Saturday, November 14, 2009

Theatre Review : Architecting by The TEAM and National Theatre of Scotland - Barbican Pit (dir Rachel Chakvin 12/11/09)

Yankee property developer Carrie Campbell (Libby King) seeks shelter in a run-down bar in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Inside, with bar-owner Oasis Melly (Jill Frutkin) is the historian Henry Adams (Jake Margolin) playing with a paper model of Chartres Cathedral, and Margaret Mitchell (Lana Lesley), who is being sought by TV executives wanting to make a politically-correct TV remake of Gone With the Wind.

Carrie Campbell wants to put in place her father's vision of a vast gated development in this neglected traditional neighbourhood. However, this is her first time south of the Mason-Dixon line and she is out of her cultural mileiu. Meanwhile, Margaret Mitchell is trying to preserve the soul of the South as represented in her novel from the odious producer (Frank Boyd) and his black director who has his own vision of the South, which is skillfully intercut with the primary narrative.

The TEAM (Theatre of the Emerging American Moment) are a New York-based company "dedicated to dissecting and celebrating the experience of living in America today." This they certainly do, as this is thought-provoking, visually arresting theatre, strewn with ideas. The reconstruction of New Orleans is paralleled with that of Mitchell's Atlanta; once again Northerners fail to understand the South. The depiction of black characters in Gone with the Wind is challenged strongly, yet Mammy is played by a white man in a giant black bra. Adams' vision of historical entropy stands bleakly over all.

All this is played with vigour by the admirable company, swapping roles with a speed that is occassionally bewildering, as the Oasis bar becomes the set of the remake of Gone with the Wind or a 24 hour petrol station as themes evolve and merge into one another.

However, it is inevitable that with so much in this heady mix, some ideas work better than others. The story of two unlikely lovers on their way to an audition for the role of Scarlett O'Hara has a charm of its own, but doesn't integrate well into the rest of the play - a more brutal director might have wielded the knife to make a sharper whole. The second half didn't live up to the promise of the first, and ran out of steam in the end. But that does not alter the fact that the TEAM have shown that difficult ideas-based experimental theatre can also be fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining.

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