Thursday, 15 July 2010

One-on-One Festival (part deux): Ontroerend Goed leave the best until last

*** Edit, February 2011 - if you're thinking about going to the 2011 One-on-One Festival, you might not want to read this, because it's a little bit spoilerish. Suffice to say that the essential shows I saw last time, and which are coming back, are the two Ontroerend Goed shows ("Internal" and "A Game of You"), "Rotating in a Room of Images" and "Rendez-Vous", all of which are outstanding ***


What a week this has been. The emotional rollercoaster of seeing the One-On-One Festival on Sunday (read that review before this one if you haven't already), the horror of Carmen Funebre, then last night a trip back to BAC to further the experiences of the other day. With it, I was hoping for some sort of closure. Closure I got.

Throughout, the key element is you the audience member; so much depends on your ability to cast yourself loose on the waves and allow yourself to be taken over by the performance, to slip into character as required. You need to be able to let your imagination run away with you pretty quickly, too: most performances are over in a matter of minutes. Those whose lack of imagination boxes them in are unlikely to benefit. In virtually every show, I came out wondering what would have happened if I had done things differently. 

A Game Of You (Ontroerend Goed) *****

After the frustration of the two previous shows, the musings, wondering "what if I had said something else?", wondering if the performances were unique to me, feeling self-centred and infuriatingly full of self-doubt, I was a little nervous before seeing A Game Of You. I purposely avoided any reviews or previews; my experience of Internal was slightly dampened by the fact I had a fair suspicion of what was to follow (not that I didn't fall into the trap). This turned out to be the key.

As a result, I won't say much about the content - there's no need for spoilers. Suffice to say that as with the other parts of the trilogy, you are played for a fool the whole way along; I walked out with a huge, imbecile grin on my face as I realised how I had been used as a plaything for half an hour. But as the company seem at pains to point out, this is a gentle piece. They have a lot of fun at your expense, but it's light teasing, not cruelty. Events move fast - you end up evaluating yourself in many different ways. A microcosm of the whole festival, you the audience equals you the performer and by placing yourself at the centre of attention, you will learn some things that perhaps you rather wouldn't.

I found out that my name is Steven, I am an artist, and I look like I spilled my dinner down my t-shirt. Tough times.

And yet seeing A Game Of You, as well as a long conversation with somebody else who'd been at Internal, confirmed something that I'd already wondered about: the Ontroerend Goed performers - barely older than me - are the masters of making you a pawn in their world, chewing you up, spitting you out, throwing you around for a while and then dumping you. They have a frighteningly powerful influence over people - shades of The Manchurian Candidate. They would be dangerous tyrants. But they aren't, they'er just frighteningly talented artists, and in the Smile Off Your Face-Internal-A Game Of You trilogy, they've created one of the top five artistic experiences I've ever had in my life.

And the feeling of being manipulated, that I had been a sucker all along, slowly gave way from one of intense self-pity to one of relief, and I started to laugh.

"He hath been most notoriously abus'd" - Olivia, Twelfth Night

2 Free (Ansuman Biswas) ****

Half an hour of breaking personal boundaries and entering situations which you would never wish to be in. Armed with a sand timer and a lantern, the participant explores a space where only by crossing the discomfort line can you experience the next stage of the show. In contrast to Ontroerend Goed, here you are on your own; there is no twist, nobody to laugh at you (which is just as well). This is about testing your own personal limits. What was it Eleanor Roosevelt said? "Do one thing every day that scares you." I let my imagination run riot. The figure in front of me - why was he there? What was his purpose? What did he need from me? How long had he been there? What should I do?

It was a deeply unsettling experience throughout, but I was proud to have overcome my doubts and inhibitions and proved my strength. The opportunity to test your inner mettle in a private half hour where nobody will judge you but yourself, is very enlightening.

Oh, and a tip: don't start emptying out the bag. You won't be popular!

Headlines (Ampersand) ****

Short and sharp. Swept off my feet and thrown into character in seconds, I had to respond instantly, and made a decent fist of it. It's a simple principle: you're thrown into an improv situation with no time to react. Again, nobody is watching except yourself, so there is nobody to judge you. Each day is a unique show; I was Ken Clarke's junior minister for the day, having to justify Clarke's statement that prison sentences should be scrapped for minor crimes. Again, as with so many shows, mental dexterity is required on the part of the participant. A bit of me wishes I had got irate and told my constituent to "fuck off and die". Ah well, next time.

I also played a minor role in a performance of The Fifteen Minute Relationship, and went Through The Wardrobe a second time; I found myself surprised to enjoy it more second time round.

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Over the last few days I have faced my own death and realised what a miserable life I've led, fallen in false love, gone through a portal to the past, gone into a dressing-up Narnia, been "notoriously abus'd" by Belgian geniuses, battled through intense discomfort, had a karaoke moment with a serving soldier, judged and been judged, laughed, cried, appreciated the inner beauty of something raw and functional, and generally seen myself from more different angles than I could possibly imagine. As others have said, as individual pieces, some were more self-contained and complete than others. But the whole festival hangs together brilliantly; let's hope it's not the last. Most importantly: damn, it was a lot of fun.

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