Sunday, 3 April 2011

Mini | Theatre | Vive La Revolution!

Vive La Revolution of the mini-play: jump on the barricades and shout for shortness (but in a minuscule voice so as not to upset the neighbours)

We’re all too fat. We live in a culture of commodity over necessity, of want rather than need, of total over-indulgence. Even in this Lenten period the wine is flowing (that’s wine, not water), it’s two-for-one on Marks and Spencer’s quality biscuits, and you cant move for violet-encrusted-heart-shaped-rose-infused love coronets in twee plastic wrappings that say “I Luv U Mum”. Nice. But seriously, these days not many of us don’t roughly know our BMI, our cholesterol count, our BP’s, our resting heart rate, or how much extra chocolate we can eat without tipping the scales. But Kraft have the answer (hooray for Kraft). Since buying up Cadbury, no I won’t Kraft-bash: since CADBURY GAVE IN AND SOLD TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER (which happened to be Kraft), the new owners have decided that chocolate can be more economically distributed to the poor, the hungry, and the hormonal. Cadbury Milk Bars now come in smaller cellophane wrapped purple packages: fewer calories, less waste, looser jeans. But there’s been an outcry, because it still costs The Same. SO? So, Kraft is making a lot more money from the innocent consumer, and is steadily using this money to support illegal missile attempts on planet Saturn, in variegating the frozen embryos of everything bad from a Stephen King novel, and cloning sub-nuclear atomic weaponry with the electro-magnetic intelligence of the Great White Shark. Seriously, just google it, these insane stories are out there, as are the people who came up with them. But aside from the fact that Kraft are, obviously, getting much more for our money, and we the consumer, less; I quite like the idea that despite all this, I can enjoy the same pre-eating tingle, the same noise of the wrapper, the same satisfaction in getting to the end and having slightly-too-warm chocolate-y fingers, for fewer calories. In essence, Kraft have perfected what was already the perfect snack, they’ve simply made it smaller, getting it a little closer to that Faberge egg of all secret eaters, that asymptote “Guilt Free”.

This week I’m writing in the over-indulgence of a mini-break. Most people would call it a holiday (it has lasted over the requisite four days, and I haven’t done any site-seeing, or had to have breakfast at a time far too early for breakfast in a bid to Make The Most of the four days I have), but I’m calling it a mini-break because I’m cosmopolitan. Out here in the countryside there is nothing to do except get excited about the Royal Wedding; bunting abounds, Victoria Sponge recipes are being released in a fit of social conscience, and street parties and parades are being organised with fervour. And. The Punch and Judy sets are being dusted off, re-painted, and the shows are being practised with gusto. Punch and Judy have perhaps the smallest theatre in the world, with the most international audience. Tourists, children, and bigots from across the globe have revelled, recognised, and repelled; parents have covered their eyes, and young boys have taken notes. In this square metre, proscenium arch, gaudily painted red and gold, Punch and Judy reign (well Punch reigns and then Judy wins the day in a Lazarus-like twist), the King and Queen of the tiniest theatre in the world, all set to pay homage to Will and Kate, themselves at the centre of a bizarre, gaudily painted, pre-set show, with the date, time and place arranged, and the stage set: arguably it will be the Olympics, but I’m not so sure that The Royal Wedding won’t just be the Greatest Show on Earth, but also the most carefully scripted, choreographed and politely applauded show on earth. What larks though if Kate decides to bash Wills over the head with the sceptre…….

I’m not anti-royalist, I just want to make that clear. I’m just confused by the existential trauma this wedding is causing women up and down the country(side). Their private costume cupboards are being overhauled; they are practising their fascinator-and-hairspray routines, how to throw metaphorical confetti, when to applaud, and when, precisely, to stand for the Anthem (first note? End of the first bar? When everyone else gets up?).  I only wish I could invite my favourite street performers along: The Miniscule of Sound: the Smallest Nightclub in the World, The Fairly Famous Family, Creature Feature and Camera Obscura. Street performance and street performers have a different set of rules, well one different rule: no holds barred. The wizards behind Miniscule of Sound are a friendly troupe of wanderers, who wanted to bring disco to the streets, to let music rule the walkways, to allow anyone who wanted to boogie the space to boogie in broad daylight. There is something ethereal and effervescent about street performance; the bravery of it is alarming, the stunts and risks taken are often beyond the pail, but the honesty and often stunning simplicity of the ideas and the modes of communication are what makes street artists so special, and so important. The ability that these performers have to take the vastness of a city, and the multitude of a market day and distil it into one mini-moment for a passerby is extraordinary; it’s mini-magic, sometimes on stilts.

Theatre does mini-plays now too. Well, theatres have remembered that the Greeks wrote one-act plays for a reason, and there’s nothing wrong with the odd God wandering onto the stage to clear it all up and let everyone go home (I was reminded of this deus ex machina fandango last week watching As You Like It at Kingston’s Rose Theatre, a production in which a dead-deer beautifully made by the props department, gave the performance of its life, and nothing much else happened). The National Theatre have decided that not putting intervals into plays somehow makes them ‘mini’. At roughly the two hour mark Greenland and Frankenstein are difficult, troubling, seismic, and beautiful; but forget the dénouements, it’s hard to concentrate when your legs are crossed and your energy is focused solely on the quickest exit and route to the loo. But some companies really are doing mini-stuff. And it’s not about being shorter, or even more concise, it’s simply about being narrower and deeper, and in theatre, that usually makes things quicker. These are mini-theatre pieces, not because they are somehow anorexic and underfed stories, but because they are not epic, because they are concerned with the minutiae, the mundane, the petri-dish.  1927’s The Animals and Children took to the Streets at Battersea Arts Centre, Filter’s Water at The Tricycle, and Dante or Die’s excruciatingly contained and executed look at the human dependency on pills in Side Effects at RichMix, are all examples of companies who are working exclusively in the realm of the ‘mini’, the absolute detail. It’s worth throwing into the mix the exact opposite, the Punch Drunks and and Cirque de Soleils who take the mega and then propel that mega to the extreme, taking story, audience, and artist through worlds and universes of performance and extremity.  And then you have Artichoke, a company that have Big in the blood; parade giant animals through central London; turn cathedrals inside out with light; have their audiences eat a banquet in Alice’s world down the rabbit hole; and who, in 2008, brought London and New York together in Paul St.George’s pseudo-Victorian “Telectroscope”. By looking into the telectroscope, the earth on which you stood doubled, and tripled in size; standing on the banks of the Thames, you were seeing Brooklyn; this contraption was taking the miniature significance of your day and magnifying it beyond all measure. Friends, lovers, families, strangers, were stepping into each others worlds across the Atlantic because an artist gave them a magnifying glass and a push in the right direction.

A mini-break wouldn’t be complete without clocks that are all out-of sync, strange countryside sounds, and a Labrador. A Labrador who, as Michael McIntyre would have it, was mini-sick this morning, and is now feeling sorry for himself. My sympathy is low; on clearing up his doggy vomit and kicking him out the back door, I realised that this had all occurred not because I had over indulged him on beef fat, or sour milk, but because he ate the mini-eggs layed out in a bowl ready for the Easter Bunny. It seems there are things that Kraft cannot control; they can make the bars smaller, but mini-eggs are here to stay, I’ve got a dog addicted; keep your placards and your layed-off workers; a Labrador-in-love is a worthy adversary in the mini-theatre of life.

I’d like to finish with a note to Kevin Bacon, king of the not-main-part. I have nothing to say, I just wanted to mention his name. He’s my mini-crush right now.

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