John Hurts (From Idiot)

Mon 8th – Sun 14th August 2011

reviews

Madeleine Stottor

at 09:43 on 15th Aug 2011

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‘John Hurts (From Idiot)’ is a bizarre and baffling production. Listed as ‘absurdist, performance art’ rather than theatre or comedy, this two-woman show leaves its audience in the dark – quite literally, for most of the production, but also in terms of what is trying to achieve.

Lisa Jeschke and Lucy Beynon use recordings, nonsensical speeches, swimming goggles, and darkness to comment (I think) on the ‘dictatorship of communication’ and the ways in which theatre and society speak to their audiences. This minimalist piece challenges the communicative conventions of theatre, by plunging its audience into darkness and being deliberately difficult. It is not a play, having no plot, nor really a comedy, though the two women declare their intentions to be ‘a comedienne’ (why singular if there are two of them...?) and some audience members find elements of the show amusing.

In ‘John Hurts’ Jeschke and Beynon attack everything from art to politics, beauty to laziness as ‘shit’ and say that ‘theatre needs to destroy itself in its own making’, and that being held hostage with explanation (as they do here to their audience) is ‘elitist’. The show is deliberately difficult, aiming to disorientate its audience completely. The problem with this is that it is not enjoyable at all, and that their real message, if they have one, is unclear and perhaps contradictory. Sitting in darkness for half an hour while two women shout ‘bar gap fat bar fat bar gap thin bar gap’ isn’t even unnerving – it’s just dull. In 2010, the Cambridge Literary Review called this performance ‘rare and exciting’, ‘enlivened by a relentless openness to risk’. I would disagree on almost all counts. ‘John Hurts’ is certainly rare – it is like nothing I have seen before. But it is also nothing like exciting, and nothing like anything I would want to see again.

Tickets for the show cost £6. £6 for half an hour of boredom and mild confusion. Further, I would question the PG rating the show is given on edfringe.com. When what feels like three days (but may only have been three minutes) is spent shouting ‘Art is shit, politics is shit, philosophy is shit, etc.’ and another section ‘cuntboobtittyboob’, to say that it has only ‘some strong language’ is a misleading understatement.

‘John Hurts’ advertises itself as political, ridiculous, unintelligible and to be fair to the show it does fulfil this self-imposed brief. Problem is that it is so ridiculous and unintelligible that any political message it might have is obscured, and the audience gets nothing from the performance. Jeschke and Beynon aren't trying to create an enjoyable or beautiful piece of art (they think art is shit, remember) but 'John Hurts' is too alienating, too obscure, too confused , and almost painful to watch.

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Harriet Baker

at 11:58 on 15th Aug 2011

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I am lost for words when attempting to review ‘John Hurts (from Idiot)’. I simply couldn’t identify what this piece of theatre – excuse me, performance art – sets out to achieve, what it means or even whether or not it was good. I left the Annexe with a sense of complete bafflement. Some members of the audience laughed and the applause at the end suggested they had been really entertained, but for the twenty or so minutes of complete darkness that punctured the performance I sat there halfway between breaking into hysterical laughter and feeling a bit nervous.

Two women are standing onstage wearing headphones and swimming goggles. They proceed to speak in a bizarre manner; slow, heavily consonantal sentences said in unison and yet not quite at the same time. It was jarring, agonizing, and didn’t make sense. Five minutes of a description of a ladder, “fat rung, gap, thin rung, gap, fat rung…” left me at a loss before the piece had even properly begun. These speeches alternated with their recorded voices on tape played on stage. I think I managed out of the white noise to identify a comment on the arts, or entertainment (perhaps, I may be wrong); “we decided to become comediennes… we were told we needed to tell a joke… (silence for about four minutes)… we struggled.” Indeed.

There was a moment when I began to understand, or at least feel like some sort of epiphany was looming. It was in the pitch blackness whilst one of the performers let out a monotonic drone and the other proceeded to scream at the audience until her voice was raw: “Ambition… is a pile of shit. Sexuality… is a pile of shit. Individualism… is a pile of shit. Dreams… are a pile of shit. Femininity… is a pile of shit. Academia… is a pile of shit… (This went on for quite some time, the list was infinite); All that is left is miserliness, and justice, and noise… I am out for myself.” I thought perhaps this was some comment on self-seeking individualism in modern society, on the disguise of femininity, on theatre failing to communicate as an art form, or an experiment in deconstruction. Those conclusions seem to cancel each other out; I am left with nothing.

Perhaps the only way to see this show is set between a pair of quotation marks, so it becomes ironic. But irony cannot excuse it. Like some piece of high modernist art it alienated, baffled and succeeded in making me feel quite stupid. I was indignant about this; if its purpose is to alienate then it defies the point of theatre. I was not constructively challenged or led to some hidden truth, I was not reassured, reaffirmed and I certainly wasn’t entertained. Some members of the audience looked a bit smug, as if they had read the right book or got the joke. But I have greater faith in myself to think that this, in fact, is a pile of shit.

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