Warwick Arts Centre, Main Theatre
18th October 2011
Frantic Assembly have gathered themselves a fierce reputation as one of Britain’s leading theatre companies, specialising in physical theatre and dance sequences in particular. More recently they seem to have changed from the youthful theatre-maker’s dream company to the ideal company to watch as a GCSE student, their theatrical style perfect hoop-jumping box-ticking material for the “Productions Seen” element of many of the leading Theatre Studies courses. This, unfortunately, manifested itself in both the production – playing to the company’s established strengths, not pushing any boundaries and being sometimes stilted – and in the immature audience that myself and many other genuinely interested parties had to share the performance with.
I appreciate that this second sentiment may appear snobbish and even out of order to many free-thinking individuals, and yet I’d like to think that I understand the benefits of performance-based learning, youth theatre and the possibilities of drama, well apart from any UCAS application form – it being a field I have always been interested in, and hope to continue contributing towards. In this case, however, the extent to which having an audience that more than half of are scribbling notes, complaining about sightlines and, most irritatingly, chatting about stagecraft in the emotional crux of the piece is surely going to have an adverse effect on the other 50% of people trying to appreciate the play for its own sake. Am I a grumpy old woman? Is it unreasonable for me to want separate performances for younger students, or is this way the only method that young people can learn about theatre-going and everything it entails? The students next to me asked each other, at the end of the performance, whether they should stand up, because “everyone else we know is”, decided that yes, they would stand, and clapped half-heartedly for about ten seconds before talking about the trip home and how it wasn’t fair that their classmates had got better seats… “Miss, this is so unfair, this is our GCSEs we’re talking about, I don’t think you understand!” Aged 20, the thought ran through my head that I would never have spoken to a teacher like that “in my day”. I’d be interested to know what other people think about this debate, whether it’s a class thing, a university student thing, a theatre-goer thing, or just an age thing. And if it is a “thing” at all, what can be done?
The production itself, and sorry for waffling so endlessly on about other things, was sadly a disappointment. Perhaps because of the hype about the company, perhaps because of my fellow audience members, but I wasn’t swept away as I hoped to be. I couldn’t help but compare with Theatre Ad Infinitem‘s stunning Translunar Paradise which has much the same story, but no words. The relationship between Frantic’s stunning physical sequences and Abi Morgan’s script were my biggest issue, as when they were combined and the couple past and present were interwoven – sometimes literally on stage – it was wonderful. Other times this was not so skillfully done, and the longer monologues stood out awkwardly. The set was incredible, and things were done with beds, fridges and wardrobe’s that were out of this world. The sound design was also phenomenal, but the production failed – for the (lengthy) reasons outlined above – to have me sobbing my heart out, an intention that the company certainly seemed to be aiming for over everything else.