Monday, 27 May 2013

What did I just watch?

Very occasionally, you can look up and down your row at the end of a play, and everyone will have exactly the same expression. Exactly the same reaction. And so it was on Friday after ‘Pastoral’ at the Soho Theatre. The lights came up and I swear that every single one of my companions had a great big ‘WTF’ written all over their faces.
The single problem with this extraordinary new piece of theatre is that it doesn’t know what it’s trying to be; is it funny? Is it bleak? Is it a dark reflection of the consumerist society we live in, or a message to tell us to embrace the natural world? I genuinely have no idea, because it had elements of all these things. Moll (by far and away the star of the show, Anna Calder-Marshall) had a wonderful 5 minute monologue to the audience, (lamenting the rise of ‘the fat’, seen on her long days people-watching) but as soon as other characters come into play, this lovely relationship with the audience is squashed, as is Moll’s own brilliantly quirky character.
Other characters, periphery next to Moll and Arthur (played very well by a woman, Polly Frame, but an odd choice of casting) were somewhat two-dimensional, and the script became soft in places, leaving you dreaming of another Moll-ologue (would two Northern city boys really know an array of obscure plant names? And can they really see them all through a pretty pathetic pair of binoculars?)
Aside from the character of Moll, the point of true genius in this production was Michael Vale’s set. All controlled by magnets, a forest blossomed out of the flat before our eyes – flowers, pointed like darts, dropped down from the ceiling to stick in the ground.
The idea of having the Ocado man (beset by wild beasts and jungle on his trip) deliver an epic tale of danger and bravery, backed up by a full string ensemble through the speakers, was a good one, but writer Thomas Eccleshare egged it out just that little bit too long – and so it was with the whole thing. Where are you going to go with this plot? How does an essentially apocalyptic storyline keep up the humour seen in the first section? You can't have man (once again) reclaim the world from the plants, because surely that isn’t the point... so where's the end point?

This evening was immeasurably improved by bumping into Anna Calder-Marshall herself on the stairs. Totally unprovoked, she had this to say:
'It is odd, isn't it?'

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