When I first saw Bob, during the 1998 Belfast Festival in tandem with a lecture by its subject, theatre director Robert Wilson, I remarked that after both, "Like the judge in the old joke, we may have been none the wiser but we were much better informed." Anne Bogart's piece is more a modernist-impressionist portrait of Wilson than an actual biography; Jocelyn Clarke's script is composed entirely of Wilson's words, culled from a variety of interviews and recordings over a period of thirty years, but assembled in a piecemeal, fragmentary fashion not unlike one of the director's own texts.
Similarly, performer Will Bond does not attempt an impersonation of Wilson; that wouldn't be dreadfully theatrical, as the man's public image at least is frankly on the arid, astringent side. Bond's Bob is more animated, more playful, even occasionally a little camp. Having described himself as a visual artist who works mostly in theatre, he declares, "I work in the largest theatres in Europe," then glances around him at The Pit's studio space for a knowing audience laugh.
The visual and physical aesthetics of the piece are strongly Wilsonian. The stage is divided into a grid of nine areas, each independently lit so that a variety of patterns and permutations of light play across the stage over 90 minutes. The only props are a table and a chair (Wilson collects chairs), in opposite corners; periodically, Bond moves these to different corners so that the perspective of the playing area seems to shift through ninety degrees. He demonstrates Wilson's device of playing with time, imbuing small actions with a greater significance by means of performing them very slowly and deliberately, in pouring and drinking a glass of milk several times over.
Wilson's interest in alternative modes of perception such as autism is made manifest in sudden hesitations, repetitions and returning to an anecdote several minutes after breaking off on another tangent. In the final phase of the piece, the schematic, deliberate movements of Bond's Bob seem to grow more compulsive, as if they are happening in spite of his will rather than because of it. The evening illustrates Wilson's approach and his work, and does so in terms of itself rather than of any pretended external subject matter; we are no closer to any kind of explanation of the why of Wilson, but as Bob says, "I draw pictures, I don't draw meanings."
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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