Words can change their meanings radically depending upon context. During the rest of the year, for instance, "intense" is usually a term of approbation for a theatre piece; in Edinburgh, it signifies a purgatorial endurance test. Last year, young American company The Riot Group scored an enormous hit with their Wreck The Airline Barrier; it was bizarre, hilarious and kept full houses enraptured in the most airless Edinburgh venue I have ever experienced. This year's offering The Zero Yard, is... well, extremely intense.
To put it bluntly, the company has gone all earnest. Four inmates in a prison camp are harangued by a tyrannical guard, and wage campaigns of war and status amongst themselves. Sex becomes a commodity (two of the four are women), to be traded or simply seized. The action is deliberately harshly backlit, so for an hour and a quarter the audience is dazzled by scarlet spots as well as being assaulted by bellowed hostilities.
Yes, this is a work of great concentration and commitment. What it also is, however, is grinding in the extreme, loud and tedious, the theatrical equivalent of a Glenn Branca symphony for massed overdriven electric guitars. It's almost enough to make me think more kindly of that other show which uses the same premise to allegedly comic effect, Yllana's 666. Almost.
Written for the Financial Times Web site, ft.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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