Bliss

This piece by Olivier Choinier, translated by Caryl Churchill was first presented at London’s Royal Court Theatre. Perhaps there and with seasoned professional actors it worked, but as presented by these talented young students from Southampton I’m at a loss to work out what it was about, or, I have to confess, why in a world of so many wonderful plays, anyone would want to chose this one.On entering the theatre we are presented by what appears to be a bedroom set. On the back wall are broken mirrors and pictures of what look like Celine Dion impersonators. There are also various words and phrases spelled out backwards as if viewed in a mirror. Some of the cast wear uniforms/badges, which signify that they work for the great American supermarket chain Walmart. It appears we are watching a play about songstress Celine Dion and her decision to take time out from her career to have a baby. The narrative unwinds in the form of story telling, the characters swapping roles and talking about themselves in the third person. It’s an interesting device, and for the first ten minutes intriguing.Then the story spins off in an entirely new direction and begins to centre on Isabelle, a young girl who, as if dying of cancer isn’t bad enough, is a massive Celine Dion fan. Oh, and she’s regularly sexually abused by both her parents while her brother takes photos (this is not the stuff of musical comedy). Having witnessed the upsetting rape of Isabelle by her parents we then spin into another dimension. and it appears (I think) that this whole thing is taking place in a branch of Walmart orchestrated by a girl called Caro (keep up at the back!). Caro’s worker number at Walmart is 31, and apparently if you look at 31CARO in a mirror it spells ORACLE. Actually, it doesn’t because in a mirror the C and the R would be backwards. But let that go.This is not an untalented ensemble (it includes a cellist), especially the young actress who carries the bulk of the emotional roles (no cast list of press back available at C Aquila, again). But some of the effects they attempt to achieve just aren’t slick enough on the cramped stage. Where they are really hamstrung, though, is in the script itself. It’s vaguely poetic in places, but much of it is simply gratuitous. The long description of how Isabelle’s body is mutilated and transformed into Caro is simply violent and gruesome in an almost masturbatory way. Maybe something is lost in translation, but I felt nauseous, which is fine if there is some kind of pay off for us poor souls in the audience. There just isn’t. Even at then end, as the lights went down and we applauded their undoubtedly committed and well-rehearsed endeavours, there was no pay off. No curtain call. Why? The curtain call is a way of us thanking the actors, but also of the cast thanking us for being there, and breaking the spell, part of the contract between us, an acknowledgment that what we have seen was all pretend. Believe me, I’ve rarely seen a play when I needed to be reassured that it was pretend! Not taking a curtain call isn’t deep or clever, it’s like inviting people to your house to dinner (and charging them money!) then not thanking them for coming or even saying good bye.The cello was good.

The Blurb

Celine Dion speaks through an oracle to cashiers at WalMart. Sit back but don't relax: experience surrealism, normality, insanity, shock, love, discomfort. Caryl Churchill's translation of Choinière's wild fantasy: a mirror world where nothing is what it seems. www.theatre.susu.org