Here are the reviews for Day 4 of the festival, the 28th of May. Liam and Megan saw some quality stuff! Read on…
Today was a bit of a marathon for me! I was pinballing around a lot of different venues this evening.
First off, I was at Divadlo Inspirace for Don Quijote in the Storm, the other show that LÅNGSJÖ Theatre brought to the festival. I loved this one even more than The Little Fisherman; the aesthetics and costume design was astonishing, with these intricate gowns and costumes made out of plastic packaging and coffee bags; most likely a reference to the culture of waste we live in today.
The show’s introduced by a clown who, before he becomes Don Quijote, explains the basics of the story and also warms up the crowd; and he’s hilarious. Effortlessly so. The music uses multi tracking to build up incredible soundscapes using a Saxophone, a Double Bass, and a solo singing voice.
The only problem I have with the show really is it was too short – at 50 minutes, we only get to scratch the very basic surface of Don Quijote’s story – he goes crazy, he tries to fight a wind farm, he finds a migrant camp, there’s a storm, then it ends. There’s some tenuous ties to our modern era with it, and the clown even suggests at the start that when Miguel de Cervantes wrote the original novel, the society he lived in was undergoing a huge cultural renaissance, climate change, and political upheaval and uncertainty, a lot like today. I feel this could be teased out some more. More running time would help that!
Next, I went to see Aliens of Mons in Divadlo Kampa. Created by Teatr ad Spectatores from Poland, this is a show that’s about the battle of Mons, where, supposedly, St. George and his angels provided support to the British troops who were fighting, outnumbered by the Germans. And apparently, there were aliens involved too. Supposedly. The play ends up being about more than just that, and is a bit of a comedic whistle stop tour of the whole war, where the initial disagreements that kick off the war are presented as a barfight, and there’s not a single gun in sight.
I haven’t talked about the staging, which is what really makes this show so unique. If you’ve ever seen the Sideways Scene game from Whose Line is it Anyway (if not, google it), with all the performers basically lying on the floor and performing to a camera in the ceiling… that’s the entire show here. The performers in Aliens of Mons spend the whole show lying down, playing for a camera which is projecting a fuzzy black and white image the whole way through.
They’re basically creating a silent movie for you live, and the ways they navigate the space are hilarious and delightful to watch. But there’s something uneasy about the whole thing, about how they’re basically making light of one of the worst tragedies of the 20th century. And they’re totally aware of this fact too, using the dry humor to create this really subtle feeling of unease the further it goes. Great choices of music, too; using electroswing as a large chunk of the soundtrack seems to be commentating on how we fetishize and romanticize the ‘good old days’ when swing music was popular, everyone was so dapper and – oh yeah, millions of people died.
This is probably my favorite show of the whole festival. It blew me away. I hope this company will be back soon with more work!
My final stop tonight was Songs About Boys in the Museum of Alchemists, that glorious sweatbox. I missed Johnny Darlin (aka Michael Doshier) last year, and now I see what I really missed out on. Johnny serenades his audience with a keytar in hand, his songs ranging from early 2000s pop to thinly veiled parodies of Justin Bieber to some proper romantic power ballads; he stretches the capabilities of his synth to its limits. And all of the songs are biographical, based on his diaries. The lion’s share of the songs are directly related to men Johnny has known; not necessarily boyfriends or lovers, either! One particular highlight is Dancing Through the City, a dedication to a close childhood friend of his who transitioned from female to male.
I will say that it didn’t win me over straight away; the show starts with a bit of a cold open, going straight into a song about the terrors and fears that lead to suppressing your sexuality. I thought the lyrics were great but the tune just didn’t grab me. It got much better from then on, and there was this lovely sense of shared communion in that tiny, sweaty room. Great fun. But bring a cold drink with you, or you might find yourself swooning!
Today, I stayed in Kampa and had a becherovka and lemonade before watching Henri. In this Czech summer, I find the venues get quite hot in the middle of the day so even with cool lemonade I still need my water bottle during the performances. Henri is a brilliant performance that manages to convey everything it needs to through loud competitive sobbing. Three women at a man’s funeral are distraught, and catfights emerge as they attempt prove that they are the most distraught. They fight over who cries most dramatically, who stands closest to the ashes and who can put flowers on the grave in the most heartbroken manner. There’s some Spanish singing but apart from that, no use of language whatsoever. The set is simple and the comedy is as light as comedy can be when it’s about three grieving women. This performance has the audience laughing hysterically, it’s a miracle the performers manage to keep a straight face. I’m only sorry that their run ended that Monday.
Then we rushed to see Babel in the Beseda Foyer. It was a show that fell rather short of its premise. I think my experience of the show was rather different as I already knew of the website https://libraryofbabel.info/ which I think inspired the piece. This is an online library which contains every combination of 3200 characters on a page. Every book that has ever been and will ever be written exists somewhere in that library, though there is much, much more plain gibberish. The play explores the idea of a physical library existing like this one and the possible consequences. It’s a hard thread to follow, as this library already exists and is plainly ignored, as while entire pages of every Harry Potter book theoretically exist within its walls – there are also pages that read nothing but “Marmite is a non divisive condiment” over and over. If people really did do research in the library, what would be the point? The books have no logic, no verification. A book is nothing without an author and a reason for being. Even if one were to accept the premise, the presentation is lacklustre. Half the show is spent listening to a narration as subtitles shuffle across the ceiling, pulling your eyes away from the silent physical theatre on the ground. The actors move during the hard to hear narration, so you’re forced to choose between watching the performers perform or understanding the information being given to you on the projector.
When the performers speak, it’s slow and dare I say, rather pretentious. There’s no emotion and maybe that choice is to create a sort of alien/sci-fi universe but I didn’t feel myself compelled to listen or care about the narrative. I would much rather have seen a performance that focused more on a character or a simpler story within that universe. The actors are talented in their physicality but the surtitles distract from the art they create with their bodies. If there’s anything this show needs, it’s more focus on the performers and more energy from them.
The evening got better though, as I shuffled up to Inspirace for the last show of the day, Form. This show was everything I hoped it would be, if a little bit darker than I was expecting. The scenery is incredible, creating many worlds and environments using nothing but supplies one would find in an office. A man explores the world around him and slowly realises there is more than just work. He leaves the office to find adventure, sailing seas and seeking treasure – and though his colleagues join him for part of the journey, they still don’t seem to understand his curiosity and motivation. My favourite sequence was probably the medical drama sequence that involved a paper-cut – I don’t want to spoil this for anyone – but the physical work in this show is side-splitting. The production explores the tedium of work, the need for escape and criticizes our productivity-oriented society, all while being an incredible piece of clown work. This show is for everyone.