Tuesday, 5 February 2013

What I saw in "The Architects"

I was walking a little oddly yesterday because I'd just done a photoshoot for David Rosenberg promoting his latest piece, the Glen Neath-scripted Ring. (Had David tried to call it "Ring Piece"? Of course he had.) None of which really brings me to this write up of Shunt's latest show which ended last Saturday, but the post's late enough and at least I don't have to worry now about spoilers...

I loved "The Architects". I saw it tonight (for "tonight" read January 11th) and Keeps and I got back from Venice only yesterday, so my bar for using the word "love" is pretty high. It was giddily rewarding to turn up, having felt so thrown by my non-involvement in this one, and be returned to the days when shunt was just a company I followed, and find that they are still by far my favourite makers of pretty much anything. Critically they do themselves no favours by wearing their genius round their ankles I suppose, but good, it's still there on display if only those without a sense of humour wouldn't be so squeamish. And still thrown, of course I come away wanting to tear off the stuff I think keeps it from being perfect, but that's what fans do, and here "perfect" doesn't mean something small and achievable, it means that thing which alerts you to what it is you should be wanting, which is massive.

The myth of the Labyrinth was the starting point this time, and I've long thought the labyrinth shunt's real medium (there's a quote somewhere in Ken Campell's "Violin Time" which I can't find now about how great it would be if the National Theatre could create works backstage). But there was also an interest in the myth of the feral child that goes back to devising of  "Money" which clearly informed the depiction of the Minotaur.


Yes, we saw a Minotaur! And we got fed to it. Or at least in the perfect show in my head we did, as soon as it was revealed to us we'd never left the labyrinth (and the hollow cow wasn't the only commission in which people get screwed). But what do you do with an audience once you've killed them? "You kissed our children goodbye" the monitors said, and I realised that having been treated to the simulation of a cruise, only now were we really being made to feel like heroes, because now we were being sent to our deaths. Except it turns out we weren't. There was still some stage fighting and aeriel stuff simulating dying to get through, but in amongst that sudden shift in vocabulary was the glorious revelation of our killer: a child with a terrifying mask that hid an even more terrifying face, who looked lost and then lobbed a brick.

I remember Gemma talking about the seeds of it last year. She said the Athenians would never have seen anything like Minos' palace at Knossos. Of course it seemed like a Labyrinth. She said that "bull" meant what "wolf" meant, that "minotaur" maybe simply meant "feral", that Daedalus who designed the palace said to hold the Minotaur also, less famously, designed the cow-shaped contraption said to facilitate Queen Pasiphae's impregnation by a bull in the first place. And I knew the myth, the Athenian virgins sent by boat to be sacrificed, and I left for New Zealand imagining a pamphlet found through the letterbox "Why We Eat Children". So I knew all this, and maybe - maybe - this gave me the edge over the rest of the audience, but really it was all there in the show SPOILER alert and all. Having sounded that I must admit the spoilers I read probably helped my enjoyment if anything, since I knew enough to time what in hindsight seems the best entrance, and to find what I suspect was the best seat. In fact I'm pretty sure the show is unspoilable. No spoiler can prepare you for that scenery. It's no insult to go on about the scenery if your medium's a labyrinth, and Lizzie Clachan's scenery here is unbeatable (and I've just got back from Venice, remember.)


It was so simple, although making it that simple must have been complicated (Kudos, Louise Mari). And it was funny, really funny, and when your jokes involve two hundred and fifty moving subjects, blackouts and a live band that too must take a while to get right, longer than any critic will give you. I hear there was only a month's rehearsal this time, an altogether more affordable working method I guess, and one that produced similarly happy results over a decade ago with the Tennis Show, my first experience of working with shunt and again a beautifully simple idea. So this seems the way forward, and that it didn't include me I find a bit worrying. But not while I moved through it. Or sat at the back, in the corner, basking in the kind of isolated fantasy landscape Chris Goode probably finds so resistible, but for whose construction I only ever feel a child-like gratitude. And here that construction is the subject. I mean, it's called "The Architects". It's the kernel of a myth told to us, and with us, smartly, lightly, meticulously, hilariously. Is anyone else doing this? I got it and I loved it.

Right, there's a "Sightseers" review knocking round here somewhere as well...


He too woke with his head in the toilet of an inconceivably large house he must have once commissioned, with the odd rope hanging between platforms and walls you couldn't see, "If I was a Rich Man" playing in every wing, and his very own Nightmare Room.

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