Wednesday, April 02, 2008
I like buses. I will always opt for a bus over a tube, even if it adds time to my travels. I’d prefer it if they smelled less of fried things but I think this is a fair trade-off for the connection they provide with the above-ground world, with the living city.
I particularly like riding the bus at dusk or thereabouts, when people have flicked on the lights in their living rooms and kitchens, and, for a fleeting second or so, you can catch an illuminated glimpse of another life, people doing their evening things, pottering about their homes, watching their TVs. I always begin my journey with a book in hand and the desire to read it, but end up distracted by this theatre of lit windows, by these copious tiny top deck dramas. This is a little voyeuristic I know, but I think the impulse is a human one.
If you were to ride a bus through Hammersmith at the moment you may spot a gaggle of theatregoers sitting on a terrace, all wrapped up against the chill of the April air. They make for something of an odd sight, all wearing these clumpy headsets and holding binoculars, staring intently at the office buildings opposite. If you were on that bus you’d stare and wonder what on earth was going on.
David Rosenberg’s new work for the Lyric, Contains Violence taps into that desire to peer into other people’s lives from afar. A bank of seating has been erected on the Lyric terrace and each audience member, on arrival, is handed a bulky pair of headphones and a pair of binoculars. On donning your headset, at first all you hear is the soothing voice of Arthur Lowe, but then a man with a microphone begins addressing the crowd, directing our attention to the offices across the street. There, in strategically lit windows, we see a man with a stuffed penguin, a woman blowing up balloons. The obvious reference point is Rear Window, but, at its best, this is like an al fresco instalment of Chris Morris’s Blue Jam. There are long, unsettling periods were little happens and we hear only the clipping of high heels on stairs, the tapping of fingers on keyboards.
Having been saddled with that title, it was obvious that there would be more to it than that – there was a need to supply some actual violence. (Though I would have rather liked it if they’d called it that, given it that title, and then simply ignored it). But, no - the violence was duly provided, though, when it came, it was all rather obvious and neither as comic nor as shocking as it was, I suspect, intended to be.
I did enjoy the barbed, rambling monologues of the microphone man, but could have done with a tad more narrative or some further exploration of the voyeuristic urge. At one point a cleaner appeared at another office window and this is where the lines blurred for me. Was she part of the show or was she a real cleaner? I wasn’t sure but suspected the latter. If so, had she been told she might inadvertently be part of this strange spectacle, that she might have all these eyes trained upon her as she went about her business? To me this was more potent a moment than the sight of a man, some floors above, being tied to his office chair.
Still, this was a fascinating theatrical exercise, an idea that can’t help but excite, even if it turned out to be slightly more intriguing in theory than in execution. And, yes, I did take the bus home.