There’s a level of trepidation I always feel before I see gig theatre – not that I’ve seen loads and loads – a vague snobbery maybe, residual from being told when I was little that musicals are silly, but also maybe a hint of fear and excitement at the absolute totality of emotion that live music can add to a show.
The humour in nabokov’s show is broad and physical, garnering these enormous belly laughs from a packed audience. Our protagonist, our Odysseus (played deftly by the supremely talented Marc Pell), he’s wide-eyed and charming, eager to please in his stifling city desk-job but just as easily distracted by the drums beside his computer, fingers constantly inching towards his drumsticks. He contorts his body over his work, scrunching his forehead up, but when he reaches for his sticks he’s fluid and he flies.
The thing is, not much happens in Suitman Jungle. We follow this man through a single day at the office, we see and hear his drum and bass daydreams contrasted against the greyness of corporate city life. I don’t know huge amounts about drum and bass, but when music is used in gig theatre or musical theatre, it’s usually meant to support and bolster the words, right? And when there’s not much narrative thrust in a story, the music should, ideally, provide that push, that momentum. So it’s that in Suitman Jungle, there’s not quite enough distinction between the tracks to suggest progression. I couldn’t feel the music or the narrative rising to any sort of climax because I don’t think there’s any subtle way of building up drum and bass. You start at 10 and you inch up to 10.5, maybe, but that’s about it.
The messages you come away with feel as artificial as the signs plastered around the hot little room that tell us to MAKE NOISE and MOVE AROUND. Follow your dreams, do what makes you happy. I’ve heard these before, and that’s fine (no-one could ever profess to make a truly original show), but here they feel as hollow as the types of motivational quotes you find in corporate offices.
This story feels tired and I don’t know why I should listen anymore. I’m distanced – I feel like I’m being held at arms-length by this show and I don’t want to be. Plunge me in! Show me the knottiness, the gore, the mess inside this guy’s head! That’s the point of theatre right? To reach inside your chest cavity and grab the stuff that feels uncertain and take it apart, piece by piece.
I come to gig theatre to feel things through the liveness and the music that you can’t quite get in traditional theatre – I want there to be sweat on my face and for my heart to throb in my chest as I jump up and down to the music. I want my voice to go hoarse as I shout affirmations to our hero onstage. And I could see the moisture on Marc Pell’s face as he performed, the way his face bent and broke in a million different ways. I just wish I could feel it.
Suitman Jungle was at The Roundhouse on June 27th, as part of The Last Word Festival. For more details, including future dates, click here.