, avoids them, but they keep piling up and up and up and eventually she cannot keep up. The same happens to the white woman when a man joins her. How can we boil down the complexities of our social system into minute long montages?
Perhaps what Stan’s Cafe do best is to suddenly zoom in on their own theatricality. Life is strange, just as theatre is strange. The intersections lie in the weirdness, the performed, the untrue. Just as the piece seems to elongate into endless voided time where walking and moving are repeated and repeated without interruption, the back curtain falls and our trust of the illusion is ripped away. One of the stage managers runs frantically backstage with chairs, to keep the endless flow moving across the stage. Something necessarily shifts in our understanding of the metaphor, and the cycle is broken.
Or, maybe it isn’t broken. But even if it is not broken, it moves into a new realm. A second space is created – perhaps it offers a way out?
The Capital was on at Birmingham REP from 24-27 October. More info here.