Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Company, 'Politik': Bank Job

Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin
Oct 3-6

My review of Politik coming up just as soon as I dream of a black Christmas ...

(Note: This review was written after attending preview performances of the production.)

"The Company is Brian Bennett, José Miguel Jiménez, Rob McDermott, Tanya Wilson and Nyree Yergainharsian". 

Theatre company profiles don't usually read as minimalist as this.

Sometimes in the play programme there can be an account of the company's history, founding members mentioned, past productions referenced, and players distinguished according to their roles (actor, director, designer, etc).

The fact that The Company describe themselves in such minimalist terms, or refuse to give their production company a name that implies a genre or mission statement (The 'what' Company?) seems not to evoke an authority (The Company) but rather an ambiguity. It's to retain a reflexivity; to escape definition – thus limitation – of what theatre is, how they should make it, and, as in the case in Politik, who is in The Company.

Conceived during the time of the 2011 general elections, Politik is a response to an alienating political system where parties (which the ensemble all tried to join but were unsuccessful) exist at such cross purposes that there's very little scope for the voter to enact change in their society. The aim of the production is to give this lost agency to a public in a performance setting where the audience can influence proceedings. We are all enlisted into The Company.

A very apt allegory is created using four spaces: a public café where a team of not-so-discreet mercenaries meet, a bank which they rob, a disco where they make one-to-one dealings as to how to screw the others out of their share of the money, and the hideout where they face-off, spew political statements about our "prosperity" (when they're pushed to gunpoint, that is), and inevitably decide to do nothing effective with the money and instead put it in the bank.

Irish politics anyone?

With As you are now so once were we, director José Miguel Jiménez rearranged the set with the flow of a film camera panning a scene, entitling the audience to watch the action from different angles. This effect spills over here as the audience’s seats are arranged in clusters throughout the four spaces, each spectator observing the action from a unique angle. Rob McDermott affably asks us to contribute to the set of the disco. A dance-floor is marked out with chalk and a willing audience member becomes a stern bouncer. A Siberian tiger is added to the hideout, and a baby in a pram joins the scenery in the cafe, seemingly abandoned.
As the story repeats the audience's influence is more present each time, and the dramatic tension becomes positioned on the performance event and the actors' abilities to carry out their actions while being instructed by the audience to slot in hokey one-liners and perform with physical impediments,(*) and also sustaining the comedy of it all.

(*) I'm curious to know what one-liners and physical impediments were contributed on the other nights of the performance. Stutters, tourettes, and the actors being 'turned on' were brought up a few times on the nights I attended. Hilarious physical impediments included giving Nyree a hook and making Tanya blind. As for one-liners: Brian got the crowd pleaser - "I'll stop robbing banks when banks stop robbing people", and can somebody please sit Tanya down and have her watch 'The Princess Bride'? His name is INIGO MONTOYA!)

Some improvisational wizardry is required but the actors are well up to the challenge. Brian Bennett, a skilled tactician, recovers from spilling his coffee by telling the barrista: "I'm sorry, I got lost in your eyes", while Nyree Yergainharsian, streetwise, makes the conspicuous hilarious as she struggles to keep hold of a newspaper with the hook she's been given for a hand.

Democracy comes at a cost as the performance reveals another political dimension: when audience-involvement pushes to the point where the performers have to negotiate with their new colleagues. When the four face-off in the hideout, a woman leaps from her seat and takes up a grenade that's been inserted into the scene, taking over the action. A man playing the security guard in the bank wrestles the performers to the ground during the bank scene, and Tanya Wilson, sharp as a knife, later references developing a relationship with the man, thus allowing her to spring seductively and subdue him when they revisit the bank scene afterwards.

And that exemplifies their skill - their ability to be almost psychically receptive to each other's cues, to look out for one another. There is no other ensemble quite as attuned and charming as The Company, who, as if endowed with super-powers, are capable of the seemingly impossible.

The political structure of the country may alienate and the prospect of enacting change bleak but Politik certainly is a structure, a company of individuals, which at least feels damn good to be a part of.

What did everybody else think? 

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