Venue: York Theatre Royal
1. There are no wrong answers.
2. All members + guests have equal standing.
3. This rule has been removed for cleaning.
4. Observe, Interact, Respond
These rules and regulations are proclaimed to be those of The Bureau of Surrealist Research at their 1926 Paris convention, a convention which, in true surrealist style, is taking place in 2010, in York. Step into the foyer and you are likely to be greeted by one the surrealist’s themselves: film-maker Luis Buñuel (Joe Hufton), with oiled hair, checked trousers, braces and camera, chattering about Franco on film; André Breton (Marcus Emerton), a bowtie like an exotic butterfly pinned to his neck, striding forth in a tweed coat, musing on Trotsky and his Mexican third wife; politically trenchant Louis Aragon (Patrick Fysh) who accused me of being a fascist and a lap-dog of the bourgeois; artist René Magritte (Chris White), bowler hated, with thick Belgian accent, excited and bemused by everything; poet Paul Éluard (Dan Wood) carrying a suitcase and staring like a maniac into space; Antonin Artaud (Alexander Wright), hunched and brooding. Then from the staircase the sound of a wine glass ringing, Breton waiting until silence falls, a silence into which the Bureau introduce themselves. ‘What year is it?’ they ask the audience. One man dares to suggest 2010. To raucous laughter Breton cries ‘We’re surrealists’ sir, not idiots!’ This is the work of Belt Up, the York Theatre Royal’s Company in residence, one of the most exciting young theatre companies around.
The first performance of Belt Up I was ever involved in as an audience member, and you are always involved to some extent from the moment you step into Belt Up’s worlds, was their adaption of Kafka’s ‘The Trial.’ A terror of a piece, it dug clutching fingers into your jugular and screamed two-minutes-hate style fear in every sudden movement, blindfolded whisper and threatening, white-faced leer. And that was it. It was a huge energetic bundle of atmosphere that achieved its primary aim and left it at that. Grossly wrong it would be to call the production lazy – it was simply single-minded. The same goes for ‘Ghost Walk’ earlier this year, a piece that led its audience around the city hunting out their own imaginations. Here the effect was even more pronounced, due in part I suspect to the absence of a source narrative. The sheer level of ideas going on in either of these productions was astounding, but I left both feeling unfulfilled emotionally or intellectually, for all I had been stunned aesthetically. The company seemed capable of something more. Something which ‘Lorca is Dead’ achieves.
The show is performed in a standard auditorium, an unusual step for a company who, in their own words ‘usually perform in the places people don’t want to perform.’ As well as this, the level of direct audience interaction is lower than previous shows, though this is something the company wish to increase as the play develops. Each of the characters described above is played with astounding levels of energy, most notably James Wilkes as Dali and Lucy Farrett as Gala, challenges for any actor but ones hit perfectly in note with the rest of the play, as well as in the more internal intensity of Marcus Emerton, the most potent voice of tragic sanity in the play. Special mention must go to Chris White for pulling off the plays most extreme moments of self-ridicule before producing a heart-wrenching tribute to Lorca’s humanity. Every actor deserves credit for one of the productions best and simplest ideas: that each of the surrealists would play Lorca as they told his story, using only striking red cloths to become the man, to transform with breakneck speed from surrealist façade to honest grief and cherished memory. For a company known as embracing the cutting edge in conceptual theatre it is magnificent how truly accomplished in a traditional sense its actors are.
These are still malleable and developing performers, and combining them with the company’s unique brand of self-aware promenade theatre creates an ensemble in tune, with huge potential. ‘Lorca is Dead’ reaches this, not least due to Dominic J. Allen’s highly ambitious and eloquent script. The astounding level of research gives this production a depth and complexity I had yet to experience from the company. To those who have seen Belt Up’s creation ‘The Tartuffe’ and may have railed against my earlier observations on the company’s past work, I would like to note this reviewer can only base criticism on his own experience and that ‘The Tartuffe,’ is not headed by Allen. Perhaps it would be better to consider this analysis of the company’s progress as two-fold – firstly that Belt Up has far more to offer than it’s notoriety for spectacle, and secondly that the work of Dominic J. Allen has found its own clarion voice and the play produced is staggering in scope. ‘Lorca is Dead’ is not without its confusions and it seems uncertain about what it’s aims are, taking flights of fancy away from what seem the primary ideas of humanising the surrealists and of making the audience feel the worth of that humanity, but if focused the powerful core of this production will be even stronger.
There is no doubt you should see this production, and I have tried to give away as little actual content as possible since, like surrealism itself if the Bureau are to be believed, you simply have to experience it.