Alan Fielden with JAMS: Marathon
Co-creators Sophie Grodin, Jemima Yong, and Malachy Orozco
The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award and the Barbican
The Pit, Barbican Centre
The sign held by the woman marching a little ahead of me on the July London anti-Trump demonstration read “Things keep Happening.” She held it above her head with both hands showing it to one side of the road and then the other, her face implying it was an act of defiance.
I thought about the way that odd sign connected to current anxieties when I watched Alan Fielden with JAMS: Marathon.
In that show, there is also something of a strange disconnect in the expression of contemporary worries. It's not just that they present themselves very deliberately as actors ambling about the stage, possibly working on a play that has no script, but they have lapses of memory and occasional difficulties in communication.
The violence of war is a key theme. Its depiction is fragmentary, narrow, without explanation or cause.
A messenger from the front line carries news to the king that "we’ve lost the war, the enemy is coming." Several times, an ISIS-style execution of a hooded actor knelt before a white screen under special lighting is enacted as if it is being filmed. Except there is no camera, no ISIS and the hooded man is shot dead with a small child’s multi-coloured plastic pistol. It's always toy pistols in this show.
Two actors compete with each other over their willingness to die for their country and shoot each other in the process.
Only the shooting of an injured woman is tentatively given a reason. This one is a “mercy killing.”
No explanation is given for the rest of the killings or the war itself. Characters seem mostly unaware it is even happening. A woman in a speed dating sequence grows increasingly exasperated with her dates who seem to know nothing about the war though they live near the front line.
Yet bodies are dragged out, fireworks go off, dry ice fills the theatre resulting in quite a few people coughing and a garish electric-lit nightclub sign bearing the word corpse is lowered and raised.
And in case we miss the point, there is the haunting melody with its repeated song line “you’re going to get yourself killed”.
Perhaps the show is reflecting a popular amnesia about the wars waged by the powerful and a current feeling among many that they have no power to stop the inexplicable violence.
But I couldn’t help feel I might be grasping at straws about a sometimes amusing performance that felt over-long and, despite the war theme, is simply a rather light and unfocused form of whimsical nihilism.
Marathon is the winner of this year’s Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna