With our government naively encouraging professional artists to ‘reboot’ ourselves into new and alien careers, it seems an appropriate time for theatre to be urgently critical of the traditional school-to-office pipeline that many of us creatives desperately try to avoid. Striding in wearing a suit with a coffee-stained shirt and an elastically expressive face, poet and performer Stewart Taylor’s show Spillage! attempts to assign a whole new meaning to the ‘office clown’.
In a concoction of spoken word, clowning, and puppetry as warm and stimulating as a good cup of coffee, Taylor takes the hot and knotty concepts of anxiety, stress, and failure and spills his words around them with charm, clarity and a light accessibility in this tonic of a one-man show.
With work piling on, and having chaotically spilled his beloved cup of coffee down himself right before an important presentation, Taylor escapes through the literary minefield of a fantasy ‘spillage control workshop’. In an elaborate over-analysis of the word ‘spillage’, the performer harnesses his lyrical capabilities to probe the problematic ease of fixating on an immediate mess instead of addressing our real issues and pressures in life.
Each character in the fantastical ‘workshop’ is thoroughly developed and committed, and performed with such vigour that the performer’s glasses fog with effort. Particularly memorable is the creatively-written Freud-esque psychoanalyst who suggests, among other things, that to spill is to return to the womb…
Quick and encouraging responses to moments of spectator participation are also a credit to the performer and his experience – it is a little disappointing then that a staged ‘suggestion’ from the tech staff triggers an entire section of prepared monologue because this feels a little forced and shows a lack of faith in the audience.
Among an appropriately modest set of props is an Action Man figure re-cast in the role of ‘Anagram Man’. Starring as a mascot for masculine strength, Anagram Man conversationally draws valuable attention to Taylor’s own identity; a man of a generation told to emotionally suck it up or make elaborate excuses for himself under pressure and duty. Realistically, like all of us, sometimes he “just can’t” do it.
The script is dynamic and evocative, with poetic language approachably bridging the way between worlds of stressful reality and escapist fantasy. A modern critical take on As You Like It’s “All the world’s a stage” monologue is particularly poignant in poeticising how, in every stage of capitalist life, we are forced to (“pick me, pick me!”) pitch ourselves until we lose ourselves. This epitomises the show’s persistent theatricalisation of the traditional work environment and the parts we must play until the “full breakdown” means it all collapses.
This is a continuously lyrical show – Anna Carr’s direction can be ultra-theatrical but remains self-aware despite being staged to, at times, quite overenthusiastic and grating music. A testament to her direction is the success of tonal shifts in the script which are astutely timed to catch us off-guard when laughing – dark crashes back into reality act as sharp reminders of the show’s very real subject matter.
A well-refined piece of fringe theatre, Spillage! brews a delicious blend of vivid poetic wit and fresh discourse around sensitive subjects… “and then you spill it.”
Spillage!’ is playing Brighton Fringe until 18 October. For information and tickets, see Brighton Fringe’s website.