Friday, 16 September 2011

Running Headlong into the next Decade

Mark and I heralded the new term, and a new theatrical season by going to Decade, a show marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. This Headlong show, in association with the National Theatre was a site specific piece in St Catherine's Dock (as a brief sideline, this as part of London I'd never been to before and was given a swift but very knowledgable tour by Mark. Well worth a visit).

I had no idea what to expect, and as we entered the seemingly non-theatrical, stark office building I had no idea what to expect. As we joined the cue into an American airport, complete with fear inducing metal detectors and burly American officials I was no nearer an explanation.

The show was set in the 103rd floor of the Twin Towers North tower. Once inside you were taken to your table for breakfast, surrounded by American waitresses and waiters, offered drinks, given menus and treated to a view over New York.

What followed was a bringing together of new writing about 9/11 and it's legacy 10 years on (writers such as Alecky Blythe and Mike Bartlett are amongst the 20) along with physical theatre sequences, songs, monologues and audience interaction and participation. The space was used to it's full, truly exploring the site specific nature of the place and exploiting it's glass corridors and stairways.

Specific mention should be made for two specific pieces, both featuring Tobias Menzies who was shining throughout. The first, a monologue (we presume by Alecky Blythe, although the pieces are not attributed to their writers) where a British worker from the tower firstly discusses how they narrowly missed the event by simply swapping shifts - but also a much deeper story of possible conspiracy surrounding the explosions and a suspicious security bypass in the days before 9/11. The beauty of this has to be given to the performance by Menzies, simple and direct - direct enough so you acknowledge his beliefs, but the emotion behind the story was palpable.

The second, a scene within the editorial offices of the Daily Mail really captured the media's position - cowardly, obnoxious and and emotionally devoid. Again, Tobias Menzies gives a sterling performance as a Piers Morgan type figure, and like Piers Morgan the audience revel in hating him.

The downsides - the show clocks in at around 3 and a half hours! (although it has since been shortened by half an hour). Although the inclusion of the writers material is, of course, important, one couldn't help but yearn for Rupert Goold to be a little more ruthless with his
pencil. Some scenes seemed small and inconsequential in comparison to others and, although showing a different perspective, seemed more style over substance. By adding the more physical aspects of the show too, which were not always necessary and rarely perfected, you started to resent the performance making later, more substantial pieces almost impossible to make an impact.

Putting all this aside, I've found this blog very difficult to write. I don't want to be negative about this show, because to be negative would suggest I felt something. I actually left the space feeling surprisingly apathetic towards the show. The subject matter is so emotive and personal to everyone, that the show didn't seem to measure up to the reality of the situation and how the event has affected our lives. I think I'm still unsure what the show was trying to say, and whether including the work of so many writers was the right way to do it.

I believe the show has been edited since the first night and I'd be interested in seeing this again and where the axe may have fallen.

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