It’s hard to define experimental theatre in a world where everything has been done before. Like an over-used Rubik’s cube where most combinations have been explored, and still we have no final arrangement to call our generation’s artistic style. For an artist, this liberty is fantastic. You can do pretty much whatever you want, bend form in however many ways you fancy and it most likely won’t be censured. We have an artistic license to explore thanks to generations of struggling artists before us. However, this license might not mean anything to our audiences.
A Beckettesque Play at Bread & Roses is inspired by Beckett’s aesthetics, one of the front-runners for experimental theatre. In his time he broke the boundaries of naturalism, and as ground-breaking as it was, we are still very familiar with his style today. That’s why, on one hand, A Beckettesque Play is more a tribute to Beckett’s works and form than ‘experimental theatre’ in itself. A Beckettesque presents a Woman (Moa Johansson) struggling with her words and repeating phrases. Her monologue is like a stream of consciousness similar to Beckett’s Not I. A small screen shows fragmented clips of a silent mouth (also honouring Beckett) and it’s clear that it is the aesthetics of the movement and words that’s in focus. This does, on the other hand, throw the play into that ‘experimental’ category. Not because we haven’t seen it before, but because anything non-linear and abstract still falls under that category.
The Woman is tied down by stones, and as her fractioned speech intensifies, she moves them around the space, picks them up, throws them and stamps a monotonous yet aggressive rhythm in what seems to be a frustration with herself and a lack of identity. She struggles between the ‘she’, ‘them’ and ‘I’ just as she struggles to finally free herself from whatever baggage is (literally) weighing her down.
Director Laura Graham Anderson’s piece is visually alluring – a woman dressed in red, her face blocked by hair, tied to stones, throws the mind in all sorts of directions. With Keita Ikeda’s thrilling soundscape the production set us up for something delightfully weird, dark and gripping; something that might unlock a secret, put that Rubik’s cube in place, and reveal something bigger about life.
For me, I left the theatre just as confused as I entered. I salute the braveness in discarding a narrative, and I salute the nod towards Beckett and absurdism – however personally I need just a hint of a narrative for experimental theatre to really speak to me, to really reveal something about life or art that ‘straight’ theatre can’t do. If not, it feels experimental for the sake of it, and sadly my brain insists on putting the puzzle together, even if the pieces don’t match in any way. If the exciting visuals of A Beckettesque Play were married to few hints of structure and narrative it could reveal something really interesting.
A Beckettesque Play is playing at Bread & Roses Theatre until 20 July. For more information and tickets, see the Bread and Roses Theatre website.
Photo: Kat Kwok