Going to see a production of Antonin Artaud’s work can be a daunting prospect because you know by default that it will a disturbing experience: either disturbing because it hasn’t been done well, or disturbing because it has. Using excerpts from Artaud’s screenplay The Seashell and The Clergyman, as well as material from his plays Spurt of Blood and The Cenci, The Lincoln Company have created a bold, potent spectacle and experience. Artaud’s theory of the Theatre of Cruelty is hurled into the 21st century in an impressive and impactful way, whilst remaining true to the essence of Artaud’s idea: that the cruelty of the theatre is the violence of showing the audience what they do not wish to see, exemplified in this production as the depths of human depravity.
The audience were asked for the benefit of ‘the experience’ to remove our shoes and socks, any anxiety from the audience was justified by what this part of the experience entailed (although I won’t ruin it for you). The space was essentially a black-box theatre, with a sheet tinged with a blood-like colour at the corners, onto which was projected the black and white film of The Seashell and the Clergyman which began the production. This film consisted of a series of abstract scenes and impressions, accompanied by ambient, but bizarre music, which was humorous at points and unnerving at others: the perfect opening to the edited and combined plays we were about to witness.
The performances of all five actors were fiercely committed and remarkable. Extreme physicality, with animalistic, sexual, erratic, comical and sinister variations, as well as fearless and invasive interaction with the audience pervaded their roles. Audience interaction and inclusion in the piece was a huge focus of this production, no matter where you sat you were not safe from being touched, screamed at, lead up on stage, sat on or kissed. My only serious critique of the performances is that, in their complete commitment to the performance, they sometimes seemed to confuse intensity of character with intensity of volume in line delivery, which occasionally masked Artaud’s fascinating language and was a bit much. The set, although minimal and intimate, was fitting for the piece, as there was always so much to look at onstage. An interesting moment of quiet beauty was the scene with the Perspex screen which created the effect of a translucent mirror between two lovers for a breath of calm in the madness of the piece.
If I were to summarise the essential feeling you get as an audience member watching this piece it would be something akin to witnessing a violent orgy at an insane asylum. Bold, maniacal and disorientating, The Lincoln Company succeeds in performing the ‘unperformable’ in a daring and memorable way.