Julian Eaves reviews Richard Foreman’s Lava currently playing at the New Wimbledon Studio.
Shrill. Dark. Confusing.
A winter-wonderland snowscape of white feathers awaits the visitor to ‘The Third Category’ of ‘Lava’: the American Richard Foreman’s latest puzzling stage entertainment to grace the venturesome small space above this grand Massey and Young pleasure palace. Using the characteristic palate of black, more black, some red, lots more black, and bits of white and grey, this production is not only produced but also directed, designed, lit, sound-designed, built and promoted by Foreman’s No.1 British fan, Patrick Kennedy. Kennedy, a theatrical polymath, also furnishes the droning, insistent, numbers-and-dogma voice-over, for which the stage action seems to be only a mere decorative flourish. Kennedy fearlessly lures into the strange, bizarre, challenging world of Foreman’s lurid imagination with this middle instalment, as his four actors – Lauren Anthony, Tommaso Giacomin, Robert Lane and Stephen Lee – hobble about wrapped into gruesomely expressionistic garb: the men stooped under great swelling humps, out of which boom loudspeaker versions of their raspingly close-miked voices, while Anthony remains comparatively more elfin in a simple black coat. Who are they? And what do they want? Two questions that are unlikely to have troubled Foreman, nor do they concern Kennedy.
Why? The clue is in the title of his outfit: the Phenomenological Theatre Company. Now, for all of you who are not keen students of this out-of-the-way philosophical bent, it’s a very American, Sixties thing, spawned by the Timothy Leary generation. So, here, while Kennedy is pitching his opening tirade, hot club guitars strum gamely and side drum brushes slither; if you haven’t smoked something headily intoxicating before the show begins, once it has started you will soon find that you begin to feel as if you have. By the time the hunched, pancaked, brutally expressive ‘characters’ (who are all identified by their ‘real’ actor names on the labels they wear) the whole weird gathering starts to feel like Derek Jarman’s ‘Wittgenstein’ without the maths: a Mad Hatter’s Teaparty for grand Guignol freaks.
Meanwhile, the ‘cut-up’ soundtrack of deliberately fragmentary and repetitive words continues to reject consciousness, it rejects reality, it rejects the self. Instead, it offers only Richard Foreman as a source of anything that might be considered worthy of our attention: the whole seems like an exercise in grotesque, toxic narcissism. More to the point, it feels like the conventions of the theatre are being sledge-hammered to smithereens in front of you, crushed by the grinding, over-laid narratives from the commentaries – other voices intrude – and the cacophony of the husky, rasping, close-miked actors on stage, whose distorted contributions weigh each other down or trip each other up they burst into choreography now and then, and even run around the hazardously befeathered stage floor, before finally withdrawing completely and just leaving us – mercifully – alone.
Of all the muses involved here, the only one possessed of any – intermittent – kindness is music. Dance is rough and ready, mechanical and pointless; speech is broken up and unsatisfying; the decor furiously uncomfortable. Somewhere, though, in this dark ‘third category’ (all part of some possibly phenomenologically ordered system), there is either a hint of comfort, or a cruel lure. You may decide for yourself!
Until 6th July