Rhum and Clay
Camden People's Theatre
Lublin (Christopher Harrisson) works in the Department of Records at the Ministry of Ministries. He's controlled by three storytellers (Kristoffer Huball, Julian Spooner, Matthew Wells) who watch his downfall from eager clerk to desperate pawn, in an unfolding tragicomedy that is too rough around the edges to sustain itself, yet peppered with humorous encounters and a heavy dose of silliness.
Rhum and Clay's Shutterland is a curious composition: a concoction of physical humour and visual storytelling charting the downfall of a man forced to face the rigid structures of a dictatorial, surveillance society. There's a confusing shift of tone throughout the piece that never grounds it in a concrete language, which means Shutterland lacks nuance and allows a lot of potentially hilarious moments to slip by without any context.
Rhum and Clay's production is a piece inherently reverent to Jacques Lecoq's gestural movement (the ensemble trained at the Lecoq school in Paris) that engages in a recycling of big-brother type stories, from George Orwell's 1984 to Terry Gilliam's Brazil. If the combination holds potential, the realization is far too patchy, overly-reliant and reverential to these recurring stories, presenting a parade of pastiches rather than its own narrative. There are glimpses of real potential in exploring such a simple subject with such a vivid and expressive language, yet these remain subsumed under a confused dramaturgy.
Shutterland finds its strength in its precise physical language, with a humour which, when not attempting to paraphrase, builds a great range of caricatures and remains expressive and meaningful in the context of a story with a problematic inner logic. Moments where characters are explored physically are far more effective as portraits than attempts to tell a windy tale of a man's downfall through trite imagery and a confusing use of the space, which displaces any focused narrative. In this ménage of scenes it becomes impossible to figure out who the individual characters are—Lublin aside—and how the social politics play out. This lack of precision works against the spirit of the production, making Shutterland feel more like a series of sketches than a fully-fledged production—overwhelmed with possibility but packed with underexplored dramaturgy.
The four perform with agility and an impressive physical dexterity, yet their individual portraits are far more nuanced than their ensemble work. In the attempt to incorporate a huge variety of ideas into a very fragmented theatrical world, Rhum and Clay have only showed the tip of the iceberg without attempting to reveal the rest. It's a young company with plenty of potential, but one that needs to challenge its subject with more rigour.
Reviewer: Diana Damian