Saturday 30 April 2011

A restless magic show

I guess if the stage exploded, Barbican, London

SPILL Festival


Slyvia Rimat’s attempt to create an absolutely unforgettable performance is more interesting conceptually than it is in practice. Given the elegant purity of the central idea, I suspect it was always going to be.

Rimat is faced with two options: either to maximise the memorability of the event – hence the piece’s title – or else, to maximise our capacity to remember. By opting for the latter, she presents a low-key piece of anti-spectacle, which uses a series of memory techniques and excerises to brand itself irrevocably into our minds.

At base, then, it is a circularly purposeless act: an event that exists solely to leave traces of its own existence. An act that, at first glance, seems destined to fail. Though it is arguably conceivable, total recall is practically impossible. In fact, if you allow a slight softening of terms, the reverse is true: we can only know of its success. To be unforgettable a performance need not involve total recall. All it requires is a shard of memory, a recollection of the event. Should Rimat fail and the performance be forgotten, we will not be able to recognise as such, having retained no idea of it. The moment we remember it in order to mark its having been forgotten, it is no longer forgotten.

The trouble is that Rimat’s content is largely illustrative. Rather than an actual and concerted effort to make us remember, using the memory techniques with genuine rigour, she demonstrates them. Yes, by design, they retain some of their ability, but in not committing to the attempt wholeheartedly, Rimat almost fatally undermines her concept. While she may repeat the names of audience participants three times, providing a tagline to remember them by, she doesn’t fully ensure success. The overall impression is of a splattering of tricks; a restless magic show.

Admittedly, that repertoire has some brilliant moments. Rimat’s use of neuro-lingistic programming to attach an image of herself to an item passed on the everyday journey between your bedroom and bathroom is superb. It almost feels criminal, like she’s broken into your memory and left her tag in permanent ink.

However, it feels like we’re doing all the work or that our responsibility to remember outweighs Rimat’s efforts to make us. The show’s hypothesis requires an element of passivity, of inescapability. Rimat needs to hogtie us and impose herself upon us. Watching must feel like the Ludivico Technique of A Clockwork Orange, an enforced rewiring. It must stuff our heads to bursting like, the stomachs of foie gras geese.

Instead, our strain to absorb is left to highlight the slippery evasiveness of the present. Rimat’s show becomes a meditation on memory, rather than the attempt at an unforgettable show itself. It is about, not of. In those terms, her apparatus is strong: owls, footprints and scribbled notes. There are also some lovely observations delightfully executed – in Sydney, ten hours ahead, a party celebrates an audience member, setting up in the present a past memory of a future – but none of this can fully compensate for the breaking of express intentions. What could have been uniquely unforgettable ends up over-familiar and unmemorable.


Run over.


Theatre

Enjoyed this article? Share it with others.

Resources


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.