Pros: An original and engaging piece
Cons: A little obscure at times
Founded in Barcelona in 2008, Atresbandes are a company to keep an eye on, and see perform when you can. Their work is fresh, contemporary, and politically engaged without telling you what to think. It’s not surprising that they’ve won several awards – this piece was well put together, well performed and employed technology with a light and confident touch. The company give a gentle warning in the programme notes that the piece has no straightforward narrative, but is instead a series of scenes in isolation. Each scene is linked by a common thread however: the presence of an outsider battling the pressure to conform with the crowd.
The piece began with two actors sat onstage, clad in black from head to toe. Their faces were masked in black fabric, giving them a sinister, anonymous appearance. With emotionless voices and functional gestures, they discussed an advert for storage space – who is it aimed at? Who uses these spaces and why? It was an oblique take on some of the themes of the piece, questioning how much agency we really have in contemporary society.
A sharp scene change was made with the injection of copious amounts of dry ice onto the stage. In fact, the visual language of a rock gig returned throughout – characters wore bad eighties mullet wigs, there was loud heavy music, and multicoloured lights flashed in the smoke. Watching this piece gave me that feeling of when you’ve lost your friends in a club or gig – suddenly alone in the crowd, you feel both fearful and excited.
When a group of friends meet for lunch the conversation is stilted and insincere, as if people have only just learnt what to say to each other. Our outsider visibly struggles and tries to copy gestures to fit in. The group enthusiastically agree on everything, and the outsider is forced to make exceptions to the fact that he’s vegetarian and doesn’t drink. The group’s plan to make chicken for lunch goes horribly wrong when the awkward outsider vomits on everything. The scene is bizarre and funny, played with great timing by all. It descends into farce with clothes coming off and guns coming out – exposing the absurdity of social constructs.
Next the scene shifts to a nightclub. It’s a testament to the skill of the company and technicians that the transitions between scenes barely registered – they seemed to morph into one another before your eyes. A dreamlike and sinister atmosphere was created in the club with oppressively dim lighting, flashing orange and red, and a repetitive beat. Two dancers moved in rhythm together while the outsider stood covered in a plastic sheet. A man dressed in a red body stocking writhed suggestively on a podium, speaking in Korean. If this is all sounding a bit weird, that’s because it was, but it was seductive and watchable, and succeeded in conveying a sense of isolation and dislocation. A voice over described the experience of watching North Korean Arirang displays, as images of these were projected onto the back wall of the space. These artistic and gymnastic displays are a breath-taking visual representation of conformity – thousands of people moving as one body – and represent state oppression as well as the seductive beauty and power of a mass movement. The voice described the moment when she realised that each pixel in the huge changing background was in fact a small child turning the pages of a book in strict timing. In its’ own unique way, this piece was encouraging the viewer to question what we see – to interrogate what might be behind the images we consume, and those we try to project. A well-executed and thought-provoking piece of theatre.
Devised and performed by: Atresbandes
Produced by: Sarah-Jane Watkinson, Outer Circle Arts UK, Nuria Segovia, VESC Spain
Box Office: 020 7383 9034
Booking Link: https://tickets.newdiorama.com/WebPages/EntaWebShow/ShowDatesCombo.aspx
Booking Until: 11th November 2017