There’s a lot that’s wrong with the world, isn’t there? War, hunger, pain… the list goes on. I could list all the things that are wrong, but I won’t because it would get tedious pretty quickly. All That Is Wrong manages not to be tedious despite listing tens and tens of things that are wrong with the world, but it does feel rather flat. Belgian company Ontroerend Goed bring their show to Mayfest after rave reviews in Edinburgh last year. Perhaps it has fallen victim to its own hype, but it didn’t do much for me. I wanted so much to like this show, to feel moved by or to have it provoke me. Instead, I found its refusal to engage head-on with any of the issues it raises to be frustrating and difficult to know how to take. It unsettles but to what point and purpose I am not sure. While the craving for resolution and a return to a cosy, safe world is a natural impulse – and one which the show resolutely refuses to give – it doesn’t feel as though this show undermines that impulse or examines our decisions to ignore suffering.
It’s a deceptively simple premise: 18-year-old Kobe is trying to think about her place in the world, while grappling with the fact that the world is a scary and dark place. She writes “I” on the floor in chalk and from there works outwards, writing increasingly frantic, inter-connected words and abstract ideas down across the floor and eventually the walls. The idea, presumably, is that these things are too big to think about inside her head, so they spill out, accosting the audience, as Kobe tries to make sense of all the things that are wrong with the world. It’s an arresting image, and provides an effective visual representation of the confusion and depression that can come with trying to understand the world and fight against inequality and prejudice.
Unfortunately, the piece doesn’t actually try to make sense of any of the things that are wrong, it just presents them to us. Without examining culpability (beyond promising to try not to buy Primark or Starbucks) or our place in this system, I found the piece frustrating in its scope. It feels rather like a lecture, and although it’s clear that there are no easy answers to the big questions about our world, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t at least try to find some. They won’t be definitive by any means, but it would make the performance feel less preachy and more engaging if it went further. Perhaps it’s all designed to make a point about futility, apathy and helplessness, but such abstraction leaves us demoralised rather than fired up.
All That Is Wrong has powerful moments, mostly when Kobe offers us glimpses into a more personal sphere – she writes “thin” and then wipes it out and replaces it with “skinny”, before adding “not anorexic”, for example. The simple set design and projections don’t help, making it difficult to read everything she’s writing. In a piece essentially without dialogue, it’s irritating not to be able to read every word, especially when one of the things she lists as hating is “miscommunication”.
It feels to me like this is a good idea that’s been over-stretched. At just over an hour, the piece needs to go further to justify the time taken, otherwise it’s just a rather bleak raft of things that are wrong without any commentary or content.
All That Is Wrong was at the Arnolfini in Bristol as part of Mayfest. For information visit and Mayfest website.