“Bricolage: a French term for improvisation or a piece of makeshift handiwork.” (Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms, ed Chris Baldick). That’s the buzzword for self-styled “theatre bricoleurs” Dirty Market, who set out to “use open, innovative approaches to make involving performances… creating things from existing materials, being creative and resourceful, putting things together in unexpected ways; building by trial and error rather than based on theory.” It’s like theatre meets DIY.
Their latest construction, Be Good Revolutionaries, is a cobbled together sort of structure; an amalgamation of fragments devised by the company on a theme of revolution, with a hazy narrative about an absent rebel leader who’s left behind a wife and family unsure how to cope with his absence. An estate agent’s particulars would dress it all up pretty sweetly: a lovingly-restored monument to revolution packed full of original features, with drapes at the entrance, a flautist in the porch, dirt on the ground and drawings on the walls. From the balcony – complete with on-seat revolutionary message – you’re encouraged to gaze out on the landscape of political and family struggle; to meditate on themes of belonging, ambition and political fervour through the prism of one family’s story.
It’s an encouraging set-up, but offers more in the window than it does in the viewing. There’s some dodgy structural engineering for a start; a handful of captivating moments don’t disguise there being little by way of foundation for these bricoleurs’ tinkering to complement. The loose plot of a family left behind by a revolutionary father figure, trying to figure out their own places in the political framework and further tested when a solider arrives unprompted at the door, succumbs to sloppy characterisation; the males in particular (an absent father, a randy soldier and a teenager struggling with father-power-complex issues) are little more than caricatures.
But it’s a question of form, too. Face-offs between the revolutionary soldier who’s stumbled from the jungle into this overly-ritualistic world and the abandoned wife of the revolution afford immense dramatic potential, but give in to a favouring of style over content; their key interactions break down into rehearsal-room-style exercises of question-and-answer exchanges and written speeches pulled from costumes. Deft design touches of bodies wrapped in sheets and a pedal-power radio are let down by poor sightlines (I largely missed a character’s entrance and some chalkboard action to my right). It all feels just a little bit too homemade.
And that’s the frustration. Here’s a chance to build a towering, emblematic structure in a landscape of Jubilee pomp, Middle Eastern revolt, even Falklands reminiscing, and you get the feeling that’s really what directors Georgina Sowerby and Jon Lee are most keen to do (the former’s blog for The Independent on this very theme is though-provoking reading). But such ambition makes greater ideological – and thematic – demands than the production is able to deliver, over-concerned as it is with exercises in form. Try as you might to overlook the ramshackle structure, to accept that for every view you seek out there’s a wobbly flight of stairs leading up to it, there’s ultimately little here to leave you wanting to make an offer.