This double bill offers us two emerging artists, award winners of 2013s this year’s Platform 18 theatre-making award, and two raw, enthused, self conscious representations of gender, anger and confusion. It makes for a challenging evening.
Peter McMaster’s all male Wuthering Heights focuses on the angst ridden central male, Heathcliff. I have to admit I never finished Wuthering Heights as a teenager; I couldn’t bear the couple squabbling anymore. But as McMaster takes such liberty with the text as a stimuli rather than a framework, I don’t think it really matters. In fact, what both drew and threw me in this piece was the ensembles joy and flippancy with the themes and elements.
Delightfully, it features Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, and it comes in early, establishing the sense of frivolity. With glee and pride in the performers dance in a ring, skipping, lunging, pouting to out towards the audience – it’s probably the highlight of the piece – which has the performers enthusiasm and individuality at it’s core.
Conversely, later scenes delve into an almost suffocating emotional intensity, one particular scene involving a barrage of unrelenting personal questions, heaped onto a stoic silent performer, that become excessively oppressive in its duration and repetition.
This seesaw of passion and lightness throughout, aside from eventually becoming predictable, established an offbeat sense of rhythm for the piece as a whole – a roller coaster of fragmented, sometimes intriguing, sometimes hilarious, sometimes stilted vignettes, hanging together at points with too little focus or intent.
Yet, the piece has an appealing honesty about it. “It’s about seeing what happens when as a group of men you go to vulnerable places” says McMaster and, indeed, as the ensemble sit down for a final open conversation on future hopes, I feel I’ve come to know them all, almost personally. There’s certainly something refreshing and bold at the heart of this explorative piece.
The Platform 18 (formerly The Arches Award for Stage Directors) might well be considered an indicator of the future of Scottish theatre, but I sincerely hope Amanda Monfrooe’s ‘Poke’ isn’t an indicator of the future of humanity.
Poke is set in a horrifying, absurd future where rape has become the craze – or rather ‘the great madness’ – and there are only two women left in the world alive. The piece is a bizarre blend of mythology and satire, somber and biting with a polemic intensity that is at best puzzling and at worst disturbingly heavy-handed.
The debate at the heart of this piece is a classic; are we truly led by our bodies, our desires or even our animalistic tendencies, or can we actually strive to change things with learning, understanding, and culture. Unfortunately, it’s only until the penis puppet attired in Woody Alan glasses comes out that we get an alternative view to the frantic desperation of the lead women. Allegory is all well and good, but this discussion seemed so entrenched in it’s fabricated hell it wasn’t looking at the real picture anymore.
An element that struck me within both pieces was the marked awareness of the ensemble as a contingent, human, fractious whole – correcting or cutting into each others sentences in Monfrooe’s Poke or presenting a live direction of a exacting dramatic moment within McMaster’s Wuthering Heights. The implication of this is that we’re both at odds and working together to create something within theatre – and ostensibly life in general – and that through disagreement and collaboration we potentially reach a better end. I guess, what I wanted to see here was men and women working together, rather than entrapping each other in personal definitions.