Moot – subject to debate, dispute or uncertainty; a mock judicial proceeding set up to examine a hypothetical case. Moot – having little or no practical relevance. A moot point – a question that’s open to debate; also, an irrelevant question, a matter of no importance. How can something mean two seemingly opposite things at once? Moot moot – an impractical debate? Debatably impractical? A debatable debate? An impractical impracticality? It’s one of those words that doesn’t sound like a word anymore after you’ve repeated it a few times. Moot Moot repeats (not the word ‘moot’, that’s never said). Moot Moot repeats a lot. You need to experience the repetition of Moot Moot to understand how it spirals you through amusement and frustration.
Rosana Cade and Ivor MacAskill play identical radio-show hosts Barry and Barry, dressed identically in grey suits, brown moustaches and glasses. They co-present the Barry and Barry show, a radio programme that is ‘all about you and your opinions’. No one ever phones. To fill the air time, they get stuck in seemingly endless feedback loops. ‘How are you, Barry? I’m good thanks, Barry, how are you? I’m good thanks Barry, how are you? I’m good thanks Barry, how are you?’ They riff banal questions off each other in an increasingly surreal word association, trying to provoke a response: What turns you on? What turns you off? Which of the on-off binary do you prefer? What about food that’s gone off? What do you think about sell by dates?
How do radio talk show hosts just keep talking? Is it a skill you can learn or a natural talent? I could never do it. Who are the people who phone into a radio programme anyway? Don’t they have anything better to do with their time? Couldn’t they just tweet about it?
Cade and MacAskill’s double act reminds me a lot of the Chuckle Brothers – in their charismatic back and forth, physical comedy and, yes, propensity to provoke irritation. The Chuckle Brothers’ classic ‘to me to you’ routine, in which they carry unwieldy objects, is matched by the Barries’ stage business with office chairs. In an absurd balletic sequence, Cade and MacAskill demonstrate capabilities of an executive office chair that I never knew existed, extending the headrest and footrest, reclining it like a dentist’s chair, lying on it face down and upside down, arms paddling. Could you see the Chuckle brothers as practitioners of live art? I think the association with the Chuckle Brothers is one that Cade and MacAskill would embrace (why else did they call their character Barry?), as it’s typical of the show’s combination of discourses; Moot Moot often feels like a cross between a Beckett play and a children’s TV programme. The Barries dance along to their own (extremely catchy) theme tunes. Yas Clarke’s sound design manages to be both puerile and intensely funny, boing and fart noises punctuating the Barries’ presenting. Barry and Barry’s voices are distorted, swooping upwards in existential dread, ‘Is it gooooooood? Am I gooooooood?’
“The phatic function is the part of communication which keeps open the line of communication itself; it is the means by which two or more speakers reassure themselves that not only are they being listened to, but they are also being understood. It is in this sense a part of communication that is separate from the exchange of meaning; it is, as it were, without content of its own” (Oxford Dictionary of Critical Theory). Barry and Barry’s conversation typifies the phatic function. They are talking for the sake of talking. But are they being understood? Are we their listeners? Are we listening? What are they trying to say? Or is it more about a yearning for a form of human connection? One of the few moments that cuts through the repetition loop is when Barry and Barry sing to each other, “I want to see through your eyes”. The song offers a fleeting, genuine moment of connection, in which the identical Barry and Barry paradoxically recognise and celebrate their difference from each other in being able to see the other Barry. But the moment is brief and not overstated as some kind of redemptive narrative (despite my frustrated desire that Barry and Barry would get together).
So, you could see Moot Moot as a reflection on contemporary communication. Our desire for connection. How we can get stuck in echo chambers in which everyone agrees with other. Or being too scared to express an opinion at all in case it’s shouted down. Here’s my opinion: I found Moot Moot more frustrating than funny. But I think that response is anticipated and accommodated by the show. Barry and Barry’s one caller expresses doubt, ‘I’m just not really sure about all of this.’ I feel the same.
Moot Moot is on at the Yard Theatre until 10th November. More info here.