Sometimes you see a piece of theatre and it reminds you why – as a theatre maker – you want to make theatre. Clout Theatre’s How a Man Crumbled is one such show. It is, for the most part, an utterly ridiculous pile of nonsense but for some reason this is brilliant. The show is inspired by Russian poet Daniil Kharms who was writing in the 1920s and 30s Soviet Russia; the programme notes offer this fact: “He often stated that it was only the absurd, awkward or incomprehensible things that interested him in life”, and this helps to make some sense of the exquisitely executed chaos that is How a Man Crumbled.
Clout is an international physical theatre company, trained at the Lecoq school in Paris and with all the noticeable Lecoq trademarks. In the opening moments of the show I did wonder whether this was going to be an hour of gratuitous devised work, making no sense to the audience and an excuse for performers to mess around on stage. These concerns were soon dispelled. No, it doesn’t make much sense but well-timed silent movie-esque projected intertitles help carry a semblance of narrative along just enough. The performers do mess around on stage but with such physical skill, intense energy and focus that it’s okay. Clout Theatre are adults who can play like children, letting their imaginations fill the room, which surely is what all theatre should be like?
The performance is so highly energised that somewhere near the end I notice I can smell the sweat of those on stage and I love it. Experiencing a story told by a group of people so engaged and in the moment, who can carry you up in their enthusiastic nonsense, is one of the magical things about theatre. The ensemble’s control of tone and energy throughout is superb; I found myself laughing at some absurd play with a dead body in a suitcase one moment, and feeling I was trapped in a grotesque nightmare the next as we are told the disturbing story of a man with no body parts. Lighting and sound are also both expertly manipulated to enhance this work.
At one point a character proffers “Would you like me to tell you a story? Ah yes, finally you say, a story”, and I think we may be getting to a stronger narrative here. We don’t, he’s being a playful tease, but it’s okay because the audience has been transported to a bizarre reality. A conglomeration of styles; at times it has a hint of Hitchcock’s darkness, it often looks and feels like a Dali painting come alive and has more than an essence of Alfred Jarry. There are also moments where I feel the Monty Python team have come onstage.
If what you look for in theatre is an eloquent and clean telling of a story that makes sense then this production isn’t for you. If what you seek is something you can get wrapped up in the feeling of, work that will make you feel alive and like you want to absorb it with all of your sense then I recommend you see this show.
How a Man Crumbled is playing at The Nightingale until 27 May. For more information and tickets, see the Nightingale Theatre website.