At their best, the relatively simple texts combined with the exaggerated theatricality twist and put a new perspective on our common references, Ole Hval writes about Verk Produksjoner’s new performance, which title is borrowed from a Bowie-song.
by Ole Hval
Beat The Drum: Wishful Beginnings begins wishfully with two actors standing in the stairs on opposite sides of the audience. On stage, a large wooden wall is built all the way up to the ceiling, and the space feels constricted. Solveig Mohn opens by asking Espen Klouman Høiner, dressed in a big furry jacket, personal and philosophical questions. “Espen, what are you grateful for?”. He contemplates for a while, and seems to be answering the questions not in character, but as himself. We are given the quietude to wonder about our own answers to the questions, together with him. “Would it fill you with hope is someone you knew died?”, “What is the most embarrassing thing you ever did?”, “Do you think you will meet new friends?”. The conversation evokes trust in me as an audience, and I immediately feel connected to the performers.
This is the second part of Verk Produksjoner’s performance series Beat The Drum, which, according to themselves, investigate our present time and future. The first part, Walk, premiered during the Meteor Festival in Bergen last year, and was marked by a dialogical approach, where the barrier between auditorium and stage was broken down. The audience were first invited for a walk in the Nordnes park, before entering a dance studio with actors seated on rugs, telling stories and reciting philosophical conversations. A drummer added a ritualistic feel to the setting, with a rhythm, a pulse.
In Wishful Beginnings, the audience is placed on traditional tiered seatings, and the closeness to the performers takes on a different form. In many ways, the wall blocking off most part of the stage, have adopted the function of the drums. The wall presses the performers into the audience, and physically forces a sense of community to form. The scenes are not only played out in front of us, but behind and around us.
Exaggerates the theatrical
The biggest difference from Walk, is that Wishful Beginnings no longer avoids the theatrical, on the contrary, it exaggerates it. The texts are still based on conversations and stories the group have gathered, but now, the recitals are adjoined with strong visual sequences. The actors can embody overblown characters and dress up in absurd costumes. For instance, we meet the ghost of Hamlet’s father, manifested with a Cleopatraesque golden helmet with black feathers, white tights and an extra pair of shoes attached below the actor’s real shoes.
Absurdity is an important device in the performance. The ghost does not directly resemble a ghost, but reminds us of a mixture between a bad action-figure and a greek god. And when one of the actors plays out his own death, he gets a clown’s mask as his death mask. These theatrical elements are not only accentuated, they are distorted and inverted. In the contrast between theatrical devices and the friendly and sincere demeanour of conveying the text, a tension arises. The safe relationship the performers are establishing with the audience, is challenged by the comical, and at the same time frightening caricatures.
One strong sequence was for instance when Espen Klouman Høiner is asked to act out his own fear of dying from skin cancer. Whilst acting out this scene in grave seriousness, a Mickey Mouse clown, a skeleton, and the absurd ghost from Hamlet approach him in slow motion, with large gestures. The ghost holds an axe over his head, his mouth wide open, whilst staring at the audience. The scene balances the comical and frightening, and a tension arises between the sincere and the contrived. The performance holds a suspension which was absent in the more down-to-earth Walk.
Nevertheless, some of the sequences felt slightly mundane and lacked dynamics. Especially in the middle part, I could catch myself thinking of other things. It is not so easy to put the finger on why some of the sequences don’t speak so much to me. Perhaps were they too similar to the previous scenes, or perhaps they lacked some of the authenticity which was supposed to contrast the theatrical. The giant wooden wall was an elegant instrument to create a togetherness, and to comment on how humans are “blocked inside” their own existence. On the other hand, the wall caused a limitation, and I had the feeling that the visual ambitions of Verk sometimes staggered in the narrow space the actors had at their disposal.
At its best, Wishful Beginnings opens for an associative experience, where the relatively simple texts become an entry into one’s own thoughts about humanity and where we are heading. The exaggerated theatricality twists our common references, challenges us to make new connections, and to see ourselves in a new perspective. “What is your ‘wishful beginning’?”, asks Solveig Laland Mohn, directed at Saila Hyttinen, halfway through the performance. Throughout, they suggest new possible beginnings for humanity, mixed with potential downfalls, fear and agony.
The expression “wishful beginnings” has a cunning double meaning. At first hand, it could sound positive, but it can also be interpreted as something unachievable (as in ‘wishful thinking’). The title of the performance is taken from a song by David Bowie, the man who recently left this world, with a strictly directed death. Bowie used the term to describe a pipe-dream, a dream never realised;
We had such wishful beginnings
But we lived unbearable lives
Wishful Beginnings is an ambitious performance, daring to ask the bigger questions, and that succeeds in elevating everyday texts onto a highly artistic level. Even if all the visual sequences did not hit me as much, I experienced travelling through my own and other’s philosophical contemplations about the future. But the future is hard to catch. “Per aspera ad astra”, as Mohn says, or as Håkon Mathias Vassvik translates; “You have to go through the shit to reach the stars”. Wishful Beginnings both continue and develop the company’s Beat The Drum-concept, and I am looking forward to seeing what Verk Produksjoner has planned for their next part.
Beat the drum – Wishful beginnings. Verk Produksjoner, Black Box Teater 2016
Black Box Teater
by Verk Produksjoner
By and with: Fredrik Hannestad, Saila Hyttinen, Tilo Hahn, Signe Becker, Solveig Laland Mohn, Håkon Mathias Vassvik, Per Platou, Anders Mossling, Espen Klouman Høiner, Pernille Mogensen, Camilla Eeg-Tverbakk, Jon Refsdal Moe and Agnes Gry. Co-production: Black Box teater, Teaterhuset Avant Garden and BIT Teatergarasjen.
Supported by Norsk kulturråd
The performance is shown until 17.4.16