The Vacuum Cleaner

Tue 13th – Sat 17th August 2013


Joshua Adcock

at 01:54 on 16th Aug 2013



At the end of the show, one of the cast of 'The Vacuum Cleaner' tells the audience "this will not make sense". It’s a piece of advice we could have done with at the beginning of the show, as the audience is constantly kept guessing the whole time as to what kind of game is being played with us here. Staring us down with the house lights up so that we’re part of the ‘show’, breaking the fourth wall by talking about the fourth wall, before smashing it to bits by talking about the things that can go wrong in theatre, all keep the audience guessing as to just what is actually being presented to us.

At a later stage, the audience is promised that characters will finally be stripped down to reveal the ‘reality’ behind: of course, this is a rhetorical manoeuvre, intended to build up our illusions before stripping them down, so that what’s really revealed is our expectations. 'The Vacuum Cleaner' is, basically, anti-theatre, attacking and subverting all of the fundamental concepts of theatre and its claims to veracity and immediacy.

However, even though it looks as though it overturns its own ideas, it actually just postures us and itself in such a way as to guide us towards the conclusion that it is trying to hammer home: that theatre is false and artificial. Which is fair enough, given the warning at the beginning that we were being manipulated, but it’s the appearance of outsmarting theatre which makes the show frustrating. Furthermore, certain segments seemed to be tactics to shock the audience, but came across as pointless displays of daring.

Though well executed and clear in its intentions, many of these strategies are not particularly original: many a dramatist has visited these depths before, though perhaps not with quite such enthusiasm for stony-faced disregard for the audience’s expectations. Nonetheless, the show does undeniably have a very clear strand of critical thought running through it - evoking Dadaism and postmoderism - and it enacts that philosophy with total faith.

'The Vacuum Cleaner' does, undoubtedly, achieve its own stated goals: to make us, the audience, painfully aware of the artificial and contradictory nature of the show put in front of us, and of theatre in general. Yet, in doing so, it becomes a testing and violently untraditional show, which is not without reward, but which makes it a difficult show to recommend to the average Fringe-goer in search of novel entertainment. It is so unconventional and erratic that the only comment to be made about it is that 'The Vacuum Cleaner', from the beginning, does not, really, make sense.


Emma-Jane Manion

at 10:12 on 16th Aug 2013



With the tagline “the worst show you will see at the Fringe… probably”, I felt ‘The Vacuum Cleaner’ wasn’t going to be exactly cooperative. These performers were going to make this a test of my endurance; a stand-off between me and them. I sat there quietly as they pranced around on stage, sticking up their middle-finger to theatre. Yeah, theatre! You’re just about mind control and the manipulation of the audience! What’s honest or genuine about that? Then we see a woman pretend do a poo on stage to the song ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’, before wiping it all over her face. I’m beginning to think I actually quite like theatre.

So you might get the impression from this opening paragraph that I wasn’t too keen on ‘The Vacuum Cleaner’. I don’t know if this means it was bad. This piece of anti-theatre deserves an anti-review. I get what they were trying to do. I think. If they were trying to do anything at all, apart from be pointlessly provocative. But the only emotion they provoked in me was the desire for a can of Rubicon, and the only question whether panda cola was the same as panda pop or not (this train of thought was sparked by their rendition of the Liverpudlian national anthem).

The performance does not make sense, something which the performers fully admit and relish. But I was not confused or perplexed, drawn in by my sense of curiosity. I was bored. This was probably how they wanted me to feel. They do not break down the boundary between audience and theatre, but reinforce it by being purposefully oblique and hostile. The whole “I’m not being funny. But I am really” act also gets tiring and leaves me considering how much potential the cast has to be actually funny. Why not leave the pretentious art and theatre stuff behind, and make a nice, uncomfortably mainstream, comedy sketch show guys?

If you enjoy absurdist theatre, I actually think (I cannot know for sure) this is a reasonably well crafted piece. The performances are well done, I have no complaints there. It is quirky and mischievous, but I can’t help but imagine those two adjectives could be applied to another show at the Fringe, which is also: (delete as applicable) fun/enjoyable/heartwarming/thought-provoking. I think I’d rather see that show please.

As I’m sure the cast of ‘The Vacuum Cleaner’ would like me remind you, this review is just the subjective opinion of one person. Good and bad are abstract qualities with no real meaning. View this show at your own risk.


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