SHOPPING FOR THE END
There's a moment in Ratatouille when Peter Crawley eats some ratatouille and is instantly transported back to his childhood by the memories bound up with that taste. Shopping for the End gave me a Ratatouille Moment (1). When I walked into the North Main Street shopping centre and saw the horrible fake pink marble tiling with the even horribler plastic pink grouting, it was like I was 5 again and my Nana was bringing me shopping in the Omni when people still called it the Omni and not Omni and Tesco hadn't yet bought out Crazy Prices and bland-serif-font-logo-ed their manically blue and orange bubblewriting.
This is not just scene-setting. At the heart of Shopping for the End is the contrast between childishness and the grubbiness that adult perspective brings. You would be hard pushed to find a setting that better evokes the latter than a dying shopping centre, or a discipline better suited to the former than juggling.
Juggling's difficulty to wow-factor ratio is not a straight line graph. Basic stuff can be quite impressive, and a huge leap in difficulty often makes an audience only slightly more impressed. That is why technically virtuosic juggling can be quite boring to watch without patter, and that is why it was such a relief to find out that this wasn't going to be showcase juggling. Not even a little bit. It was juggling as a game of 'let's see if I can do this'. Can Darragh roll in a circle around the floor with a juggling ball balanced on his elbow? Let's find out! Can Darragh catch a ball with his left hand AND his right hand AND his neck? Let's find out! Can Darragh spin twice and catch a ball behind his back? Three times? Let's find out! Can Darragh move with a heartbreaking fluidity that makes you wonder if he's a robot cat? Yes.
That quality of exploration made something lovely of the rough edges, the moments where we watched a performer watch things go wrong and react accordingly. Anyone sick of me interpreting performance through musical forms, look away. It was like an étude, a form whose appeal depends on the audience perceiving the difficulty. More, on the real possibility or presence of fuck-ups. Beyond musical études – on specific intervals, on scales, on arpeggi, on a specific finger – Quéneau and Perec are literary étude writers, as is Mike McCormack with his one sentence novel (EVEN IF IT'S NOT ACTUALLY ONE SENTENCE). Jan Martens' The Dog Days are Over is a dance étude on the jump.
Independent of medium, the form's concern is with the pleasure of discovery arrived at through arbitrary constraints. The pleasure of following a process to unexpected or absurd or impossible ends, an exercise in falling short gloriously. Joyful futility. Beautiful failure within the larger and grimmer failure of the building.
Entirely coincidentally, right before seeing the show I finished a book about the neuroscience of reading which mentioned how children who display the greatest aptitude for wordplay games – spoonerisms, rhyming – are honing their awareness of phonology and morphology, which means they learn to read significantly faster. It's an important frivolousness. As someone who sometimes writes plays that rhyme, that made me happy. The thought that there's silliness dancing at the heart of functionality, like a juggler on a horrible pink floor under a grubby skylight with Laurie Anderson playing.
Why can't lions run fast?
That is a spontaneous joke by a kid, from a collection of kids jokes on the internet. (Google it.) It's funny, but not in the way a Question-Plus-Answer-With-Unexpected-Extra-Meaning joke is typically (supposed to be but isn't actually) funny. It's (genuinely) funny because of the sense it gives you that its logic is hovering just out of your view, that at any moment it might resolve and make strict 1+1=2 sense. Of course, if it did it wouldn't be funny any more. So it doesn't.
Watching Now Then is a bit like that. Its riffs on sweet wounds, sweet bitterness, bridge crossing and burning, have a distinctive rhythm and internal logic. Even if you're not privy to it. It's not unlike how you imagine having had a stroke might feel, or listening to three friends of yours who all work in the same field talking about the outstanding debates in that field. You can sense a flow, an oscillation around fixed points, even if you could not explain what or where those fixed points are. Or like Prisencolinensinainciusol, that song in fake English, also on the internet.(2)
Hankins' performance makes rituals of inconsequential things. Never before has adjusting the height of a mic stand lasted so long or been so funny. The whole thing becomes a kind of anti-cabaret, with all the flourishes that would mark a punchline in places where punchlines are conspicuously absent. The which then becomes a punchline. Ornaments made absurd by contexts in which they can't function. A performer with a precise physicality deploying it in ways that make no sense. Calculated anti-climax, which in a show about lust might just be some sort of structural metaphor. Having a room full of people collaboratively make squishy wet noises with a jelly and a microphone definitely was.
That kind of off-kilterness can tip over into random, but didn't here. Hankins is razorsharp, deflating frustration or bemusement before you can disengage. The show's also put together in a way that there's never not a frame around the text's opacity. It's not supposed to not be opaque. Except when it's direct.
So in short I really really really liked it. Even if I couldn't quite say why.
Things I thought watching Mira Fuchs:
-Where do I look?
-This is already super intense
-Where do I look?
-Aaaah interesting real nudity to show that we can go there but also conceptual nudity to show we don't ALWAYS have to be turbonude
-Repetition for effect
-Repetition for effect
-Repetition for effect
-Fucking hell this is relentless
-Ahhh but it's probably the point that it's relentless
-Like imagine having to do that same little flirty transaction for hours and hours
-Is she deliberately doing a kind of simulated-arousal open-mouth cutesy-face thing?
-Yeah she was talking to us directly there and she dropped it so that has to be part of the whole performance of the whole thing
-Microcosm of the show!
-God I love when there's an audience member who doesn't pretend to feel nobly conflicted about/purely anthropologically and dispassionately interested in getting a lapdance
-Fair enough, you want your fucking lapdance
-But also god I do not want a fucking lapdance
-That theatre critic seems like a dick
-I'd like some wider context now
-I know the piece is based on her personal experience
-And that's an enormous strength
-God imagine how uncomfortable this would be if she'd taken someone else's testimony
-It needs the integrity of her being herself
-But also at this point I feel we've well and truly confronted on a one-to-one basis our implication as audience members
-Fair play to her holding eye contact with Doireann Cody (sp?) for that long
-And now I'm starting to feel a bit like the theatre-audience-prurience factor is outweighing the authenticity factor
-As in people bearing witness to their own lives is always a victory
-But are we the right audience
-Is this the right forum
-Because relentlessness can convey the emotional attrition of a relentless world, but relentlessness can also cause an audience to switch off rather than on
-Are we now experiencing this as a Victorian Morality Play, where we ultimately get to feel good about ourselves in quite an uncritical fashion because we're about to get to stand at the bar and condemn all the sordidity we just enjoyed hearing about
-I wonder would DRAFF let me include a link to the very very NSFW Oglaf about Victorian Morality Plays [Ed: you'll have to Google it like I did]
-Is sordidity a word?
-We're talking about the state of Victoria aren't we?
-As in this would have happened in
-I wonder does she see stripping as if not sex work sex work then at least existing on a continuum with sex work?
-Or would she say prostitution?
-And does she think stripping is a factor in arguments about entrainment/market growing
-It's a pity we couldn't find a time to chat before the festival
-But also we couldn't find a time because she was super busy doing the show all over the gaff
-Not actually a pity
-Means the show is succeeding
-As well it should
Dylan for DRAFF
(1) Or a Madeleine Moment, if Pixar references are too highbrow for you.
(2) Or Gertrude Stein's poetry, if a YouTube video is too highbrow for you.
Quarter Block Party finishes today, February 5th.
Image: Mira Fuchs / Melanie Jame Wolf (taken by Damian Stephens)