Where Tim Crouch's An Oak Tree at the Traverse uses a different unrehearsed second actor each night, Anglo-Italian company Rotozaza go one better and utilise a pair of unprepared performers who are also separated from one another by a screen running down the centre of the stage. As the two performers follow taped instructions and technical cues given by a pair of "operators" seated in front of them, we in the audience can compare how differently they interpret and act on the same orders such as "Show your bad hand" or "Tap your foot". Yet it begins to feel disquieting, like an unfeeling experiment in disorientation as much as an examination of behavioural quirks.
Then, around 30 minutes into the 80-minute piece, there appears to be a power cut: lights and tape stop, and events continue in torchlight and with live vocal cues. Gradually the "operators" enter the action, the screen comes down, and similar but separate duets develop between, as it were, different versions of the same couple or between a performer and his or her operator shadow-self. The action is deconstructed further and further: one performer begins to interrogate the operators about the point of the piece and what is really happening, and thereafter co-operates only sporadically with his vodka-swilling operator counterpart. There's a fair amount of humour, but it's located in derision and hysteria, and so adds to the unsettling impression.
At root, I suppose Doublethink simply demonstrates at length that we do not perceive things the same way, and so it's a mystery how we ever manage to interact either socially or romantically. Yet I have seldom seen such a truism more directly, even shockingly given dramatic form. Even so, a puckish part of me wants to go back and sabotage the enterprise by playing my own set of taped instructions such as "Now, left foot on Green..."
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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