Can the medium speak louder than the message? Volcano by Clerke and Joy looks like the Mouldy Peaches sound. It has the assured amateurism of Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind or Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno series. It winks and feints, but in the end, after the immediacy of the creative presentation, the story that it leaves behind is too slight, too momentary, to feel even this brief hour is ultimately worth our time. It’s a frustrating feeling at the end of a show which stakes itself on magnifying the miniscule and making light of the immense.
Iceland shrinks to a mound of dirt which Rachael Clerke and Josephine Joy, narrator-janitors of the stage, corral with their palms into the approximate shoreshapes of a clutched map. Groups of wooden building blocks make the cities and towns. Then they destroy the map floor with brooms and make a landing crew team of themselves, guiding in a plane – the plane that holds our unspeaking protagonist, a nameless disaffected pilot who has a minor breakdown while grounded in Reykjavik during the Eyjafjallajökull eruptions in 2010. (One of the problems is that the ash cloud is no longer ‘recent news’ and the inconveniences and grumblings of the month of May four years ago have been muted by time. It is hard to heave such transient frustrations back into the heart.) The massive effort that goes into impressing upon us the importance of the Pilot (an impressively still, unblinking and duct-leaking Adrian Spring) crying in a departure lounge and subsequently giving a bad performance at a karaoke bar is what I found my spirit rebelling against. I could care for a lonely crying man, but being incited to care with such inventive insistence made the empathy at my disposal dry up.
I became, quite against my will, hard of heart. And this is a particular shame because I enjoyed so much of the invention on show. Dr Mike Cassidy (played uncannily by real-life Dr Mike Cassidy) holds forth on the mechanics and stages of volcanic eruption, as all the old tricks are reproduced in front of our eyes – the baking soda and vinegar, the shaken bottle of Tizer spraying as clouds of talcum powder waft in the air, and finally even the Mentos in the Diet Coke – all in a beautiful papier-mache (or perhaps something more sturdy?) volcano that any primary school teacher would weep for joy over. A bit of business with an ordinary household balloon made me feel about the most tense that I ever felt have in a theatre. And the volcanos of the world were performed as little monologues, with Krakatoa a Russian gymnast, Vesuvius a morose one-hit wonder, and Eyjafjallajökull a nervous punning first-time stand-up. Every bit of it a jingle-jangle joy, and I guffawed and grinned throughout. I was an instant and complete fan of the deadpan duo. I was in a perfect place to be blown away by a smart conceit, but none ultimately came to match the smart package. It was beautiful, it was ephemeral, it was twee in the best way. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?