Saturday, May 25, 2013

Review: (Toronto) KAMP

(photo credit: Herman Helle)

Provocative Puppetry
Concentration KAMP on Camera
by Jason Booker

A piece with thousands of puppets sounds accessible, right? 

Imagine though that they are each only eight centimetres tall. For the audience, the best way to view these puppets with smears and holes for faces – expressive but frozen – is actually not to sit next to them or even to look directly at them. 

Instead look up.

This world of miniatures sprawls across one of the deepest stages possible at the Enwave Theatre but is surrounded by white sheets.  Using a series of hand-held webcams and camcorders, the puppeteers project the lives of these anonymous yet adorable puppets onto the back wall so that the audience can watch the minute details of this show.  Really, to watch those same minute details of the characters’ lives as KAMP captures the gruesome details of a day in the life of Auschwitz, the notorious World War II concentration camp.

Discussing the piece afterwards with my companion, we felt that the show would have benefited from being staged in the round and letting the audience get closer to the action.

For KAMP, Hotel Modern, a company based in the Netherlands, has created a scale model of the camp that spreads across the playing space with over thirty buildings of no more than half a metre in height. In this tiny world, prisoners are unloaded from the train that rolls into the centre of town and then, often, murdered. Whether they die in the gas chambers – a sequence seen from different fascinating perspectives throughout the show – or are graphically beaten to death in a prolonged scene or simply hanged in an old-fashioned ceremony, this is a show about puppets dying. Oops, a show about people dying.

The presentation style remains so resolutely removed from its audience that this cold show occasionally feels like the puppeteers chose to build a set and put on a show, before figuring out the rationale or structure behind their hard work. KAMP is akin to watching a child play with a model train set: amusing and appealing for a few moments as a novelty, but tiring upon the realisation that the audience is stuck on a tract (oops, track) with nowhere to go.

Without dialogue, the piece relies heavily on visuals. The soundscape chills – often a mix of violence, machinery and the howling wind – but does not eke out a distinct world, usually creating an ethereal sense instead. It is a replica of reality that the audience watches: never entertained, never patronised. This is a theatre of observation and understanding and meaning. With such ghastly subject matter, clearly it is an important piece but what else is it?

Yes, it is significant. Yes, it is intricate and beautiful in that attention to detail. And yes, it is meaningful to those with a longer or more personal connection. But, detached from history, KAMP feels very cold, almost sterile. Likely this choice is deliberate and purposeful, but it left me out in the damp May air wondering what just transpired.

Discussing the piece afterwards with my companion, we felt that the show would have benefited from being staged in the round and letting the audience get closer to the action. The audience was wowed by the details involved in the design, not by the story or the performance. They wanted to interact with the history (if not through character and plot, then through the stagecraft) instead of being controlled through a camera, dictated precisely what to watch. To this reviewer anyway, that’s a film technique and not a theatre one, not aided by the near blackouts in the interminably long transitions where nothing could be seen.  

Does merely watching the action without characters or commentary count as theatre? Should an audience merely play the part of witness, especially to a moment in history that they may know nothing of.  Or, in this case, the audience may know too much about to appreciate the nuances of the research involved in KAMP.

KAMP is an experience – profound, profane, poetic and performative –  but theatre?

KAMP continues until May 26 at the Harbourfront Centre Enwave Theatre

1 comment:

  1. Sorry Mr. Booker, but what you criticize the show for - being cold, withdrawn, showing instead of telling - are part of the point. The show questions the role of the audience in the goings on: complicity and witness to it. No emotional responses or characters necessary. Sit and think, this is not participatory theatre.


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