Friday, January 21, 2011

PuSh Review #2: Floating at Arts Club Revue Stage

Last night it was the premiere of Floating, which runs at the Arts Club Revue Stage on Granville Island until February 5th in a co-production between the PuSh Festival and Arts Club Theatre Company.

Floating comes from the weird and wonderful mind of Hugh Hughes, a Welshman who has created three highly successful, award-winning shows for the Cambridge-based Hoipolloi Theatre that have gone on to make a big splash at the Edinburgh Fringe. Floating is the first of these--and, indeed, the first ever work Hughes created for the theatre--and on one level it concerns the metaphysics of geology. Specifically, the tale Hughes recounts--ably assisted by Sioned Rowlands, who plays a number of roles, including Hughes' grandmother, his old schoolmaster, and his best friend Gareth--is about the bizarre events in 1982, when Hughes' birthplace, the North Wales island of Anglesey, started floating away from the mainland, and the accompanying crisis of connection this prompted in Hughes himself.

A projected quotation from Luis Buñuel at the top of the show about dreams invading our memories and our ability to transform lies into truth suggests we should approach Hughes' particular brand of mimesis more as poeisis, a faking that becomes a making (in Victor Turner's conception of performance), in this case not just of Hughes' relationship with his homeland and culture, but of the bond he nightly (re)makes with his audience. However, this latter connection (an important word for Hughes, one he keeps on a cue-card in his pants pocket and routinely removes to show to spectators) first requires a dis-connection (on the flip side of that same cue-card). To this end, house lights remain up for much of the performance, and there is a very immediate and obvious breaking of the fourth wall of traditional theatre to speak directly to the audience, and to invite them into not just the story but Hughes' creative process as well.

All of this poses risks, of course, both for the performers and the audience, and last night there were some awkward, and even slightly uncomfortable, moments, when the responses Hughes seemed to be soliciting from the audience turned out not to be the ones he apparently wanted to hear, and then when he could not coax any response at all. But Hughes is such a charismatic performer, Rowlands has so much to do physically on stage, and the production as a whole is filled with such low-tech charm, that by the end of the show the connection Hughes is seeking to build/bridge both with the island of Anglesey and between the traditionally separate islands of stage and audience is reestablished.


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