Mini-reviews – Analog.Ue and Riverrun – single handers at the National Theatre

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A play performed by a person setting out reel to reel players that recite bits of a story a few minutes at a time: sounds great, right? I’d seen Analog.Ue described somewhere as a sound experiment, and at £12 I was very willing to let the National take me for a journey.

Unfortunately, despite Daniel Kitson saying he wanted this to not be a show about him, well, it was, and it was self-indulgent and boring, little more than a parlor trick. Yes, he got something like 50 machines to actually do the trick of playing a story (a few interlayered ones) in sequence. No, what they had to say was not interesting. It was like reading a book, only if it had been I’d have been able to close it and not have to walk over 20 people to get out of the theater and away from the boredom.

To make it all the more frustrating, I’d just read a really great review in the Metro for Olwen Fouéré’s Riverrun, and I felt burned as hell that I’d just wasted two hours on a pile of self-indulgent crap when I could have seen something really awesome and there was no way in hell I could see the other show. For once it wasn’t because it was sold out: it was because it was a short run, and me, I had a show Tuesday, surgery scheduled for the next day, and then was going to be laid up for at least a week. Riverrun closed on Saturday. The gods spat on me.

Then I caught a lucky break: the doc decided, while I was on the table, that I didn’t need the surgery. What was my thought (about two hours later)? RIVERRUN!!! About 8 tickets were available for Thursday night and I was in.

I’m not going to give a big review of the show – it was, in a way, a staged reading (of Finnegan’s Wake, in fact this bit here), so what’s there to say about one woman reading a memorized section of a book – except, not just separately but contrasted with the show I’d seen before, it was a brilliant, powerful hour in the hands of a master – not just Joyce but Fouere. I wanted to go to experience the words of a great who had flummoxed me as a reader spoken aloud, to see if meaning and context could be provided by hearing where the eye-brain connection had failed me: and what I got was an evening where I was fully challenged, knowing full well that meaning and context was absolutely there, but sometimes it was eluding my grasp.

The words, spoken, were like Lewis Carroll spinning out Proust, with all of the ridiculous catchphrases that Proust cut out forced back in but turned inside-out. I would not make it make linear sense, so I just surrendered and let the patterns that would form do so: sometimes getting bits of this and that, sometimes going into a bit of a free-association zone that had me thinking, “Life is long and we have many chances to love. I’m going to get me a dog again, a puppy, that I will love and eventually watch grow old and die. But I will enjoy that joyous time while I have it. I have time: I can make it happen again” all in a flash while Anna Livia Plurabelle talked about leaves and her father and places I had never visited in beautiful, lush language that I glimpsed like a gold nugget rolling along a silty creek bed, just there, glowing, then covered with mud again.

Never once did I have a doubt about Olwen knowing what she was saying; she spoke and it was up to me to be able to make it cohere. She treated me as someone with the power to rise up, not as a person who needed to be spoken down to. And, as I hoped, I left the theater with the strong desire to read Joyce, and an unshakeable feeling that I had just seen something really, really good: a powerful hour performed masterfully. This was what I went to theater for; not to be pandered to but to have that brass ring of amazingness held out for me to reach for. Thank you, Ms Fouéré, for having faith in us.

(Analog.ue was seen on March 17th and has closed. Riverrun, no relationship to the novel of S.P. Somtow, was seen on March 20th and runs through March 22nd.

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