Posts Tagged ‘Ontroerend Goed’

It’s almost 12 years since I first encountered the work of Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed. That show was called Internal and it took place in a hotel in Edinburgh with a handful of others (somewhat ironically, one of them was the Artistic Director of the Almeida Theatre, currently facilitating this presentation). I described it as speed dating followed by group therapy. This new ‘show’ is by necessity online, yet it seems to take me back full circle, with another one-to-one encounter at the heart of it, and the same delayed impact.

When I entered the online meeting room, Gunther from Belgium was there. We were shortly joined by Shug and Jan, also from Belgium, and a short while later Siemke from Norway, drinking a beer and eating what appeared to be twiglets, rather loudly. After an introduction to TM, some sort of global movement, I was face-to-face with my interviewer. The questioning, all about me, was quite intense, and occasionally uncomfortable. It was followed by an analysis by the interviewer. I was still digesting it when I found myself back in a group being presented with the TM manifesto, after which the screen population multiplied before they disappeared and left me alone. Well, until I noticed Siemke was still online, the only other participant I suspect.

You do need openness, curiosity and a sense of adventure to tackle a Ontroerend Goed show. In between Internal and TM, there was the presentation of teenage angst in a cube in Teenage Riot and a feminist polemic in Sirens, both more traditionally staged. Then there was £¥€$, live at the Almeida reconfigured as a sort of casino, a game or financial simulation, and A Game of You, where I was observed, interviewed, recorded and given a DVD of it all to take home and see myself how they saw me. There are few theatre companies as innovative and courageous and yet again I found myself thinking about it long after it ended and, in this case, for way longer than my 35 minutes online.

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Flemish theatre company Ontroerend Goed and I have nine years history. We’ve been speed dating (my ‘date’ writing to me weeks later) and in therapy. They’ve observed, interviewed and humiliated me, and gave me a recording of it on DVD. They staged a teenage riot in a cube and hectored me on sexism and misogyny. Somehow I missed this one at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, so the eve of this year’s visit to Edinburgh, I’m participating in a gambling game. You have to admit they are inventive and original, and you can’t say I don’t match it by being adventurous!

The stage and seats have been removed from the Almeida Theatre, which now has ten gaming tables in a wide circle, with an indicator board and administrators at the centre. You are sent to a table and when it’s full you’re told you are a country and each of you a bank within it. Based on the amount of real cash you deposit, you are given funds to invest and the initial period is fairly straightforward investments in sectors of the economy, your returns determined by the roll of your dice. You hand back a fifth of your returns in tax.

As the game progresses, new ways to invest emerge, higher risks and higher returns. Countries are rated based on performance. They can issue bonds which are soon traded internationally. Shorting and bank mergers become possible, as does borrowing. Then some countries get into trouble and it really hots up.

It’s execution is extremely slick, with the actors running each table and as administrators having to make very quick calculations and communicate results speedily in order to run the simulation. It’s fiendishly clever, very sociable, educational, entertaining, but ultimately scary, as you realise what a complex and precarious financial world we are all now compulsory participants of.

Even by this inventive company’s standards, this is great interactive theatre. Of course, I was the least successful investor at my table / in my country, but I did triple my money, though the IOU I took home with my original deposit won’t buy any more theatre tickets.

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I missed last year and curtailed the year before, so this is my first full week in Edinburgh for three years, which may be why I enjoyed it so much. It seemed like a vintage year, with an extraordinarily high 70% hit rate of great shows and only two bummers out of 26.

The seemingly insatiable supply of monologues continued, with seven of the 13 plays falling into this category. Despite my ambivalence, even dislike, of them, there were some real crackers, led by Sherman Cymru’s Iphigenia in Splott, an extraordinary take on Greek Tragedy with a stunning performance by Sophie Melville. Canadian genius Robert Lepage was back with another of his imaginative, innovative solo shows, this time 887 blended memories of his youth with material about memory itself. Comedian Mark Steel‘s show was, like Mark Thomas’ wonderful Bravo Figaro a few years back, a biographical story – in this case how he found out about his real parents. It was moving, poignant and very very funny. The fourth 5-star show was another flight of imagination, this time The Anomotion Show with percussionist Evelyn Glennie playing in the 17th century courtyard of George Heriot School whilst the live painting of Maria Rud was projected onto its walls. Brilliant. The final day produced not one but two gems, starting with Duncan McMillan’s extraordinarily engaging and captivating one-man play about depression, Every Brilliant Thing, brilliantly performed by Jonny Donahue, which I’ve been trying to catch for some time. Our one and only opera ended the trip with the most inventive and original Die Zauberflote from Komische Oper Berlin in collaboration with our own theatre genius’ 1927. Animation, performance and music in complete harmony.

The Traverse continued its trailblazing, hosting the National Theatre of Scotland’s Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, a rude and hugely funny play with music that followed convent school girls on a school outing (bender) to a singing competition in Edinburgh, with six very talented young actresses and a female band, directed and designed by women! and Vanishing Point’s outstanding, creative take on dementia, Tomorrow. They also hosted young Belgian company Ontroerend Goed’s latest unsettling piece, A Game of You, where I was observed, interviewed and imitated before observing myself, and leaving with a DVD of my experience! Their other two shows fared less well, with Christians, a debate about hell, hard for a non-believer to engage with (though superbly staged and performed, with a 24-piece choir) and another monologue, Crash, which was clever but didn’t captivate like some of the others.

Musical high’s included Lennon: Through A Glass Onion, which showcased his songs – sung and played by a duo – interspersed with quotes from the man himself, Antonio Forcione (again!) with his brilliant Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale, hugely enthusiastic five-piece accapella group Simply Soweto and Hackney Colliery Band, who weren’t at all what I was expecting (a brass band!) but whose rhythmic jazz funk was infectious late-night fun. Musical Theatre featured, with enterprising amateur productions of The Addams Family and Sunshine on Leith, neither of which have yet had London outings though both deserve them.

More solo turns, with Jim Cartwright’s Raz, about preparing for, and going out on, a night out, performed brilliantly by the playwright’s son James, contrasting with stand-up comedian Mark Watson‘s highly strung but hysterical Work In Progress. Then there was 10x10x10 where ten comedians did ten monologues written by ten other comedians – except  there were only six, as they split it into two shows, and I can’t tell you who wrote or performed them, except Jo Caulfield who did one. Not bad, though. The big disappointment was Tony’s Last Tape, where an interesting life was made deadly dull.

Other Welsh contributions included Ghost Dance, a highly creative piece of physical theatre but with a confusing narrative comparing a native American plight with a Welsh one. There was innovative use of a smart phone app for English dialogue and subtitles and more polystyrene than you’ve ever seen in one place. Not a lot to say about a rather amateur take on (part of) the folk tale The Mabinogion, except to say I blame Judith!

The Missing Hancock’s featured two lost scripts staged as if they were being recorded for radio, with occasional ad libs, by an exceptional cast. I’d enjoyed them on the radio and I enjoyed them live too. Favourite playwright Jack Thorne’s sexually explicit, harrowing but brilliant play The Solid Life of Sugar Water was another theatrical highlight with two fine performances and, unusually on the fringe outside the Traverse, a great design. Finally, a novel immersive staging of a rare Tennessee Williams play, Confessional, where you are in a seaside bar with the dysfunctional characters partaking of a beer or two with them. Not a great play, but inventively staged.

The usual diversity with higher quality this year. No doubt some will appear elsewhere, so now you know what to catch.

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My relationship with Flemish theatre company Ontroerend Goed goes back five years, when they kicked off my 2009 Edinburgh Festival visit with a ‘show’ for a handful of people which started as speed dating and continued as group therapy (and ended weeks later with a personal letter from my ‘date’!). A year later they staged a teenage riot inside a cube and projected it onto the surface of the cube. They are seriously inventive and off-the wall. They’ve been back since, but this is the first time I’ve caught their later work.

It starts in darkness with strange breaths and sighs. When the lights come up, we see six women in evening dress in front of music stands. The first part consists of loud, tuneless, wordless, shrill vocals which resonate in your ears, almost hurting. In the second part, we hear them recite a whole range of short sexist and misogynistic comments. It continues to make it’s point about sexism for an hour in similar ways, long past the point we’ve actually got the point.

As with their other work, it’s clever and edgy but this time I thought it was somewhat laboured. In truth I felt a bit patronised by its attempt to tell me something that I already knew and to relentlessly make a point I was already sympathetic to (like everyone else in the Soho Theatre audience, I suspect. Preaching to the converted again). The NT did something similar at the building that used to. be called The Shed with Blurred Lines but with more subtlety and humour; in comparison, this felt like a hammer to that show’s kick up the backside.

Soho Theatre has form with perverse seasonal programming and this continues the trend. I have no objection to that, but I do feel a bit grumpy paying 30p a minute to hear people make an important but obvious point crudely.

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