Eclectic. Explosive. Energetic. Exciting. Tastings 18 promised a radical evening of original new works, and the five shows that made up Group B were more than up to delivering. The night’s works explored what it means to be creative, to exist in the 21stcentury, to have a body. It’s hard to come away from a show like this feeling anything other than inspired and creatively full – and my experience was no exception.
Starting the evening on a self-referential note, this meta exploration of devised theatre is just as clever and quick as it’s punny title. Lucy Seale and Nicola Dobinson’s Devision follows a group of would-be thespians trying to create a meaningful piece of theatre. The group’s formidable and passionate leader, played by Seale, tries to wrangle the group into an experimental performance troupe, but her vision isn’t quite realised. Their dress rehearsal arrives, and the group writhe around, chant words like “climate change!” and “poverty!”, a hilarious satire of devised theatre and the high point of a sharp piece of theatre. As the cast strip off layers of coloured socks in a symbolic display unreadable to anyone but the earnest performers, the theatre-savvy audience is invited to poke fun at themselves and at the charmingly pretentious uni theatre scene we all love. The (real) cast of actors, Finn Lloyd, James Gordon and Emma Bampton, give relatable and endearing performances.
Whisky No More
Switching mediums to a short film directed, written and produced by James Cameron, Whisky No More is an absurd and light-hearted look at immigration, policing and bureaucracy. A man pulled up by police for drunk driving finds himself in an even worse predicament – his visa’s run out. And, oh yeah, he’s dead. This tightly edited short film take place mostly within the halls and interrogation rooms of a police station, as cops and a hapless immigration officer attempt to reckon with the bizarre situation of their detainee. The strong performances from every cast member allow the delightfully silly plot to soar, backed by songs by Tuckshop which add just enough quirk and whimsy to the film. Clever use of flashback explains how this man finds himself legally dead, and the plot ties itself in a satisfying bow. Subtly acted and dryly comedic, Whisky No More is enjoyable to the last drop.
Fuck Me Up, Elon Musk
Hilarious and confronting, Fuck Me Up, Elon Musk is a timely jab at the 21stcentury’s 24/7 social scene. Beginning with a Youtube video from Trisha Payntas, in which she has awoken feeling like a “chicken nugget” looming large over the stage, Amy Spurgeon’s work takes what is weird and unsettling about the internet and mashes it together into a pop-culture orgy. Fuck Me Up, Elon Musk continues in this modern vein, as the projected face of a Youtuber, as she films her “ASMR Mukbang/7/11 Haul” joins that of Payntas on the stage, an eerie and visually arresting symbol that lingers through much of the play.
Lipsyncing to autotuned pop song “I Hate My Life”, another nod to Trisha Payntas and Youtube culture, the cast dance and gyrate in their grey sweatpants. Later, they beg to be dominated by their technology, in a BDSM-style orgy that climaxes (pun intended) with bottles of sparkling water being shaken, opened and sprayed over every cast member. What makes this daring piece work, apart from its timeliness and humour, is the commitment of its cast, who give themselves fully to the unravelling madness of the show. Ultimately, Fuck Me Up, Elon Musk’s modern surrealist approach to depicting our social media-addicted generation played perfect homage to the absurdity of living life on screens.
Poetic dance and jagged contortions meet to evoke a battle ragging between self-hate and self-acceptance. Mavin’s Never Enough is an affecting physical manifestation of the way our bodies surprise, bewilder and delight us. As Mavin removes items of clothing, inhibitions seem to slip away too. Mavin’s body creates disorienting shapes, holding poses which ask us to think about the body and its limits. Claiming the entirety of the empty black box stage, Mavin’s piece is striking in its ability to say so much with a slight movement of a hand. Poems projected at the beginning and end of the piece are almost extraneous: though the exact significance of the piece is left elusive, Mavin’s body does the talking.
Emily White’s exceptional Stop Body is funny and fearless. Her piece begins as a Ted-talk- style monologue on her relationship with her vagina, which is interrupted when said vagina comes to life. Emily’s natural comedic flare is obvious from the moment she enters the stage, pushing a cart with a laptop and water jug. She takes her time sipping her water, making this small gesture somehow hilarious. Emily takes the audience back over her journey through realising she had a vagina at age eleven, resenting her body and all its strange sensations, and attempting to make peace with her anatomy. However, her vagina, played by Simon Farley, decides it would like to share its point of view. Complete with cat ears and leopard print shirt, her vagina tells her just how tricky it is to be, well, her vagina. This piece might sound absurd, and hilarious, and it is – but it’s more than that. It’s a conversation that’s too often left unspoken, a battle cry for young women who feel confused or sadden or ruled by their bodies. I found myself wishing every teenage girl could watch it. Emily ends her piece declaring her refusal to stop – she’s having this conversation, she’s here and female and stripped bare, whether you like it or not. And I loved it.
Apnoea feels personal and raw. It begins with two bodies in a bed, and ends with these same bodies, stripped bare and washed in blue light. The journey between these points is certainly not straightforward, but then becoming ourselves never is. Luke Macaronas and Sarah Bostock portray vulnerable characters that feel at once intensely real and larger than life. As the characters find themselves soaked in water with seemingly no source, their discussion gets more chaotic, eventually cresting like a wave as they discuss formative experiences with sex. The pair talk over each other, almost frenzied in their desire to express themselves. This piece is hard to describe, intense to experience and ultimately impossible to get out of your head.
The originality of the works on offer at Tastings 18 was admirable, but what struck me most about the evening was the vulnerability and honesty on display. The works cut to the heart of what it means to be young adults navigating a changing and often harsh world. They did it with beauty, strength and imagination. The work I saw at Tastings will stay will me long after I finish this review, and I think I’m better for that.
Tastings ’18 ran from the 22nd-25th of August at the Guild Theatre.