In POST, Xavier de Sousa creates an environment where those attending feels less like an audience and more like guests. Part way between a theatre show, a Discovery Channel episode and a dinner party, POST straddles many forms.
The evening begins with de Sousa dousing a deep dish with some sort of alcoholic cooking oil. A match is struck and the fluid erupts into lively flames that quickly begin charring a chorizo sausage to partner a soup beckoning from a pan on the same table. The smell of meat cooking permeates the space and conjures a familiar smell of family dinners.
Our host lists options of what we’re able to call him, all variations on the name Xavier, pronounced in multiple accents with multiple abbreviations. Xav (as he settles on) asks questions to selected people in the room: ‘What is your name?’ ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Where do you consider home?’ He has brief conversations with several individuals and takes his time doing so. POST relies upon Xav’s charming, low-key energy to function. Like the kale and potato soup that is simmering in the background, nothing feels rushed. In these moments, we’re urged to consider our differences and unique understanding of home. Even someone’s name can be interpreted in numerous ways.
In the early moments of the show, Xav refers to a large Hogwarts-style book for guidance, perhaps as more of a crutch than an artistic choice. He reads directly from it, giving the performance a distinctly unpolished feel. Xav’s greatest asset as a performer is making a crowd feel comfortable. However, unlike the burnt chorizo, the show is undercooked. POST invites people into a safe space and encourages them to engage with the subject of home, but it doesn’t provoke enough yet. Though Xav asks questions, he does not interrogate the answers.
Towards the climax of the production, he invites three guests to join him at his table. He asks volunteers to stand and interviews them to see if they are right for the clique. On this particular evening there was an 18 year old who moved to England from Bangladesh at 11, a South Londoner who’d opted to stay living within the area she grew up in and an Australian, who thanks to a father working in the military, had experienced life in various pockets of the globe but had since settled in the UK for 28 years. Led by Xav, the conversations had around the table considered cultural differences. Xav asked the South Londoner if she felt welcome in other countries when she went on holiday – she did. Does she, he then continued, feel as though Britain welcomes others?
It was at this moment where a lingering pulsing sound began to get louder, eventually engulfing their speech. The lights dimmed. The conversation at the table continued whilst the rest of us were plummeted into oblivion. We were barred from hearing the answer. The exclusion marked the end of the show.
POST succeeds in generating an environment that brings people together and invites them to share in a culture, as led by Xav’s generous illustration of Portugal. But the lack of access to the more rigorous debates is baffling. The odd disconnect between engaging and discouraging feels like bad parenting, or perhaps bad leadership – which after all, might well be the point.
POST was on at the Ovalhouse. Click here for more details.