Of all the forms of theatre regularly utilised in our part of the world, physical theatre remains the most beleaguered. At its best, it can be the emotive, striking way of delivering information beyond words, like its practitioners want it to be. At its worst, it is a shortcut used to court critical acclaim and give meaning or significance to half-baked concepts. Physical theatre is often misunderstood or over-interpreted. Fourth Monkey Theatre Company are experienced practitioners of the art, blending physical theatre with ensemble drama to retell stories. They have returned to this year's Festival Fringe with another offering:
Fourth Monkey are proud of their ensemble approach, and their commitment to forms of theatre beyond tired naturalism is commendable
The ancient biblical tale centres on the city of Sodom, created cleverly using mottled, lava-like tendrils across the stage. The city is afflicted with a curse that causes its inhabitants to physically and mentally deteriorate. Sudden, random acts of violence are rife and self-harm is constant. The city's leader, Lot, hides from all this, ignoring his wife and locking away his two daughters, but the citizens expect him to find and stop the source of their affliction, as he has the ear of god. He insists they are being punished for their own depravity, but all is not as it seems.
Ami Sayers’ piece is a dark and disturbing exploration of trickery, selfishness, and the lengths that we go to to convince ourselves that our intentions are good. It is a shame then, that these interesting thematic elements are trapped, like Lot’s daughters, in a place where they cannot reach the outside world. The form of Sodom leaves it unable to communicate clearly. Traditional theatrical scenes mix freely with stylised physical theatre in a blend that leaves both with less impact, as if diluted. For example, the piece relies on a serious and sombre atmosphere, and many of the actors work hard to create this, with particular praise deserved by both versions of daughter “1”. However, with this atmosphere created by well-scripted dialogue, later physical theatre sections actually provoke laughter from some audience members. This could simply be ignorance, but is likely a result of the show being neither fish nor fowl.
It is important to stress that many of the scenes are interesting and well-acted. Interesting allusions to rape culture and inequality are made. The chorus fulfills its role and provides a disturbing voice that chills. However, even within the scenes, double casting obfuscates and confuses what is a simple narrative. It seems odd that a decision has been made to tell such a simple story in such a convoluted way. Fourth Monkey are proud of their ensemble approach, and their commitment to forms of theatre beyond tired naturalism is commendable. But in their desire to blend these with more traditional theatre they have created a contrast that has left the production looking strange.