Friday, February 22, 2008

Bathtubs, Bangkok and the Barbican

It's been a while since I entered the eerie interior of the Barbican. On Tuesday night it felt particularly odd: more staff than visitors, the evening's concert already well underway.

I was there to see Tough Time, Nice Time, the latest BITE commission from Ridiculusmus. Before the show I ran into the West End Whingers, who were, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the vicinity of the bar. Well, I say ran into, they were semaphoring at me from the adjacent table for a good five minutes before I noticed them.

We then spent a further five minutes being bewildered by the lifts (not all of them go down to the right level for the Pit theatre because, well, because it's the Barbican), arriving in the right place just in time to see an overzealous usher extracting dawdlers from the men's bathroom.

So: Tough Time, Nice Time. The lights come up on two men sitting together in a bathtub, which we soon establish is in a Bangkok sauna. The two men sip beer and they talk. And they talk. For 70 minutes. That's it. But, strange and static as this show is, it's also quite fascinating, a repellent yet compelling watch.

The two men, played by Jon Haynes and David Woods, are both ex-pats, Germans. One is a lawyer, the other a hack writer of some description. They don't know each other, have little in common, bar a shared nationality (though while the website blurb says both characters are German, Haynes' accent bore little trace of this I thought). Their conversation meanders as conversation tend to do, awash with film references and cynical jokes. Some of what they say is shocking, some of it banal.

The lawyer is keen to tell his story to the writer, to share his past with him. But, if there's a theme at all in this piece, it's that stories, and the telling of them, are subject to all manner of factors. Truth is a loose concept. The writer is in turn fascinated with atrocities and drops references to genocide into the conversation with the same easy flippancy with which he discusses the plot of The Constant Gardner, real horrors and celluloid fictions bleeding together as he speaks.

Haynes and Woods have a real rapport, unsurprising as they've been working together for 15 years, and the show is tautly written, but the sheer unpleasantness of the men they portray, for me overrode the play's ideas about the ownership of stories, about how memories have become commodities, another thing that can be sold.

Naturally, after the show we felt duty bound, compelled to discuss these issues further, something that could only really be done in the pub over the road with a couple of bottles of red as an aid to intellectual clarity.

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