The second week of Arches Live begins for me with a production so ambitiously multifaceted that it’s a wonder it comes together so well. Michael O’Neill and Rob Jones’s #neednothing (4 stars) was preceded by a lengthy and elaborate social media campaign that encouraged followers to abandon their material and emotional needs in order to herald in the ‘better world’. The performance itself takes the form of a seminar, initiating audience members into the movement. But it is a ruse: the real story is about the three presenters, and the personal stories that have led them to this juncture. The cultish overtones of the #neednothing project are brilliantly realised; crucially, as with actual cults, its ideas are designed to appeal to real and recognisable human weaknesses. The characters are interesting too, although eventually the unravelling of their relationships begins to feel contrived.
Ian Nulty’s Robinson Family Undercover Secret Agents (1 star) is a classic example of good intentions not being enough. Nulty’s idea was to create a fake Facebook profile for alter-ego Robert Robinson, a deeply objectionable American right-wing Christian sort. In the show, he sits at a computer and fumbles around on Facebook, playing the odd video and displaying conversations with his fake friends on a large screen at the back of the stage, and a dodgy CRT telly at the side of the stage. The picture quality on both is terrible, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to Nulty’s browsing, which features long stretches of silence. This is all interspersed with dance sections that may want to deconstruct society’s idea of the gay man, or embrace it, or both, but just come across as weird and shoddy. There are also bad jokes that Nulty has heard somewhere else. We get it: the Tea Party are terrible people, homophobia is awful and guns are definitely a little bit phallic. Now tell me something that is actually shocking.
In Gate II (4 stars) by All Eyes Wide, I am blindfolded and decorated with headphones, let barefoot into the centre of a room and introduced to my fellow participant, also blindfolded. For fifteen minutes we hold hands and tentatively explore the surroundings. With no visual input, the environment is conveyed to us through the surface on which we walk, which has areas of sand, tiles and various other coverings, and the soundtrack, which features a sound or piece of music paired to each zone of the floor. The sensation of discovery is liberating, and being paired with a stranger in the same position gives me a reassuring confidence. The experience tickles the same part of the brain as exploring a computer game world, a connection hinted at by the use of a tune from Ocarina of Time. There is certainly space in this concept for a loose narrative to be woven in somewhere.
Mona Kastell’s L’Eveil (4 stars) is a captivating 30 minute solo movement piece. It begins with a strange, bag-like creature twitching on the floor. The twitching becomes writhing, and gradually the creature grows vertically into a more human-shaped being. The impression given by the rest of the piece is of an abstract transition between states, but it seems to be influenced by the emergence of the butterfly from its chrysalis. Either way, the interaction between the performer, the one-piece costume/set and the complex, dramatic soundtrack is mesmerising.
Finally is Risk (5 stars) by Fait Accompli, a piece of interactive theatre that gets full marks on both theatricality and interactivity. Essentially an abridged round of the titular board game, it sees the small audience led down the Arches’ goods elevator into a situation-room style space, divided into two teams, and made to battle for control of Europe under the watch of an erudite, mustachioed military commander. While the audience members are initially reluctant to make decisions with much gusto, it is not long before the situation progresses, time limitations are imposed and the fervour becomes palpable. The genius of the production is in its structuring: rules are carefully explained and new options introduced at a rate that seems to reflect the mood of the room, but actually directs it. The quick wits of the games master, and the manner in which teasing observations are made about the consequences of our actions, were this real warfare, are the final, subtle ingredients that make this more than just a game.