A Modernist Event

Sun 3rd – Mon 25th August 2014


Fergus Morgan

at 03:33 on 19th Aug 2014



There are certain genres of drama that undeniably require a rare acquired taste for full enjoyment. In embracing post-war modernism with their show A Modernist Event, The Lincoln Company have combined two shows from two such genres: French avant-garde theatre, in the form of Artaud: A Trilogy, and Dadaism, an abstract forerunner of the former theatrical style, in the form of Tristan Tzara’s The Gas Heart. The result is a show that, if not remotely enjoyable, is at least slightly appreciable for its energy and physical dynamism.

Performed by a five-woman strong all-female cast (Christina Ellinas, Stephanie Loanna, Faye Rose McDool, Samantha McKenzie and Samantha Jo Thomas), A Modernist Event sets out, (evidently unaware of the appalling cliché of such ambitions) to ‘question the very nature of theatre, the value of existence, and the objectives of art itself’. In truth, however, the majority of audiences will be unable to begin considering such lofty intentions, given the utter and tedious bizarreness of the piece.

During the first section, Tzara’s The Gas Heart, the troupe, who are already sitting frozen and waiting as the audience files in, wear irritatingly false smiles and lurid costumes, complete with flamboyant wigs. Although the repetitive and nonsensical ramblings of all five are unquestionably well-delivered, and although the entire piece is obviously highly polished, both physically and dramatically, its sheer oddness ensures the state of most audience members never strays far from pure bewilderment.

During Artaud: A Trilogy, however, bewilderment crystallises into despair with the dawning realisation that for all its high-brow pretensions, the work of Antonin Artaud, or at least the interpretation presented here, largely consists of orgiastic writhing, piercingly sharp screams and wholly ill-advised audience interaction (dragging a spectator from their seat and feverishly exploiting them on stage, causing visible trauma, is less a step, more plane-journey too far).

In truth, this is the lowest, ugliest (both aesthetically and theatrically) and altogether easiest form of provoking emotion in an audience, akin to smashing a pin-tack in with a wrecking ball. Although executed with commendable adeptness and enthusiasm, this approach lacks even a modicum of subtlety and quickly becomes tiresome as a result.

Director Chloé Doherty deserves credit for the scope of imagination in her physical direction; all five performances are ceaselessly corporeal, and visually engaging, if not enjoyable, as a result. Ultimately, this is A Modernist Event’s sole redeeming feature.


Jessica McKay

at 09:05 on 19th Aug 2014



The bio for A Modernist Event said the show would be a ‘demonstration of Dada to Expressionism’ and a ‘contemporary cruelty of theatre’. The play turned out to be as inexplicable and alienating as its overwrought description. The all female cast (Christina Ellinas, Stephanie Loanna, Faye Rose McDool, Samantha McKenzie, and Samantha Jo Thomas) quite literally grabbed its audience by the hand and dragged them to places they did not want to go in this strange little show. A Modernist Event was an assault on the senses and sensibilities - it will probably leave you running for the exit.

The show started of relatively sedately, with the girls dressed in sixties style bathing suits, dancing and posing in front of a screen projecting black-and-white Avant-Garde-esque film clips. There was some dialogue taken from Artaud: A Trilogy and Tzara’s Gas Heart, but it seemed to go straight over the heads of the entire audience - myself included. While this sort of post-modern modernist jonesing or 'pointed pointlessness' might be clever, it is often moreover tiring and unentertaining. The Fringe is about innovation. I’d much rather have seen these enthusiastic young actors perform a simpler piece of original drama than this incomprehensible reworked material.

From boredom, the audience was suddenly plunged into a state of fear and alarm when the girls stripped off and began to howl, scream and tear around the stage. The actors didn’t ‘engage’ with their audience as much as physically harass them; leaping semi naked into the crowd and dragging members to the stage before pulling off their clothes and simulating sex on top of them. Breasts were bared, windows licked, feet stroked: it was deeply disturbing for everybody involved.

A Modernist Event was odd, but you could never say its performers didn’t put their all into it. The five actors were very confident, passionate young women who will clearly go far in theatre.

A Modernist Event was definitely not a show for the faint-hearted, or your gran. However, I’m sure there are a select few individuals out there who’ll appreciate it. If you do go, be prepared to be exposed to sights and sounds you never knew existed and leave physically and emotionally drained. If I were to speak in a tone befitting the play, I’d call A Modernist Event weird as shit...I think the actors would probably like that label.


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