Taking advantage of the current performance landscape, the street round the front of my house continues its challenge to more conventional venues with a sequel to its earlier offering of vehicle based theatre. Car Gets Lifted expands on the allegorical resonance of A B&M Lorry with an expanded cast – a police car, a police van, a police-woman with a notebook, a flat-bed van as well as the titular car that has been parked outside a house that requires disabled access – without losing its fundamental political intentions. But while A B&M Lorry questioned the power of capitalism against the resistance of the environment, Car Gets Lifted moves into more sinister territory.
Using a conventional five act structure, familiar from Shakespeare, yet relying heavily on Aristotle’s three unities (again), the production begins with a gentle prelude. A police car parks next to the protagonist, and the driver just sits in the vehicle. Inspired by the slow introductions of both Kabuki and Noh, this overture suddenly changes pace with the arrival of the police van, which appears to drive away the car simply by its presence. If the police car evoked a slight paranoia (audience members are invited to wander past, but also wonder whether this is an expression of the police’s new-found powers to arrest flaneurs), the van represents an escalation. Most familiar from those TV shows following the police around inner-city high-streets and being used to bang-up drunken revellers, the van has an altogether more menacing symbolism.
While the flat-bed truck operates as a clear antagonist – it lifts the car off the street, then, for the epilogue, disappears around the same corner that the B&M lorry couldn’t circumnavigate – it is the dialogue between the van and the truck that dominates the central agon. At first the van holds its place, but is slowly pushed backwards and around the corner, to be replaced by the truck. The first forces of the police state, marked and colourful, are now replaced by a vehicle that is in plain livery. And it is this truck that does the work, making the car disappear.
It is a bold statement about the encroachment of the police-state, that sees the familiar and public police presence replaced by a sinister, occult power (and also one that is probably a private company rather than state sponsored). Yet a counter-narrative that critiques the selfishness of a car-owner who has simply parked in the wrong place remains present, challenging the surface and paranoid interpretation of contemporary lockdown policing.
And as with all of this company’s works, there is a deeper analysis, that strikes at the nature of performance itself. Through such minimal scripting and dramaturgy, Car Gets Lifted exposes the fundamental tensions of dramaturgy: the bisociation of perception.
All theatre relies on the audience’s bisociation, or dual perception, of the event. This most obviously manifests in the tension between the intention of the company and the reading of the performance by an audience member, but can also be divided into a division between what is literally happening and what is supposed to be happening. To take a classical example, a production of Oedipus Rex is the story of a king discovering that his identity (and consequently, his apparent success and power) is founded on corruption: this is what is supposed to be represented. And it is simultaneously a bunch of people on a stage pretending and repeated lines that they learnt (or in the words of that gangster off Alan Partridge, ‘a couple of ponces mincing about talking rubbish’): this is what is literally happening.
Car Gets Lifted delightfully toys with this dualism. It is really just a random series of events on the street, with a bored theatre critic watching out of his window. Through his jaded eye, what is literally happening is transformed into a metaphorical display.