Thursday 9 June 2011

Mere demonstration

Foley, Riverside Studios, London

Jo Bannon’s Foley is a clear and simple short. In fact, that’s its greatest flaw. ‘Foley’, for those who don’t know, is the recreation or simulation of particular sounds, usually for insertion into an audiotrack accompanying a film or radio play. It’s appeal for theatre practitioners is obvious; foley is sonic representation, whereby one sound can stand in for another by virtue of resemblance. It functions through the same mimesis as dramatic theatre.

All this Bannon explains totally needlessly at the start, for it will become apparent later on, even to those unfamiliar with the term used – again unnecessarily – as title. Having laid out her intentions as if conducting a school science experience – aim, theory, apparatus and method – Bannon then executes them. What follows is made pretty much redundant by conforming to the information she’s already provided. Foley becomes mere demonstration, as opposed to exploration.

It’s a real shame, because, in doing so, Bannon wholly scuppers the inherent oddity of the artform. That every object on the wooden table centre stage is in its proper place, outlined by masking tape, would in itself suggest some definite purpose. Each is laid out clearly, within easy reach, like handbells waiting to be played. From this order, so carefully constructed, we (perhaps mistakenly) presume an overarching purpose.

And yet, were it not for the title and Jo Bannon’s introductory demystification, its purpose would, at least initially, elude us. The objects don’t add up and the table remains unplaceable. From the foodstuffs – milk, vegetables, cereal, jelly, steak, half a lettuce – we might anticipate some form of cookery demonstration, but even they don’t tally into any recognisable recipe. The presence of other incongruous objects – a saw, red shoes, microphones – further the unsolveable riddle. Instead, we know too much and nothing can be totally unexpected.

The structural problems don’t end there, however. Bannon takes us through a story, pausing to illustrate the sounds that crop up en route: tuning radios (the snap, crackle and pop of Rice Krispies), waves lapping against the shore (a plastic bag against a microphone) etc. Given that it serves the sound effects, rather than vice versa, this narrative serves only as connective tissue. In which case it doesn’t really matter that Bannon has stripped her thriller of thrills with an advance warning of murder.

Her problem, however, is that she does the same in framing her sound effects, announcing them in advance rather than allowing them their ambiguity. By using narration, Bannon smacks a label on each effect, revealing the dislocation of cause and effect, the non-correspondence of representation and simulation, at the heart of foley. With the label coming first, however, she pre-empts the struggle to identify and so forecloses any possibility of satisfying revelation. Rather than thriving on suggestion, it becomes illustration: call and response, tick following tock.

Most problematic is that Bannon’s demonstration doesn’t break itself. Yes it fails, descending into chaos as she frantically slaps steaks, gargles water and hammers her lettuce struggling to keep up with the action, but it does so by sabotage, rather than by sticking to the rules. Its as if Bannon gives up. After all, she is in control of the narrative’s pace. Were she trying to keep up with a film or recording, the failure would be honest. Instead, the solution, namely to keep the task manageable, is within her own grasp.

Foley, then, is uninteresting in spite of its subject matter. It wholly undermines itself through structural mismanagement. There’s a cracking piece within, but Bannon needs to start afresh. She needs to watch from her audience’s perspective.


Part of the Show Time micro-festival, 3-4 June 2011


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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

 

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