This review was originally written for EdFringeReview.com
There are certain genres of drama that undeniably require a rare acquired taste for full enjoyment. In embracing post-war modernism with their show A Modernist Event, The Lincoln Company have combined two shows from two such genres: French avant-garde theatre, in the form of Artaud: A Trilogy, and Dadaism, an abstract forerunner of the former theatrical style, in the form of Tristan Tzara’s The Gas Heart. The result is a show that, if not remotely enjoyable, is at least slightly appreciable for its energy and physical dynamism.
Performed by a five-woman strong all-female cast (Christina Ellinas, Stephanie Loanna, Faye Rose McDool, Samantha McKenzie and Samantha Jo Thomas), A Modernist Event sets out, (evidently unaware of the appalling cliché of such ambitions) to ‘question the very nature of theatre, the value of existence, and the objectives of art itself’. In truth, however, the majority of audiences will be unable to begin considering such lofty intentions, given the utter and tedious bizarreness of the piece.
During the first section, Tzara’s The Gas Heart, the troupe, who are already sitting frozen and waiting as the audience files in, wear irritatingly false smiles and lurid costumes, complete with flamboyant wigs. Although the repetitive and nonsensical ramblings of all five are unquestionably well-delivered, and although the entire piece is obviously highly polished, both physically and dramatically, its sheer oddness ensures the state of most audience members never strays far from pure bewilderment.
During Artaud: A Trilogy, however, bewilderment crystallises into despair with the dawning realisation that for all its high-brow pretensions, the work of Antonin Artaud, or at least the interpretation presented here, largely consists of orgiastic writhing, piercingly sharp screams and wholly ill-advised audience interaction (dragging a spectator from their seat and feverishly exploiting them on stage, causing visible trauma, is less a step, more plane-journey too far).
In truth, this is the lowest, ugliest (both aesthetically and theatrically) and altogether easiest form of provoking emotion in an audience, akin to smashing a pin-tack in with a wrecking ball. Although executed with commendable adeptness and enthusiasm, this approach lacks even a modicum of subtlety and quickly becomes tiresome as a result.
Director Chloé Doherty deserves credit for the scope of imagination in her physical direction; all five performances are ceaselessly corporeal, and visually engaging, if not enjoyable, as a result. Ultimately, this is A Modernist Event’s sole redeeming feature.