Sunday, 18 November 2012

Are we nearly there yet?

Wilton's music hall, 16 November 2012

Image by Sophie Herxheimer. From Wilton's.

The concept of pilgrimage is stretched too far to be illuminating, but the approach is entrancing, if exploitative.

In this work exploring pilgrimages of  various types, all of the power, and many of the flaws, are intrinsic to the peculiar nature of this theatre piece, and how it was constructed. So I have to digress a little.

This is verbatim theatre, where the actors supposedly do not learn their parts but rather repeat snatches of recorded interviews from several people, hence presenting the voices of these people over the course of the event.

The effect is something like being present during the original interviews; non-actors being unlikely to be happy discussing their experiences in front of a group of complete strangers.

But only something like it. These are actors, after all, and the director / interviewer / editor is finally responsible for composing the work, and linking it to form an effective whole, which necessarily includes drama. So we end up with a theatre piece that is perhaps a little closer to reality than many others, but still noticeably an artefact.

Like reality tv, the thoughts and views of real people are enormously compelling, but also like reality tv, the presence of editing and of a focussing of attention introduces an element of exploitation that I don't experience with more conventional drama.

For example, comic elements are deftly interwoven with more serious narratives, but as some of this comedy comes from laughing at some of the characters rather than with them, it has an uncomfortable effect, despite this being part of the cruelty of most comedy.

The content of the work, four scenes depicting different stages of a pilgrimage, with many characters voicd by four actors, was extremely diffuse. The definition of a pilgrimage ended up being kin to a journey, something made explicit by one of the characters at the end of the piece. Did anything else unite these dozen tales? I didn't notice it.

Surely the most interesting aspect of medieval European pilgrimages is that they were undertaken at all, given their perils and demands, and by people who were otherwise unlikely to travel further than the nearest town during their lifetimes.

We all live in a very different environment, where travel is both easy and expected, and where we have at least seen photos from our destination. And all this is before we consider the respectability of unbelief, so that modern faith-based pilgrims are operating in a more secular environment than their ancestors.

Medieval pilgrimage is therefore still very mysterious, and an artwork might shed light on it, perhaps by drawing analogues with our ideas.

By extending the concept of pilgrimage to include intended journeys, or trips for self-enlightenment, Matthew Lloyd makes his work so vague as to defy interpretation. This isn't a weakness of verbatim theatre, but rather of the original concept.

The actors were good, the music couldn't be heard over the noise of Wilton's regulars, and the setting (upper rooms at Wilton's decorated with some uninteresting art on the subject of pilgrimage) irrelevant.

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