Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: (Toronto) She She Pop and Their Fathers: Testament

(photo by Dora Tuch)
Authenticity and Shakespeare
And Why She She Pop Has It
by Jason Booker

In theatre, things are rarely what they first seem to be. In She She She Pop and Their Fathers: Testament, the people and players and their relationships are presented as specific and authentic – sometimes truthfully and sometimes not – but always within the framework of ‘performance.’ 

She She Pop, a German performance art collective, has incorporated a bit more reality into this show than their usual, by taking four core members then adding their real-life fathers to the blend.  The result is a hybrid of King Lear (as the promotional materials indicate), a confessional where forgiveness is sought and European performance art complete with partial nudity, symbolic flowers and fruit strewn about and some karaoke versions of American songs.  Not just because the song becomes an earworm, this reviewer enjoyed the referential use of the Sinatra duet, Something Stupid: originally sung by father and daughter, though written for lovers since why would anything be simple or straight-forward in this show?

Each of the three fathers has a video camera focused on his face...

The loosely-structured script, performed in German with English surtitles, introduces the idea of the parent and child bond from Lisa’s line about not wanting to ask her father on stage, before the troupe trumpets on the other gentlemen to assume their roles from armchairs on the sidelines. Each of the three fathers has a video camera focused on his face, which feeds into an oversized photograph frame adorning the back wall of the set. Even while they are not the focus of the audience attention, they carefully watch over the proceedings of their progeny. 

Using snippets of their rehearsal discussions about representations and dignity, responses to particular lines in the Shakespeare original and biographical facts, She She Pop and Their Fathers testify for the audience about their tenuous relationships.  Some exaggeration occurs naturally and confusion ensues when the words of one family are placed into the mouths of another but these are all layers of the performance, elements that query what is authentic on stage.  Though post-show, it was noted that the cast-list features a performer who is not part of the initial writing team; she plays a real-life daughter that she is not, just as a typical theatre show would do, though in Testament, with such emotional honesty, it nearly feels like a betrayal.  These people are meant to only represent themselves; though, to be fair, their Regan hardly resembles the traditional take on that lady either.

These are modern day questions and concepts about parenting

The show permits each player to discuss their issues with their specific loved one ranging from a love of poetry that does not get passed down, poor hygiene, cruel name-calling games and absent parenting.  One father, a former physicist, lectures on his theory of how the parent and child’s levels of property and love inversely affect each other whereas his daughter calculates her missing monetary inheritance since she feels her father spends time with her niece and nephew because she has no children of her own to entice him.  These are modern day questions and concepts about parenting; they are real gripes that apply to a modern audience, including a very touching moment when the point is made that, when Lear gives up his kingdom, he still expects his loyal daughters to look after his needs: a precursor to the present-day nursing home debate many families have.

Well-paced and curiously eccentric, the show does not constantly transfix though it maintains interest.  Throughout the performance, the audience swings from laughter to tears, mulling over the content: there’s a lot to think about here, be it your now-pressing need to call your father when you get home or your mental list of what you want to inherit.  She She Pop redefines the meaning of what is family and what is real, while you determine that you never had quite thought of the world this way… which would seem to be the point of any theatre, yes? 

While it may seem like World Stage has a fixation with Shakespeare this season (this being the second take on King Lear) maybe there is call for renewed interest. These international reinterpretations often do anything but hold the text sacred – She She Pop reads Lear off a live projection, deliberately turning away from fellow players and adding their own colour commentary. Bringing diversity to the Toronto scene, riffing on the usual tired line readings and modernized settings of presentations of the Bard, Testament raises the question of how to engage an audience with a four-hundred-year-old play that may seem irrelevant today. 

Apparently, using real life is enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.