Thus Spoke ...

Wed 2nd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Elena Casale

at 21:56 on 21st Aug 2017

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Devised by Quebecois director Étienne Lepage and choreographer Frédérick Gravel, ‘Thus Spoke…’ is described as a piece of ‘existential pop’. What that means, I’ve concluded, is essentially a combination of interpretive dance and existential ramblings.

Rather than being thrown straight into deep philosophical theory, it creeps up on us in the form of a man who waits to greet us at the entrance to the theatre. For a while, he chats into a mic, making comments and small talk that become increasingly existential. Soon this flourishes into a full metaphysical exploration, as we are reminded that as ‘we’re privileged to have the effort to make efforts… to transcend ourselves’.

The choreography was audacious and hypnotic. Scene after scene manages to corporally convey complex philosophical theories, such as attempting to find the meaning of life through a process called ‘backspace’. Suggestive and symbolic body movements represent different stages of existential reckoning and states of mind with clarity and aesthetic brilliance. The music was equally well chosen and orchestrated.

‘Thus Spoke’ is a philosophical whirlwind where, at times, the spotlight is literally and metaphorically on you. Rather than this being intimidating, complex philosophical or even psychological concepts are expressed in layman’s terms to aim for maximum audience accessibility. One scene, for instance, conveyed Freudian theory of the human through the concept of being an ‘asshole’, concluding with a piercing question for the audience: ‘are you an asshole?’ Unfortunately, it didn’t get a response. Another monologue launched into a perceptive philosophical analysis - ‘We fight a state controlled hydra’ - discussed the role of political rebellion. There is a very visceral rape scene performed in front of our very eyes - Its definitely not one for the children.

Where there was potential for comedic relief, it was sadly not exploited. Self-mockery was sparse, and often the audience was too cautious to realise it. At one point, we are told, quite seriously, to ruminate on the ‘contingency of hardwood floors’. In another, a woman pretends to masturbate on stage whilst chanting her detachment from others suggestive of an ego-centric world. Unfortunately, such scenes were greeted with pensive expressions rather than laughs –having a bit more fun with the script and varying tone more would an have immense impact on the play.

Overall, ‘Thus Spoke…’ is an experimental, quasi- spiritual performance where you can expect revelations, mesmerising synchronic dance, flashes of true existential doubt, and plenty of occasions where you'll just think: ‘what?’.

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Darcy Rollins

at 22:07 on 21st Aug 2017

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"It's crazy that you're here at this show," a member of the cast drawled in the opening monologue of 'Thus Spoke...' After an hour of thrusting at the ground and speeches trying to bring abstract philosophy equally down to earth, I thought, yes, it was crazy that I was there. 'Thus Spoke...' is unique.

The show is half speeches, half dancing. After a bit of reflection, I realised that the speeches were long, intense attempts to break down abstract philosophical concepts into a comprehensible form (the kindof form that can be conveyed on stage to pulsating rock music). The show sometimes succeeds in this regard, and sometimes does not. The speech of one of the performers, who spoke energetically about the multitudes of ‘things’ before her excitement tipped into fear, was magnetic. Equally, a speech describing 'the state' as a concept whereby you cannot 'cut off the head' to end a system but must deal with the roots of the system was compelling: "How come having the boss killed doesn't change anything?"

Oddly, because I myself cannot, do not and so tend to not appreciate dance, this was the most arresting element of 'Thus Spoke...' for me. The four strutted and slinked around the stage in a way that enhanced the nature of the piece: a provocative meditation. The speech and dance were often entangled as diatribes ended bodies began to sink to the floor, as though being pulled by some irresistible force. The audience's attention is similarly drawn to the stage. While I began to lose interest in the words, I was transfixed by the movements of the group. References to 'Hendrix' on the flyer were barely an overstatement. The way they often used their bodies as instruments, to create a drum beat almost, built an electric tension throughout the piece. This culminates in a pulsing synth piece, almost overwhelmingly loud, as spotlights intensify and a last speech is performed.

That I, with my aversion to dancing to adoration of language, had my preferences reversed perhaps says a great deal about this show. It did seem like a case of style over substance; all elements screamed edgy but I struggled to find anything memorable in the content. Two moments, a rape scene and a performer pretending to masturbate, seemed particularly designed ‘to shock’ without really any purpose.

I came to the conclusion about half-way through ‘Thus Spoke…’ that time spent trying to understand just what was going on was time wasted. Once I accepted my ignorance, I actually had a pretty good time. Perhaps, there's something philosophical in that.

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