Reviews BirminghamNational Published 10 January 2019

Review: Commonism at Birmingham REP

8-11 January

Starting a conversation: Eve Allin reviews a new collaboration between Andy Smith (UK) and Amund Sjølie Sveen (Norway)

Eve Allin
Andy Smith and Amund Sjølie Sveen in Commonism at Birmingham REP. Photo: Graeme Braidwood.

Andy Smith and Amund Sjølie Sveen in Commonism at Birmingham REP. Photo: Graeme Braidwood.

Andy Smith and Amund Sjølie Sveen are having a conversation. In a theatre, in Birmingham, in the UK, in the world. These things are all significant for Smith and Sjølie Sveen, and in a growing, expanding and ever more complicated world they are so acutely aware of the ‘accidents of their existence’. They see these as their privilege, mainly – their position as relatively affluent white men. Because of that, I think there’s a sense that they feel like there’s not much left for them to do besides start something. Or at least try to. They’re so self aware, and they are really trying to combat the systems that privilege them, and I really respect them for that.

This kind of show is so hard to respond to because it’s not really a show. When I sit in that audience, these two men aren’t presenting me with a piece of art necessarily, they’re just asking me to listen. Sjølie Sveen and Smith often face outwards, towards us, their eyes search for something, I think. It’s the same look my seminar teachers give a class of silent, sleep deprived students. In this case, though, they don’t want us to reply. It’s a bit like a real life podcast.

Theatre is a breeding ground for conversation. It’s what we want it to be anyway, what we all hope it could be. Commonism strips that all back to its most basic concept. Having and beginning a conversation. About the world. Like, the whole world. No small thing. Often the two men are bowled over by the size of it. They are extremely articulate, of course, because it’s rehearsed and it’s scripted but it feels authentic nonetheless. These things are being grappled with (in real time?) and tugged apart at their seams. The conversation is direct, for the most part. Sometimes I wish they would stray into the abstract, the absurd, because that’s the kind of theatre I like. But by the end I’m glad they haven’t. We are so grounded in the here and now that it would feel gratuitous to revel in any kind of artistic fantasising or dystopic verses.

At the end they hand us books. Manifestos. Small, white and red – the allusions do not escape the (sceptical?) audience. There is a tangible attempt at change here. The concept, articulation, and execution of this piece is straightforward and tries not to be idealistic. It’s very interested in collective responsibility, and that’s something I’m interested in as well, so I was glad to be in the room. I wonder slightly how far they plan to take this. This is either the precipice of something big, or it is another couple of voices in a sea awash with opinion. I’m not sure. What I am sure about is that it is the most directly political and active piece of theatre I have ever engaged with and there is something quite radical about that.

Commonism is at Birmingham REP until 11 January. More info here.


Eve Allin is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Commonism at Birmingham REP Show Info

Produced by Louise Blackwell

Directed by Andy Smith and Amund Sjølie Sveen

Written by Andy Smith and Amund Sjølie Sveen

Cast includes Andy Smith and Amund Sjølie Sveen


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