Uninvited Guests is inviting audiences to scour newspapers for all that is bad in the world before pushing it into a performance space and, like the evolution of man from his primitive ape days, it works through the cycle from the bad news to the good and sets fire to yesterday’s headlines in a bid to make the world a better place. This is Make Better Please and this is Battersea Arts Centre, a place of continuous exploration of what theatre is for the audience.
The thing about BAC is that you never quite know what you will find hidden in its labyrinth of rooms and corridors. Where one artist seeks to playfully explore storytelling, another artist wants you to party at a club for just you and them. I’m always amazed at how a venue can constantly challenge my expectations and preconceived ideas as to how to present theatre, and Make Better Please by Uninvited Guests only goes to further this. It is a responsive, urgent piece of theatre that seeks out the sourness from society that is printed in mournful headlines prophesying doom and gloom. The company seeks to extract these stories, their characters and themes, and manipulate them to the point where it is like they are possessed by the evil of the print media itself (no, not Murdoch, society’s doom). From here, they seek to bring hope to us; they burn the headlines and walk into the darkness of Clapham with a sense of determined purpose. As an audience we are left to contemplate, for better or worse I am unsure, but to contemplate all the same.
Make Better Please feels somewhat like a Greek ritual (bare with me as I try to explain): Uninvited Guests gives us tea and biscuits, and asks us to find the bad stories in newspapers. When the chairs are pushed back and we are invited to pose questions and see characters from these stories appear, the actors build themselves into a frenzy, like the wild parities and offerings of Dionysus. When they ask us for stories of hopeful fulfillment the experience is of catharsis, for we have shared this experience as a collective, we have worked through the bad and now we give birth to the good. At least, this is what I take from it. Make Better Please, as the title suggests, is as much a provocative call to action, as it is a theatre experience. In the programme it suggests we spend time with our friends and co-workers to discuss the news, to discuss the bad of the world and to see hope in the good. I only wonder how much of this will travel beyond the walls of BAC and into the streets themselves, or if it will fall upon deaf ears.
As a piece of theatre it is layered with subtle meanings and gentle prods of dissatisfaction towards the world at large. It is powerful in its ability to act within the currents of today’s news, and with its attempts at allowing an audience to relinquish their afflictions to the performers so that they can do away with them in a frenzied dance of all the bad in the world. To improvise within the carefully structured journey of the piece is impressive, and whilst there is a formula to reach the ending, Uninvited Guests will never really know what will fill the space until the newspapers’ headlines are given and explained. In this there is a liveness that is celebrated, but it is also perhaps where the piece suffers too.
If there is one thing I am learning as an audience member, it is how much I desire theatre to affect me, to stimulate me or to provoke me. Make Better Please tries to tease out of its audience their angers and frustrations towards situations represented in the media, and through this it (I imagine) hopes to provoke them into cutting through the bad to the good. For me, though, I didn’t leave hopeful, I left contemplating all the stories told and how truly messed up we can be. Make Better Please didn’t inspire me to change, it only left me thinking more. Perhaps my desire to be provoked or moved emotionally is getting the better of me, but I think it’s more in how little I felt and cared for the work being presented. I may have offered my bad headline and spoken about why it upset me, but I didn’t feel as if this was carried through into the performance space and gobbled up by the performers who were eager to suck out the bad from us. I left bemused and distinctly cold towards Make Better Please which is a shame give that the piece is structured with care and consideration towards its audience. A challenging night, a contemplative night, but not one to move me, not one to give catharsis.
Make Better Please is playing at the Battersea Arts Centre.