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[Review:] 1001, Omnibus Theatre, London.

To clarify, the performers use their own forenames for their ‘characters’ in this performance. Any inclusions of these forenames refer exclusively to these ‘characters’ that we are presented; any surnames refer to the performers themselves. For crediting purposes, surnames are also included in brackets when forenames are first mentioned.

I shall start with the recognition that I personally really enjoyed this performance, but my critical and personal perspectives are two very different things.

An official synopsis of this performance states explicitly, ‘1001 is a desperate plea for rest. […] The exhaustion you see on stage is not an act. Performers are subjected to routine-like repetition, exhausting themselves physically and mentally’. This performance is rather disappointing in this respect, as I can say with absolute certainty that these performers are NOT, by any definition of the word, exhausted — especially not ‘mentally’. I have done countless work with exhaustion, and if these performers can giggle amongst each other, completely unaffected by their work whilst heading home, relaxed and talkative after another fine day on the stage, they are certainly not ‘burnt out’ as they are elsewhere described. When complete silence and inaction befalls a performer after their work, when their body “gives up on them”, buckling, shaking and faltering as they try to perform even the most mundane actions during their performance, only then can this exhaustion be noted and sufficiently thorough for the creatives to make these claims. The aim of this performance is clearly to create and open a space that can demonstrate and expose the human body (and in some ways the human mind) in a state of extreme struggle, extreme exertion and, ultimately, collapse. As this is the primary objective of this performance, I cannot say that this was a successful or effective performance at all, despite how much I personally favoured it.

Ironically, the only way I identified this ‘exhaustion’ — as this theme was, at least, identifiable — was through this very plasticity that the creatives deny, this artificial and deliberate representation of exhaustion. Instead, the main themes of this performance, I find, are physical labour and routines of labour, pressure, struggle, uniformity and comparison.

Referring once more to the synopsis: ‘To survive in capitalism, work is essential, work is part of an identity. If you don’t work, you cease to be. Is there an alternative?’ This implied theme of physical labour is very successfully communicated, and this is good, considering this is a fundamental focus of this performance. The paper aeroplanes becoming a symbol and material product of this physical labour, to have them carelessly spilt across the stage, only then to have the culprit of this mess not help the [implied] labourer, is a wonderful symbolic expression, for instance. However, it is the latter part of this quote, ‘is there an alternative?’ that concerns me here. It is a question that is in no way addressed by this performance, and so to posit this question at all is most strange to me.

The theme of uniformity is obvious, and so I shall not comment on this, but I will comment on yet another quote from the official synopsis: ‘[This performance] is an attempt to resist the exploitation, the routine and the weight of “required” success’. Success is certainly not illustrated in this performance at all, beyond Ruth’s (Mestel) speech that sees her compare herself to others and their successes, a speech to which I refer to again briefly below. I can only imagine, not perceiving this resistance or success in any aspect of this work, that this refers to moments when performers break away from the collective, such as during the dance routines or at the very end, when the rest of the performers have left the space as Ruth continues to wiggle her hips from left to right before us. These moments do not constitute a resistance against success…especially as there is no success evidenced by those who, in fact, complete the dance routine or leave the space, for example. As the audience, in order to understand the specific ‘success’ against which the performers are resisting, we need to understand that this success is, in fact, achievable and in what form this success is manifested: titular, financial, popularity, etc.

Instead, this “breaking away” is merely a disruption of routine, which is not to imply that these performers are “taking matters into their own hands” and resisting, but, rather, that they have become fixated upon certain aspects of the routine they regularly endure, whilst others continue to progress — whilst other performers progress to the next steps, one stagnates. This is a mere exposure of the psychophysical relationship between the self and routines of labour, and this expression of mere progression and stagnancy should not be confused with the expression of success and stilted success or failure; there is a considerable nuance here. I will say, however, that this resistance is certainly perceptible in one of the first scenes, wherein the rest of the cast throw their glasses of water over Daz’s (Scott) head. This is certainly a resistance against the routine of her incessant weather speech, but this singular example alone is not sufficient to claim that this is a principal or significant focus of this text. In a similar way, the “zinging and zinging” routine the cast performs on Marta does not break routine but disrupt it, with each performer doing the very same thing but with significant changes to style and mood: one is forceful, the other playful, the other brusque. This is an embellishment of or variation on routine, NOT a resistance against it.

The theme of comparison is signalled by various elements, but I shall give two examples here: 1) whilst clothes are almost identical in terms of colour, the forms of clothing (from jumpers to cardigans) differ from performer to performer; and 2) the performers directly compare themselves to others, whether this be Ruth’s aforementioned speech, or Marta (Šleiere) noting that she cannot fold the paper aeroplanes like the others are doing, because she has forgotten how, and asking for Daz’s support. This theme of comparison forces us to home in on the individual performers and to cross-reference them and their activities, and this intensifies differing performance styles that I feel confuse the reading and meaning of this performance.

Šleiere is clearly more accustomed to character-based work than the others, as a certain “theatrical” profile and overexpressivity creep into her performance persistently. Her movements are emphasised, dramatic, forceful. This is then contrasted with Mestel’s almost lethargic performance. She is slower, not as invigorated; her movements are understated and lack the impetus of her counterpart performers; her delivery is stunted, lacking. It is clear to me that these distinctly different performance styles are not deliberate but unconscious and automatic, and this should be urgently addressed.

There is also another theme, one of childhood. Perhaps conceiver/director Jana Aizupe’s line of work was related to work in schools or with children — I cannot be sure — but what significance in this performance that this theme beyond perhaps this is debatable. From dance routines to deliberate and careless mess-making, to eating sugar doughnuts and Hubba Bubba bubblegum, to Martha’s (Harrison) caricatural and childish profile that she extremifies towards the end of the performance, to incessant winging and, of course, the act of making the paper aeroplanes, the references to “childish activity” are constant. But childhood and childish activity seem to constitute merely a means of accessing and depicting the more important and more relevant themes I have enumerated above; they have very little to do with the performance themselves and allow for a confused and irrelevant subtext that communicates not just social pressure but inclusion, the unsocialised, the yet-to-be-institutionalised, inarticulacy, learning and egotism. This ought to be readdressed.

Whilst I cannot comment conclusively upon set design, as the creatives were not able to secure the set they wanted on the night I saw this performance, I will say that a blank-canvas stage with a neutral back wall certainly sounds like an effective decision. It complements well the nature of this performance, concentrating our attention towards the bright-clothed ‘struggling’ bodies of the performers, the fundamental aspect of this work.

However, theatrical properties, as wonderful an aesthetic these produce altogether and a function these have, are ill-handled by the performers. Throughout, I had a certain fear that the performers would slide upon the mess of spilt water and soggy, slippery sheets of paper and fall to the ground. And this fear was not one that had been invoked deliberately, an artistic one, one born of a great yet manufactured sense of danger caused by the products of their labour; it was merely a significant tripping hazard, one for which the performers had clearly not prepared, managing to steady themselves when almost slipping but still slipping involuntarily, nevertheless.

Furthermore, objects like sheets of paper, or the bubble gum cases specifically, regularly fly towards the audience uncontrollably. These elements communicate that the performers have no profound awareness of the space, its topography and the items within it, and of their corporeal relation to these. Further training must be done to ensure this awareness is sharp and profound. Performers should not merely be going through the motions of the work as in rehearsal but experiencing and conscious of the work in its entirety at the time of performance.

Overall, this performance falls away from the majority of its aims, and there is a clear lack of understanding on the creatives’ part as to what their work is actually doing, as opposed to what they intend it to do. There is a misalignment of meaning and purpose in this way. However, for what this performance is, and for the manner in which it is delivered, 1001 is most articulate and coherent. Performers, for the most part, are dedicated and confident. I would just recommend that all performance styles are made to be a great deal more relatable, and that creatives differentiate for themselves that which informs the creation of a work, i.e. what inspires it, from what the finished work actually signifies alone.

“A good and rich performance but shaky in the conception and communication of its aims.”

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