Chaos Theory Theatre presents Eight | Review
The Brian Friel Theatre • 16 November ’17
By Conor O’Neill
Their press release makes an interesting read: ‘We’re graduates from Queen’s; we set up Chaos Theory Theatre, a company committed to creating art which speaks to the neglected 16 – 30 year-old audience in Northern Ireland. We began our development with a survey asking this age group how they feel about their local theatre scene. The responses cried out for more comedy and more engagement with the struggles of this generation.’
And to kick-off, they’ve brought us writer – Ella Hickson’s Eight. Each audience member is given a square of paper marked with an X on the way in… my initial thought was, ‘start-up theatre group, little funding, makes sense’. The thought of a ballot box couldn’t have been further from my mind.
The set seemed a little disjointed: an artist’s easel stands to the audience’s right, slightly in front, a pair of bus/plane seats sit erect, beside them, another two but these are toppled over. To the viewer’s back right, a trashy half-decorated Christmas tree. To our left an unkempt bed and bedside unit, behind that a coroner’s table, under the white sheet I presume is a corpse. Behind hangs a large viewing screen, its size dwarfing the objects.
A voice welcomes us. Lighting dims, the white screen turns black, white lettering appears, ‘The Over Whelming Choice’ hangs as eight individuals walk on to the stage. The lettering changes, ‘You Will Vote For Who You Don’t want to See’. From my left to right, and in my terms and in the notepad were: Bearded Male, Blond Tall Male, Baldy, Smick Girl, Pin Stripe Male, Tennis Girl and finally, Prostitute Looking Girl… I wasn’t too far from the truth. Apologies sent to Smick Girl and the one who happened to look like a lady of the night.
We’re instructed from the front row to back to go forth and vote for who we don’t want to see. Each character is holding a ballot box. For whatever reason the six-foot blond fella stood out, my friend didn’t like the look of the schoolgirl; involving theatre right from the start. I couldn’t look him in the eye ask I tried to put my ballot in the box, tense guitar strings echoed among the shuffling of feet and embarrassed mumblings during the voting process. No formal count was overly carried out. I was thinking ‘is this a set-up as?’ the Tall Blond and Bearded one joined the audience.
We had made our choice. I had helped get rid of the Tall Blond, my friend was stuck with the School Girl, who for lack of a better comparison, looked every inch like Wednesday Addams. The beauty of this and the annoyance is that we didn’t get to hear the stories of the two who failed to get our vote of confidence: Chaos Theatre indeed.
All remaining six characters leave the stage. A quick rearrangement of the set leaves the artist’s easel and a couple of paintings sit centre stage. The baldy one comes on and enters in to a soliloquy; he’s the co-owner of an art studio. His arrival that morning finds the body of his lover and co-owner hanging in the storeroom. Edwin, I think is the hanged one’s name. A detailed homage to the mid-nineties is delivered. Partying, when being queer was a necessity in the art world, the pace of life, and how that changed. The time of this scene seems to be mid-noughties. Life has moved on, Hirst and Emin ripped apart. Captain Admin’s stiffy as he does the accounts and Sergeant Smooze a thing of the past. “Where is that fucking ambulance?” is followed by, “I suppose they don’t hurry… it’s a removal job now.” Not all is morose, the crowd giggles as the mourner thinks out loud, “One art gallery, two queers, and a corpse…what will they think, suppose they’ll be looking for gerbils” A siren and flashing lights, an ambulance arrives. Applause.
Scene two: I was right, she is a smick girl, though Glaswegian by the sound of it. Recently ejected from Tesco due to her sticky fingers, a single mum with mouths to feed and a secret to hide; pride to keep, run-away father. The Christmas tree is being decorated, a new job helping a middle-class old biddy, Mrs Beaton. Cake mix and memories. “No aggro, just solid, ken?” As with story one, melancholy and dark humour runs through the tale.
Another four follow, each different, each addressing different matters. For recent graduates, the writing and acting is spot on. To those not of a theatrical mind, some of the content might seem self-indulgent. The target audience of 16 – 30, especially those at the lower end of the scale, might find some of the references esoteric and cryptic. A good first outing though. Definitely worth keeping an eye on this fledgling company as they evolve.
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