Pros: Innovative, thoughtful and experimental
Cons: Probably too experimental for some
I don’t normally research a show I’m about to review – preferring to go in cold and unbiased. For some unknown reason I decided to do the opposite with Karaoke at Battersea Arts Centre, only to find that this very blog had reviewed it in February. I refrained from reading the review until afterwards, but the one star rating and “Very Poor” verdict made me think it was going to be a long night… But, hey, I love karaoke – so there must be some good, right? I could always get a McDonalds afterwards.
In fact, very quickly I became convinced there was a lot of good. From the fake smoke to the plastic inflatable palm tree, I was immediately taken back to the time in a Hartlepool bar where I sang Sweat a la la la long while pointing to my groin. And then on came a roller-skate wearing girl in hot pants with an incredibly seductive Iberian voice booming (iara Solano Arana) through the microphone she was holding, and I realised this was something even more otherworldly than a night in a northeast fishing town. The one-star review was banished; I felt as relieved as the Queen’s personal haggis-stuffer a week last Friday (no, I’m not talking about Philip…).
The previous reviewer, Debbie (hi Debbie), felt she didn’t understand the piece – but rather than slate it completely she was admirably very keen to hear why other people enjoyed it. I’d say in reply that some pieces don’t necessarily need to be understood – there were certainly lots of things that were lost on me, too. In a way, I viewed the piece as a song rather than a play with a story – yes, some songs have stories, but others don’t. Others just waft around giving you pleasure here, and sadness there.
Our Spanish siren was joined on stage by a scruffy guy (Sammy Metcalfe) – think “gamer” – who sadly didn’t have the same attractive vocal chords. But that would have been greedy. And weird. They read ghostly prose off an auto cue – this machine screen was effectively a third character who dictated not only their words but their actions as well. Almost every play, film, or soap people watch involves lines and directions fed to their actors – it’s just not done explicitly during their performance. This was an interesting way of deconstructing the art of theatre, and even the art of life itself – for aren’t we all being dictated to by some higher being, like God, or Boris?
I thoroughly enjoyed this show. From the moments of humour that quickly turned tasteless, to the inclusion of recognisable song lyrics that took you back into the intentionally cheap and superficial setting, to a sudden corpsing that seemed to fit perfectly whether deliberate or not, this was a rich and poetic work that gets good marks alone for being so adventurous and unusual. It made me think of the film Stalker and also Waiting for Godot – human emptiness portrayed in a simple and stylised way. By the way, I did stop off for a McDonalds on the way home and it was fucking delicious.
Producer: Sleepwalk Collective
Text and music: Sammy Metcalfe
Designer: iara Solano Arana
Lighting: David Alcorta
Booking until: 18 October 2014
Box Office: 020 7223 2223