Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Raw Beef

Hoax Productions in the Springboard Season of New Circus Performance
The Circus Space
(2003)

This show is accredited to Hoax Productions, though I can't imagine where the hoax comes into the equation: certainly not in the outstanding talent and skills of performers Ivan Marcos and Al Seed. This is surreal comedy: anarchic, occasionally manic and utterly engaging in its physical competence and dexterity. It is an absolute chore to do justice to the diversity of this show in a short review. I'm flummoxed. These are consummate performers and their only props are a wooden box, a length of rope, a tatty blanket and a broom. What do I say besides 'accolades guys'? I'm not Michael Billington, so I'm not going to do a facile thing about the costumes, nor make a totally trite comparison with Pinter just to show that I can strut my theatrical stuff!

Two men, ironically clad in peach-coloured ballet tutus with voilé frills and equally peach-coloured laced up boots, treat us to a delicious exhibition of physical humour, fragmented scenarios, appropriately so for a post-modern age, but, nonetheless, welded by their utterly symbiotic partnership on stage as they embroil each other in round after round of games. In fact, what they are doing harks back to the lazzi of Commedia del'Arte, extended physical gags that are drawn out to the point of absurdity, lazzi that delighted audiences of Renaissance Europe and have been reinvented time and again, most recently in Charlie Chaplin's Tramp, Max Wall and Dario Fo in Mystero Buffo. But this is a reinvention replete with originality and pithy inventiveness.

While we are entirely rapt, chuckle and sometimes roar with laughter there is a contemporary clout to these lazzi. There is, for example, the two lazzi of committing suicide: one by a head in the gas oven (and don't forget the effect of the tutu) and another by attempting to jump into a river while discovering that sinking one's boots into solidifying cement flounders all movement. Perhaps, in a more serious vein, there is the lazzo of the soldier, the broom his gun, reunited with a mother, superbly played by Ivan Maros as a Hecuba, a Trojan Woman from Euripides, discovering with hilarious parody of melodramatic pathos that all his relatives have been victims of the war: funny? satire? relevant?, or am I reading too much into it? And there is an end to this lazzo that is entirely unexpected.

There are the recurrent, and gratifyingly absurd lazzi of la leone terrible. That must be pigeon Italian. I hope I've got the spelling correct. But this terrible lion's mane is a voilé tutu wrapped around the face, rendering his clawing and roars nothing but risible. It recurs and it's part of the best of the physical comedy…but has repercussions. Are we tamed in this society?

Both performers play to the strengths of their own physiogmany. Marcos, shorter but sturdier, can dominate, but also transforms into vulnerability. Al Seed, lanky and with a seemingly never-ending range of grotesque facial expressions, sometimes renders Marcos his straight man (but don't forget the tutus). It is an interchange between performers with considerable stage presence, and yet calm and controlled, even in mania and anarchy that is just exhilarating to watch, even though the material itself is scintillating.

I think my favourite lazzo came close to the end, when Al Seed ran rapidly through an entire gamut of characters in representational drama, into which I read a parody. He was transforming himself (remember the tutu) into a range of realistic characters (are they parodying Stanislavski here…if so, I buy you both a drink), challenging Marcos, but kept saying in between his vast repertoire of representations, staid realist theatre, (like I can do it but I don't want to do theatre this way): it's me, again and again 'It's me'. This was an invigorating round of interactions, with Seed continuously transforming and confusing Marcos, who might stand for all of us that take representational drama seriously, with all the fiction that feeds our lives: soap operas are fiction, films are fiction. They are representational.

But I don't think Raw Beef is fiction. They are out there putting themselves on the line.

It is such a pity that this show is only running for three days, but hopefully it will tour. If you want a soundbite this is it: if this show comes to a space in your vicinity, even if you have to walk five miles through a blizzard to get there, do it. Their generosity of performance would defrost icicles in the Ice Queen's vagina.

Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher