Rich Mix have begun a programme exploring the small stories that make this big old city of ours, poking their noses into everything from attic flats to chicken shops and the swept-up lives of the street. We are all so sleepy-eyed and crammed into a city that is wall-to-wall people of every class, culture and creed, that we barely notice any of them. Rich Mix have commissioned a host of emerging and established theatre companies who clown, puppeteer and push boundaries to demonstrate their version of our city and, if this double bill is anything to go by, to varying effect.
The first piece, Boris & Ingrid (Txema Perez and Svetlana Biba), is described as “an absurd physical comedy”, but is layered immaculately with a whole manner of skills: clown, movement, mime and silhouette, to name but a few that landed a hugely empathetic affect upon the audience. In all honesty I am not particularly familiar with any of these genres – I’ve never been exposed to them and, I have to admit, I was wary about how I might manage to attach myself to a narrative without words. For the first section I second-guessed myself, trying to decipher how I felt about certain aspects. But it transpires that Boris & Ingrid is simply a farce and, like all the best farces, it overtly and comedically portrays the unadulterated desperation of the human condition: in this case, the familiar and gut-emptying feeling of loneliness. An obscure couple have grown old; their waist lines are sagging, their cardigans patched up and their minds dependent on memories, bananas, vodka and each other, until one of the couple is left alone, haunted by confusion and a lack of knowledge as to how to be on their own. 2theatre adds oddities, such as puppets comprised of root vegetables, but it works so coherently because it is balanced on a strong and accessible story. Boris & Ingrid is still a work in progress, devised from a solo performance Ingrid, and there are a few tiny creases that will so easily be ironed out in time for the intended fringe festival circuit.
The second on the bill, The Tenancy Trilogy Part 1: Chicken, is a different beast altogether. The set is a greasy flat above a chicken shop in East London, run by a family very much set in their weird and insular ways. Judging by the set of rubbish, brine and chicken bones, those ways are long overdue a change (I felt dirty just sitting on the front row). Luckily a health inspector is due to visit, jeopardising the family that is run by three siblings and their shopping trolley-inhabiting grandmother. Through a combination of grotesqueness, slapstick and absurdity, Splutter Theatre are aiming to hit their audience hard, to be shocking and gruesome without necessarily any foundation to propel their story forward: The League of Gentlemen meets The Demon Barber of Fleet Street without intricacy. The detailed characterisation of the two younger siblings, played by Georgie Jones and Mike Pickering, is outweighed by the self-indulgent and over-hammed eldest brother Randolphous (played by Benedict Hudson) and the downright unnecessary Nigella Lawson hallucination (played by Lucy Bond). As a company, Splutter Theatre have a clear vision and a manifesto fit to burst with ambition and ideas. Chicken lives up to these through impressive writing, costumes, staging and intriguing and humorous surrealism; yet I’d like to see it all honed a bit, so that the cast is in full control of how hard they are hitting their audience.
I am on tenterhooks to find out where each of these companies take their productions next and I’m equally as eager to see what else Rich Mix’s ‘Small Story/Big City’ season can teach me about the London I live in, but don’t yet know.
Double Bill: Boris & Ingrid and The Tenancy Trilogy Part 1: Chicken played at Rich Mix. For more information, see the Rich Mix website.