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Lyric Hammersmith, London

Andrew Haydon
posted 26 June 2007

Chris Goode is one of the most important theatre makers working in Britain today. His blog contains some of the most incisive critiques of the contemporary theatre scene currently being written, while his pieces for theatre continually reassert the primacy of theatre’s liveness at the same time as offering audiences hauntingly beautiful stories; so it is good to see his 2006 piece Longwave - originally created for the Corn Exchange, Newbury - revived for a limited London run.

Max and Herman, played by long-time Goode collaborators Tom Lyall and Jamie Wood, are two research scientists carrying out experiments of obscure intent on what appear to be clay haggises, which they find on the land outside their research station - ostensibly a large garden shed where they both live and work. The action of the piece consists of a series of detailed wordless routines in which the two men perform various tests on the curious subjects - from injections and Rorschach tests; through hurling the things around, into nets, and whizzing one down an aerial runway; to connecting one up to a battery as part of a circuit to power a lightbulb and buzzer. These scenes are interspersed with glimpses of the duo’s daily routine when not working - accompanied by the seemingly random programmes pouring from an elderly wireless in the corner. And the entire thing is conducted without either of the men uttering a word. Somehow, through all this, the piece moves from a lightly worn clownishness through moments of genuinely touching pathos, to an absolutely heartbreaking climax.

While creating neither an explicit narrative nor offering tangible explanations for Max and Herman’s activities, Longwave manages to conjure and comment on innumerable ideas - from scientific investigation to painful, lonely desires. The structure is such that at one stage a tiny soldering stand can suddenly be manipulated into life by use of magnetic rods, becoming a puppet that mimes Scott Walker’s cover of ‘Ne me quitte pas’, which is at once obscurely funny and impossibly moving - and which, incredibly, doesn’t disrupt the atmosphere of the whole one iota. This sort of unexplained magic is part and parcel of the continuum. Both Lyall and Wood are astonishingly watchable performers. Both have a quality of careful gentleness, a kind of benign concentration, which draws the audience into their world. There is a complicity with the audience which never once lapses into outright acknowledgement of their presence.

This is classic Goode territory - stories of unarticulated, almost intangible desire being played in a theatrical context which allows for bigger, more metaphorical ideas to materialise around them until a kind of critical mass develops. This is theatre which demands and rewards intense concentration. One becomes so immersed in the world of the play, that on leaving the theatre afterwards it takes a considerable amount of time to readjust to normality, while moments from the piece stay lodged in the mind for significantly longer.

Till 30 June 2007


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