This has perhaps been the hardest review I have ever had to write, of any kind. In fact, I watched the show several weeks ago, and it has taken this long for me to be confident enough in what I thought of it to feel able to start typing. But then, when a group of people such as writer Wes Bull (more on him in a moment) and collaborating lead actor Peter Hynds (TS Theatre) are involved, you don’t expect a generic, bland, easy to review production and a nice smooth ride.
Writer Wes Bull is in reality Shaun Buswell, a man famed (at least in my neighbourhood) for his trampy beard, vast musical talent (check out the band Buswell) and love of ridiculous personal challenges (usually musical – see The Underground Orchestra for an example). Shaun has now turned to theatre, seeking to challenge himself and his audience through a new medium; a challenge I can now testify he has thrown himself into with some gusto and relish. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with earlier works such as the long run of shows he performed as Jurgen Milkwolff, a legendary project that was part musical, part comedic, part theatrical, part pornographic and wholly insane.
It is from these same dark corners of his imagination that this work has sprung. Ignore the title, it has little to do with the show, in fact, much of the pre-show promotion and chatter was smokescreen and ruse, as the team took great delight in misdirecting and essentially saying nothing at all about the production. Clever, as one of the stated aims from the very first moments was to challenge the audience’s perceptions, morals and comfort.
The production is part film, part live action, and once we had moved on from the frankly scary sight of Shaun’s disembodied head floating around a stark, white background things started in very familiar territory with some Milkwolff video clips. This served as something of a warm up for what was to follow, a warm up in the sense it began to reconfigure our brains into a state they would possibly accept what was to come next; a boundary pushing examination of perversion, shock, hypocrisy, decency, twisted humour and societal taboos, where your expectations were screwed up, kicked around and slam dunked into the nearest bin. To be fair, Shaun took pains in the opening to warn us, to ensure we were comfortable with what we were going to bear witness to. Or was that merely another way of creating presumption?
I really don’t want to give much more away; you really need to go into this experience with as few facts as possible so you can build up your own, wildly inaccurate expectations. If I gave you some of the keywords I noted down, you would lose out on a whole level of shock and hideous revelation, and I would hate to rob you of that. However, the final questions I noted, in heavy type, perhaps start to give you an idea of what lies in wait: “Has it started? Has it ended? Is this just a trick on us? CONFUSION!”
This is theatre as a challenge, a challenge to you the audience, to the writers and actors and to the theatre establishment. It asks more questions than it provides answers, and leaves you sickened, bewildered and yet, weirdly, rather euphoric. Perhaps it is our innate survival sense responsible for that last feeling, but regardless, don’t take your Granny to this.