The Salford-based theatre company Quarantine regularly work with non-traditional theatre performers, in this case three theatre technicians. Director Richard Gregory proclaims himself fascinated with the process of setting up and dismantling a theatre performance – what goes on before the performers turn up and after they’ve left.
It’s an interesting idea. A “get-in”, as it’s called in the industry, can certainly throw up a whole set of dynamics deeply involving to those taking part. In their new show Entitled, Quarantine ask if they can be made to work as a performance before a seated audience in a theatre – in the director's words, "to turn theatre inside out".
On this showing, the answer would have to be: not well. A highly personable and interesting group of three technicians inhabit the stage. The production manager announces what is about to happen and why – "we’re going to place our mark-up tape here to show the upstage limit and here to show the downstage limit" etc – and then proceed to do it. There is a fascination in watching skilled people doing what they do best.
Three dancers and a musician emerge. They start to play or dance snatches of the performance you believe is about to ensue. That’s also interesting and skilful. At some point in the 100-minute show, all seven tell stories about themselves, their lives, their work, their hopes. Listening to people talking candidly about themselves and their lives is always arresting and you want to know these fascinating people better.
Meanwhile a set is erected. As soon as that’s been done, it’s taken down again, to an audible sigh of frustration from the audience – is this really all there is? When that’s done, the show’s over. The bit in between – the performance – has been eschewed completely.
It strikes me that the problem with all this is astonishingly simple. Gregory wants to deconstruct the technical aspect of creating a show. That’s fine. But if you deconstruct something, you have to put it back together in a way that gives it new meaning. This hasn’t been done. You are simply presented with the deconstructed process. There is little or no theatrical artifice in what you are seeing, with the result that it lacks focus or coherence.
Gregory has clearly become alive to this problem and tries to mitigate it with the performers’ stories – the telling of which is their entitlement – and the dance or music moments. Politically, that’s admirable. But it’s not turning theatre inside out. Stories and performances – the bits of this show that work best – are theatre’s most traditional and fundamental components!
This production is presented as part of the British Council’s Edinburgh Showcase. The expressions on the faces of those delegates walking out before the end told a story vastly stronger and clearer than the one unfolding on stage.