Reviews Manchester Published 23 July 2015

Flare 15: Double Bill

Contact Theatre ⋄ 16th July 2015

Getting away with it.

James Varney

Scenes for a conversation after viewing a Michael Haneke film – El Conde de Torrefiel

As a piece of theatre, Scenes for a conversation after viewing a Michael Haneke film is full on (sorry, promise I’ll abbreviate the title from now on). Surely something with a title like that has to be brilliant, though, right? How else could it get away with it? By now, you should be aware that, in my opinion, Scenes for a conversation Got Away With It. And it got away with a LOT.

I think it’s apt to describe Scenes for a conversation as having balls. Yes, in the traditional figurative sense of being determined and driven, but also in the literal sense of having lots of honest-to-goodness testicles about the stage. This was a very masculine show. And rather than being offered a considered, stand up cardboard cut-out critique of masculinity, we are blitzed. Story after story is told, en español, (with English audio translation) of Berlin sex dungeons, bar fights, death in taxis, paralysis, stag heads.

The stage is blank and white and sporadically punctuated with abstract assemblies of props, cast, pieces of movement. There’s an absolute authority in the theatrical language used in Scenes for a conversation and every choice made comes across simultaneously anarchic and smartly conceived. Want to know my favourite moment? We’re told the story of a group of friends who travel to a big city ostensibly to see the Easter procession, which ends up an excuse for a ‘bender’ (wish I knew what Spanish for bender was). The high point of this sequence involves one of the cast members stripping naked, dressing as Jesus and wiping the Spanish rojigualdaover his gooch, before waddling about the stage, grunting, with said flag hanging out of his arse.

Subtle? No. Though there were more subtle moments and I assure you the writing was very clever. It’s images like that one that will stick in my mind, though. And I don’t regret it a bit.

Actress – Sleepwalk Collective

It’s a tricky business, adopting vapidity as a device. If you really want to do it, you’ve got to go to some length to make sure the audience care enough to forgive/stay invested for the length of the show. Actress was 45 minutes long (at least – felt more like an hour to me) and stayed on the same track, making the same point for the majority of that.

Sleepwalk Collective’s Iara Solano Arana stands on a rotating podium, drowned in a vastness of a projected backdrop. For moments, the size of the active parts of the projection suggest it was designed for a smaller space, and I’d be interested to see this piece somewhere far smaller. In Contact’s cavernous Space 1, a lot of potential for Actress to give intensity is removed. Arana plays a sort of hyper-idealised Hollywood actress, slowly spewing hackneyed metaphor and empty strings of imagery. She does this for almost all of the show. There’s a brief moment where she plays with a rubber duck, which is fun, then she plunges right back in.

Actress (and, from what I gather, Sleepwalk Collective’s work in general) has gorgeous visuals, music and design but at the heart of this piece is an emptiness. And part of me appreciates that’s the point but I got that point within the first ten minutes. After the plateau of the first half hour or so, there’s a sequence where everything finally begins to decay – everything moves much faster, there’s some untranslated Spanish, there are emojis (loved the emojis – screw you, Jonathan Jones) and a conclusion hangs like a just-distant-enough carrot.

Then the show carries on for another ten minutes, and I slumped in my seat again. I understand language may be dead and useless, and we install archetypes onto ourselves in a search for meaning, and there’s a shallowness in belief in love and idols. But I got bored watching this piece, and I got no exploration, just a drawn-out declaration that proved itself right and nothing beyond that.


James Varney

James is a writer and theatre maker, based in the middle parts of England. He has created work with Daniel Bye, Josh Coates and Lenni Sanders and had work presented at Derby Theatre, The Royal Exchange, Manchester Literature Festival, Live at LICA and Camden People’s Theatre. James enjoys Peanut Butter, DIY Punk and Long Walks On The Beach.

Flare 15: Double Bill Show Info

Produced by El Conde de Torrefiel, Sleepwalk Collective




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