Boy Girl Wall Review.
Answers from Anya Tretyakova
Boy Girl Wall is a love story – despite what its star, co-creator and co-writer Lucas Stibbard would have you believe with his opening line. Throughout Stibbard’s (essentially) one-man show, we meet Thom and Alethea, the romantic wall that separates their two apartments, a perverted alien and a murderous, necrophiliac magpie, amongst a host of other animate and inanimate, but charmingly anthropomorphised characters. Boy Girl Wall is a contemplative, optimistic exploration at what it takes for two people to meet and fall in love, against all odds. It is a love story, which is concerned with everything that happens before the boy meets the girl and how the universe conspires to make it so.
From the people who brought you Attack of the Attacking Attackers!, also presented at La Boite, Stibbard, wife Neridah Waters (music, realiser), Matthew Ryan (co-writer, realiser) and newcomer Sarah Winter (realiser) deliver a child-like story to enthral and capture the imagination of even the most hardened cynic. The writing is fast-paced and obviously intended to present the story as a humorous, rather than dramatic piece of live theatre. Stibbard does not fail to deliver each line with impact, effortlessly jumping from character to character, sometimes portraying a day of the week, sometimes a laptop, sometimes Alethea’s agent who manages to be less human than both.
It is clear from the performance style, that this was indeed a collaborative work. The story is haphazard and full of segues whilst somehow managing to cling to a clear and underlying narrative, inevitably heading to the ultimate climax of Thom and Alethea’s meeting. During interviews with The Escapists (the name Stibbard and co have given themselves as a collaborative ensemble) they emphasize the absence of clearly defined roles in this project, with all members contributing to directorial, writing and realisation aspects of the performance (Devising An Original Performance). This approach results in an organically devised performance that flows from idea to idea like a proverbial stream of consciousness, allowing the audience to be immersed in the story as well as keep up with the myriad of characters and ever-changing set, which is mostly drawn and re-drawn with chalk by Stibbard.
In keeping with the idea of the theatre as a ‘black box’ (DAOP)– an idea almost perfectly encapsulated by La Boite’s roundhouse theatre design – Stibbard uses a piece of chalk to draw bits and pieces of the set as he requires them. The use of an overhead projector (with some very dodgy slides) comprises the bulk of the special effects for the show. The lighting is minimal, but incredibly effective; the use of ordinary light bulbs, scattered light from the overhead projector and at one point, a cleverly held penlight used to represent a rather Doctor Who-esque crack in the universe, light up the minimalist set beautifully, oftentimes reflecting the cosmic aspects of the storyline. Enhanced by Waters’ simple melodies on the xylophone and glockenspiel, which easily achieve the desired effect of alluding to the contemplative nature of the story (DAOP), the simple musical score manages to be both haunting otherworldly.
Dramaturgically speaking, the play is successful in combining seemingly unrelated elements of a rather convoluted storyline, into a cohesive and unambiguous performance. The simple elements of the set, lighting and sound designs only heighten the theatricality of the piece by drawing attention to the components of the story that matter, rather than wasting time and energy on incidental information. The end result is a highly concise and polished piece of drama, a tightly wound narrative which explores the essential parts of the lives of two people, who have yet to meet. As with any love story, it leaves us hopeful and optimistic about what awaits us as we step back into the outside world; no small feat in today’s sceptical society.
Although the performance makes attempts at being a contemporary, postdramatic performance and although many elements of the play are undoubtedly postdramatic, many other aspects remain ‘traditionally’ dramatic. All this amounts to a hybrid piece of live theatre. Neither traditionally Aristotelian, nor entirely postdramatic in nature – perhaps something that is post-postdramatic – which embodies neither theory, but surpasses both as a chimeric adaptation.
Notably, Stibbard ‘breaks the fourth wall’ several times throughout the performance, at one point even addressing a single member of the audience with a question regarding whether (as Thom) he should attend his supervisor Mel’s “Theatre Sports Extravaganza” (Boy Girl Wall, 01/01/11). He refers to himself as “The Narrator” as well as various characters and acknowledges that the audience is technically not part of the diegesis he is representing, by observing that they are “…a group of people who aren’t really there…” (BGW, 01/01/11). These techniques are obviously examples of contemporary postdramatic approaches to theatre, especially when combined with Stibbard’s physical performance and the minimalist stage, lighting and costuming design.
These postdramatic elements are cleverly executed so as not to interrupt the complicated narrative, however, as an audience member and despite Stibbard’s constant addressing of the audience, it was all too easy to get sucked back into the storyline; resulting in the peculiar effect of the ‘fourth wall’ being broken, only to be rebuilt and broken again. The show’s narrative is far too coherent and engaging to ever leave the audience in any danger of feeling alienated or reciprocally observed. Despite the elaborate narrative and serpentine structure of delivery, there is a clear causal chain of events from beginning to end – indeed, from the very beginning of Thom and Alethea’s birth – to the inevitable kiss that brings them together at last. The storyline is not particularly linear, but cause and effect is still clearly established through time.
The performance does not attempt to be naturalistic or ‘socially realistic’, but this is what makes it work so well; the audience are forced to use their imaginations to fill in the gaps; to believe that sock puppets can fall in love; that a wall can scheme with the floor and the ceiling to bring two people together and; to accept that an alarm clock will ring until Stibbard draws it on the wall in chalk (in its entirety) before his character can switch it off. These surreal elements leave one feeling as if they have walked into a dream, someone else’s dream and are fortunate enough to watch.
During the devising stages of the performance, it is also quite clear that Stibbard and the other Escapists wrote a play that was conscious of itself as a play; the storyline and dialogue is often self-reflexive and breaks down the barrier between live theatre performance and audience, or the observer and observed. As already mentioned, most markedly when Stibbard refers to himself as characters and audience as extra-diegetic beings.
However, the performance does also incorporate many elements of traditional theatre. This performance is nothing if not entertaining and somewhat cathartic – especially due to the beautifully predictable ending – an ending even Disney would approve of. Most importantly, perhaps, the performance is a theatre of written drama, enhanced by the simplest of elements. The use of literary devices such as the presence of the (self-aware) narrator and the beginning and ending of the performance looking and sounding suspiciously like a prologue and epilogue, respectively. Also, Stibbard’s use of asides and interludes, such as the Voltron-suited cat dream sequence (BGW, 01/01/011). As previously touched on, despite constant breaks in ‘the fourth wall’, the illusion of observing a ‘real’ world is enhanced by the science fiction aspects of the storyline, allowing the observer to feel they have magically travelled to that particular point in space and time, to see Thom and Alethea’s story. This extraordinary aspect of the performance is what brings the postdramatic and more traditional elements together, into a new breed of theatrical storytelling.
The show succeeds on a multi-level basis; it tells a story about love, about two people who were destined to meet, but it also explores the ‘what-if’ notion that all animals and objects, indeed everything in the cosmos, has a mind and presence of its own. The technical elements enhance the dream-like, magical aspects of this premise; whilst the mixing of traditionally dramatic and contemporary postdramatic styles highlight this as a relevant piece of devised, performance theatre. Perhaps a new direction to explore, rather than stagnating in the dichotomous ‘traditional vs. postdramatic’ theatre debate.
Above all, this play allows audience members to regress to a child-like time when all that was needed to create worlds, was one’s imagination and perhaps a piece of chalk.
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