Theatre Returns to the Streets!

A B&M Lorry Fails to Turn the Corner

Musselburgh

4 Stars

Gareth K Vile

 

In times of crisis, the artist – and the critic – often turn to unprecedented structures and media to grapple with the issues of the moment. While intimate performance, aimed at small audiences, and visual theatre are hardly innovative or unfamiliar, using a big lorry from a major chain store as the protagonist adds a rare originality to A B&M Lorry that transcends its surface mundanity to explore surrealistic notions of symbolism and allegory.

While its narrative is basic – a big lorry tries to turn into a side-street, but discovers that the road is too narrative and that unless it retreats, it will slam into the side of building – the duration of the action encourages the audience to reflect on the meanings of the minimal constituent elements. The lorry, compelled to move backwards and forwards at slow speeds, is more usually excluded from the theatrical performance – better for shifting scenery than engaging an audience – but in a twist that ironically evokes the Brechtian posturing of much Scottish performance, it becomes character and scenery.

The direction  is measured, but slow-motion moments of tension, such as the roof of the cab brushing against a tree, or the bleeping of the warning that the lorry is in reverse, build towards a tragic resolution that ultimately never arrives. With the lorry adorned in the lively logos of popular culture, including the telling logo of Marvel Comics, the narrative gently reveals its symbolic intention: the lorry becomes capitalism itself. Gaudy and optimistic, it imagines that it has permission to enter everywhere.

The twin antagonists – a tall old tree and a thin avenue – operate as a dual corrective to capital’s enthusiasm. An earlier iteration of the production in Ipswich majored on more violent interactions, but here the stasis of both road and tree implies resistance that is passive yet consistent. The tree is clearly more vulnerable, but it is the avenue that triumphs. With each reverse, the lorry appears to come closer to triumph: it is only when it gets stuck in a gateway that it acknowledges its hubris and finally retreats.

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Aside from the Brechtian foreground of the lorry, the formal experimentation adds to the power of the dramaturgy. Conforming to the Aristotelian unities of space, time and action, with the Sophoclean trinity of actors, it fuses classical tragedy with live art tropes and the slow, meditative pace of butoh. This unique combination is staunchly contemporary while suggesting a mythical timelessness, enforcing the allegorical resonances.

It is questionable whether Lorry deserves repeat performances, but it undeniably speaks to the historical moment in a witty and coherent immediacy.  While the lorry could be seen as a melodramatic villain – the turn of the steering wheel corresponding to the twirl of a mustache – the quiet dignity of its retreat recalls the resignation of Oedipus in the face of his punishment and if the quiet avenue represents the forces of nature and their manifestation as a virus, its performance elegantly balances naturalism with symbolism.

Far from the verbose scripts of the late twentieth century, or the mannered dramaturgies of the so-called ‘director’s theatre’, A B&M Lorry is provocative, thoughtful, political and metaphysical, articulating a synthesis of theatrical styles and possibilities.

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