Rainald Goetz, translated by David Tushingham
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
A very effective pre-show atmosphere is created as one enters Traverse 1 for Jeff Koons; descending the staircase, the buzz of chatter from the Traverse bar/café slowly fades out, and the soft thrum of heavy, techno bass creeps in. The immediate sense of atmosphere means the actual performance has to live up to it. At least at the outset, it seems possible that Jeff Koons may achieve what the initial moments promise.
Rainald Goetz's script, translated by David Tushingham, seems to be an examination of postmodern art and society. A cast of five (Andrew Dennis, Danielle King, Nazim Kourgli, Louise Ludgate, and Jonathan McGuinness) play clubbers, bouncers, artists, journalists, secretaries, lovers, and the like. While their performances are consistently engaging, there are moments when the script fails to engage the audience.
The show, which is about an hour long, is divided into three segments. The initial moments take place in a club, which designer Becs Andrews has populated with balloon-headed people to fill out a space which five actors would find difficult to fill. It's surprising how effective this technique is, especially once a few of the balloons have gained marker-pen smiley faces. This, in addition to the nondescript techno (which gives way to far less interesting and far more identifiable pieces later in the play), creates a convincing atmosphere that lands the viewer smack in the middle of the action.
The most memorable scene from the piece takes place early on, where two of the characters go home and have sex after just meeting; the stage is transformed (a scene change which takes place to the tune of 'Material Girl' and goes on, seemingly, for an age) into a polka-dotted canvas of giant ink pads. Watching the two engage in this metaphorical, physicalised act is one of the more original and engaging moments in the play.
Unfortunately, this high point takes place about twenty minutes into the play; afterwards it's all downhill as we watch the fictionalized version of Koons deliberate his creative expression, a process which is narrated by other members of the cast. When the narrative, such as it is, moves out of Koons' workshop and on to the gallery where his masterpiece is being displayed, it seems the end is in sight - only to have the final monologue (a four-pager which might have been more engaging if it didn't finish off a piece which already feels as if it has gone on for too long) delivered by one actor, sitting practically motionless at the front of the stage with others sitting behind him. No matter how convincing, sympathetic, or likeable the actors - and they were all three of these things - one can't help wishing there had been something else happening to illustrate what is a long and fragmented narration.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody