Gob Squad‘s Creation (Pictures for Dorian) is one of those strange theatrical experiences, in which you walk into the auditorium not quite sure what to expect, you leave not quite knowing what you’ve seen, but you know that you love what you saw. This production isn’t traditional theatre, it’s equal parts performance art, actual art, poetry, improvisation, and it is utterly, utterly mad. But, above all else, it’s a brilliant, touching portrait on the beginning, middle, and end, that each of us experience.
The piece starts as a charming and witty opening duologue between Gob Squad’s Sean Patten and Sarah Thom, quickly capturing and engaging the audience in the nature of trinity, from breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They then present the concept of art as a trinity: the work, the artist, and the viewer. Bastian Trost completes the trio from Gob Squad, introducing the guest performers to demonstrate how the viewer often project themselves onto the artwork, thus becoming the artwork, artist, and viewer simultaneously.
This discussion evolves away from art into the nature of human life, from youth, through middle-age and into old-age, with three young guest performers (averaging the age of 21) and three older guest performers (with an average age in their late 70s) sandwiching the Gob Squad company who sit in the middle with an average age of 49.
As the piece develops, it becomes both a celebration of, and lament on, ‘the middle’, being deprived of both youth and wisdom, but also having the benefits of hindsight and optimism. The company work with their guest performers to explore both youthfulness and old age, and this is where this production came into its own. To witness the performers baring their souls, digging deep into their past and future, was superb, the tableaus were crushingly personal, totally encapsulating, but at the same time bizarrely objective, as we as an audience were invited to add our own introspection to the experiences of the performers.
This production is a stunning deconstruction of the very concept of ‘self performance’, using video and sound to add a brilliant modernity to distinctly, classically, aesthetic visuals. A single camera focussed on the decay of a floral arrangement that withered over the course of the performance, perhaps not the subtlest of metaphors, but beautifully illustrative nonetheless. This show is, at times, totally gratuitous. What was interesting was how acutely self-aware the company are; the performers, particularly Sarah Thom while performing in a powerful section in which she was completely nude, acknowledge that some of these elements were ‘tropes’.
In true Oscar Wilde fashion, there were florals, posing, references to Greek classicism in the ‘artistry’, and yet it remained deftly naturalistic, and with a show so in danger of tipping into pretentiousness, the company have struck a great balance. The guest performers were most definitely a highlight of the evening, with one sequence seeing Bastian Trost sitting amongst three two-way mirrors, talking with his future and past self in the shape of two of the guest performers. Their interaction was both beautiful and heart-breaking as they discussed regret and what they wouldn’t take with them into the future.
On the subject of Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray though, I do feel as though this was almost an afterthought, a frame of reference, a point of context from which Gob Squad could take the audience through this journey, adding in an Avant-Garde edge that I’m not sure was actually necessary to accomplish what they did. That said, the visuals were beautiful and cleverly utilised, with credit going to Lena Mody for her set realisation, Chris Umney‘s lighting design, Michael Chalcraft‘s video design, and the delightfully bohemian costumes from Ingken Benesch. When combined with Sebastian Bark and Jeff McGrory‘s sound design, this is a remarkably accomplished production.
This company have toured for 25 years, and I hope they continue to do so. Productions like this aren’t going to be for everyone, but for those with an open mind and a contemplative imagination, I would recommend their productions whole-heartedly. It’s not theatre as you know it, but it is beautifully theatrical all the same.
Creation (Pictures For Dorian) is part of LIFT Festival 2018. The next showings are tonight and tomorrow (June 6 & June 7 at 7.45 pm). For more information for events at the South Bank Centre and Purcell Room, click here and for information on current shows at LIFT Festival 2018, go here.
(Thomas was provided a press ticket to review the show.)
Thomas Joy is a theatre-lover and musician. Follow him on now Twitter: