Updated: Dec 2, 2021
On a nondescript Tuesday evening I found myself under the swooping paper lanterns and tea lights of Leeds' Left Bank centre, having been promised an hour of experimental, vignette-style theatre in the form of 'What Are You Hungry For?', a production brought to the intimate venue by CVIVarts theatre.
The first scene showed promise, as the three main characters were juxtaposed to each other, referencing Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet amidst the vibrations of phone notifications and the perils of modern dating. It's a theme that must be familiar to all by now.
Despite the drawn out dialogue, detailing love and eventual hate in all of it's intensity, the actors never quite connected, as they sat significantly parallel to each other under the dreamy pink and blue lights. Yet the scene never escalated to being poignant, so I suppose that one could say the disconnect extended to the audience.
Then on came the lights, and the moment was gone, as the 'theatre director' leapt onto the stage to discuss the play and what would happen to our characters next. Perhaps this breakage was an attempt of self awareness, yet instead it came across as a lazy attempt to communicate to a rather confused audience.
"So what happens to my character?" Asked one of the actors, slouching in his chair casually.
"Oh, well your character is actually more of a theatrical device.", The theatre director offered helpfully, which I'm sure was a welcome explanation to the majority of the audience.
As the play progressed, it unravelled further, with no plot to place one's finger upon. A speechless movement scene, punctuated by booming music that echoed around the converted- church venue, elongated for a little too long as waves of angst and pain ebbed and flowed upon the faces of the actors. The theatre director had now transformed into a white-coat-clad doctor, who periodically strode onto the stage to survey her anguished patients. Could it be a metaphor for control perhaps? A symbol of how society treated those who deviated too far from the norm? I noticed that I began to play a little game in my head, treating the disjointed vignettes and ambiguous metaphors as a puzzle that I had to work out.
One such symbol stood out as glaringly obvious, when one of the actors bit boldly into a raw onion in the first scene. I believe that this feat alone deserves some credit because he didn't even wince as he chomped upon the white layers that the producers of Shrek had first used as a metaphor years before.
The same actor managed to mould himself into a somewhat jaded priest in the penultimate scene, shedding a glimmering beam of humour onto an otherwise confusing collection of scenes and symbols. The sermon played out with the recital of a Bible passage, contrasting the clinical portrait that had been painted in the prior scene. The poem 'Days' by Philip Larkin sprung to mind, and I wondered whether the question of what this play was trying to communicate was in fact what had brought 'the priest and the doctor, in their long coats, running over the fields'.
As we drew closer to the hour mark, the play ended rather abruptly, without character arcs or conclusions.
I appreciated that the play had intended to be experimental, and felt that the vignette-style jumble of scenes had sounded appealing on paper, however, had failed to engage when executed. Perhaps the play had eventually become a caricature of itself, I thought, as one of the actors serenaded us in the final minutes of the show.
Although the venue looked beautiful as it bathed in pink and blue light, and the physical movement exhibited was not without meaning, I concluded that the play had become lost within its own introspect. Ironically, a play about societal rejection, had left it's audience feeling left behind.
By Al Phelan