The title is a misnomer for there’s a lot more showing than telling in this collaborative show between Flemish theatre companies Ontroerend Goed (the company behind the wonderful Smile Off Your Face) and Kopergietery.
The cast is made up of thirteen teenage performers, not one of them older than eighteen. As the audience enter and take their seats, obscenities are screamed from the wings, there is jeering and screaming, lewd acts are suggested by young tongues.
The stage is naked except for thirteen mismatched chairs. As the production gets underway, the kids stream on, they bicker and brawl, they flirt and toy with one another, they loll in their seats, tilting to the point where they topple (exactly what you were warned against doing at school). Two kids play with a bin liner; one bashes another with her bag, jokingly yet hard enough to hurt; one chalks words on the floor; while another sits aside quietly playing with her doll.
Their behaviour is familiar, boisterous and chaotic, raucous playground stuff – except it’s not as chaotic as it seems. As the scenes repeats itself to a changing soundtrack, patterns are revealed, a sense of order asserts itself. The production, which grew out of a series of workshops led by director Alexander Devriendt, is incredibly well choreographed: the most casual of gestures are shown to be part of some greater thing, seemingly spontaneous behaviour is shown to be anything but. It reminded me of John Moran’s recent Soho Theatre show where a seemingly random collection of moments and utterances were revealed to be mapped out to the smallest beat.
It perfectly evokes the repetition, the monotony, of one’s schooldays. Beneath all this noise, all these allusions to anarchy and chaos, there is a strict sense of order. This original scene, this opening series of movements and interactions, is them repeated in various different ways, as a comic ballet, to pounding dance music, and then, ingeniously, with no performers at all, just with the props thrown on as necessary. An attempt to do the scene once more but this time only with boys, fails as the boys become coy and uneasy alone on stage.
Occasionally one of the performers comes forward and addresses the audience, tries to explain his or herself, but these moments are brief and the bulk of the production is dominated by the physical. At times there is an undercurrent of unease, the fear for bruised and bashed young limbs, the worry that there is something, not exploitative, but certainly external at work here. We are being invited to look but are unsure where the invitation comes from.
Reviewed for musicOMH