Sat 20th – Sun 28th August 2011


Rowan Evans

at 22:14 on 20th Aug 2011



You couldn’t make this up. Two dramatic paradigms from either end of the spectrum, both equally ruined. What’s worse - soap-operatic realism reluctantly performed or a frantic hipfest lifted from a post-modernism reading list?

It doesn’t start well. As we arrive a script is lying open on the front row of stools. Five minutes past supposed kickoff and the actors are milling about on stage, preparing christmas crackers (why do they have to be pulled now?) and talking details. Ten minutes. A girl checks her phone and anxiously pokes her head from backstage. Are they waiting for more audience?

Some live sandwich eating action and ‘Repent’ gets going: the dialogue is stilted and the script abominable. Plot developments are clumsily introduced like emergency props, mostly from the over-egged and undercooked backstory - ‘O! You’ve got a letter!’ So, a woman’s daughter was raped and killed on her gap year by a man named ‘Nailer’ (yes), and her twin sister doesn’t want the mother to plead for his release from death row. Right. I feel like I’m back in the first day of AS Religious Ethics and teacher has suggested roleplay. ‘This is justice, an eye for an eye!’ Argh! Of course there’s nothing wrong with knotty plot premises, but the drama consists of nothing but the same tired debate. Some performances are convincing, and I can relate to the dilemma of new losses thrown into sharp relief by death: children leaving home, single parents leaving children for new partners. But it’s too late, any sincerity is lost early on in the lazy text.

What’s so awful about ‘Words’ is the maltreatment of now dated but important experimental modes that I do enjoy and respect. About a month ago I went to see Wim Wenders’ ‘Pina’, a documentary and showcase of the work of German choreographer Pina Bausch. It’s as if the cast had seen the work of the foreign performance artist and, in the hope that she is too obscure for anyone to have heard of, man, ripped her off without credit. Fortunately the unforgettable film is fresh on my mind. It’s not just inspiration: several gestures, a stomach-stabbing sequence in particular, are lifted directly from Bausch’s ‘Rite of Spring’ and ‘Cafe Muller’. I wouldn’t mind so much if the cast could really move, and true, no reason anyone should have seen the 3D blockbuster. Here’s some YouTube:, or O we of little culture.

Add to this the fragmented or dislocated diction a la Beckett’s ‘Play’ or Pinter’s ‘Landscape’, but faintly ridiculous without the textual richness or heft to sustain a diminished audio field. ‘I remember walking naked ... down the middle of a street ... completely naked ... wearing only a tartan scarf ... round my eyes ... ... I broke my nose’. I wish this had been a spoof. Then comes a sweaty, pre-orgasmic dying fly routine. I feel weary, a little bit aroused and very grumpy. God knows what these two troupes have spent the Goldsmiths Annual Fund on.


Annabel James

at 11:35 on 21st Aug 2011



‘Repent’’s first problem lies with Rachael Black’s writing, which addresses the fascinating question of different forms of human loss in terms so cliché-ridden and rhetorically identikit that any attempt to convey profound significance is lost. ‘You know this is the second Christmas without her,’ Becca says of her murdered twin Sarah. ‘Yes. She always loved Christmas,’ rejoins Margaret. Or, ‘this is about punishing someone who has committed the most terrible crime imaginable,’ Margaret explains in perfect soap-opera syntax. When the script’s not endorsing Eastenders-style sentimentalism it veers down some very strange avenues indeed: at one point it’s not clear if Becca thinks her sister’s killer should be executed because he committed murder, or because ‘he’s got Xboxes and God knows what else in prison.’ Twin clichés also abound: ‘She was my twin; the other half of me,’ Becca declares. So if she’d been a sister it wouldn’t have been just as awful?

The poor quality of the writing is compounded by a level of first-night messiness that wouldn’t be appropriate at a dress rehearsal. The cast kept us waiting a good ten minutes after the advertised performance time as they moved around with scripts and Blackberries, discussing last minute changes without bothering to go offstage. Nicole Twinam’s Margaret stumbled her lines and had a tendency to gesture far too much shared by Maeve Campbell’s Becca. There was an unnecessary abundance of props made more cumbersome by the cast’s lack of organization: at one point Becca sat down on a teacake. Margaret’s friend Gill (Indya Saunders) provided the show’s only laugh but seemed to forget she was visible as she waited stageside, playing with her hair and looking thoroughly bored. Clare Quinn as Martha, the mother of Sarah’s murderer, possessed welcome composure and a controlled vocal tone in the scene where she confronted Margaret. Unfortunately, she wasn’t enough to save ‘Repent’ from coming across as an unprofessional assortment of clichés.

As the second performance began the cast of ‘Words’ stripped the stage of its furniture and arranged themselves in a multi-level geometrical tableau. So far, so good. And then a prone boy with his face a few inches from a leather stool solemnly pronounced to it: ‘This is not the truth.’

So began a formulaic combination of speech and physical theatre with the self-stated aim of conveying to us ‘the power of words’. Once again, a potentially great idea was ruined by shoddy execution. Its fragmented speech was pseudo-Beckettian but totally devoid of significance. The phrase ‘stark naked with a tartan scarf around my eyes’ (this Scottish detail’s importance evident in their choice of poster -!/photo.php?fbid=2203486762726&set=o.154316929434&type=1&theater) was particularly difficult to stomach. The other component of the performance was repetitive, incomplete actions and gestures which were similarly under-rehearsed. The robotic nature of these interactions suggested a failure of connection between the figures, and could have been a really interesting exploration of human isolation had it not been for the fact that it was performed by a gaggle of red-faced students, pulling up stray bra straps and flashing wrists still adorned with festival bracelets. A faint smell of BO began to waft over the room. At one point a member of the cast forgot to move out of the way of two others who fell over, pulling down the backcloth of the performance space to reveal with perfect bathos the entrance to the men’s loos. The Viennese Actionists would be turning in their graves.

‘Words’’ moment of strongest potential had a female performer positioned centre-stage surrounded by the writhing, insect-like forms of other figures. Her monologue about barriers to human understanding was the first instance of poetic expression in what had been a hodge-podge of supposed performance art. Unfortunately, both ‘Repent’ and ‘Words’ gave us high expectations of their content only to let themselves down with poor composition and poorer delivery.


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