The Pit, London EC2
Opened 14 February, 2008

For their new piece, the flagship of a 15th-anniversary season for their company Ridiculusmus, David Woods and Jon Haynes set themselves the uncharacteristic constraint of “No funny business”. They fail at step one. For although their characters Stefan and Martin engage in discussion which is at various points sexually graphic, provocatively callous (even about the Holocaust) and structurally intricate, audience laughter does keep breaking out. Why? Well, it may have something to do with the fact that both men spend all 70 minutes of the show naked in a bathtub. The setting is supposedly a Bangkok sauna, but as far as the stage picture is concerned, men, bath, that’s it.
Ridiculusmus’ keynote is an approach at once diligently thoughtful and deeply silly, and an interest in seeing the interference patterns that these elements generate with each other. Their last appearance at this venue was with a two-man version of The Importance Of Being Earnest, in which a succession of onstage costume changes (including drag) were treated with a solemnity at odds with both the text and the images thereby created. They have been aided in their various projects by Haynes’ possession of a stone face to rival Buster Keaton’s, whilst Woods’ bald head and mobile features can make him resemble a horror-movie slasher on Newsnight Review.
Here, they have set out to create a pair of characters who are almost entirely unpleasant: the one serially sexually exploitative, the other imbued with a Schadenfreude taken to pathological extremes. But as they tell their stories to each other, a third ingredient emerges: to the nastiness of the content and the absurdity of the image is added an awareness of the storiness of the stories themselves. They almost reach the extent of mentioning screenwriting guru Robert McKee by name. And why is all this done? I think, just to see what happens. Why, when both men are playing Germans, does only Woods adopt an accent? So that we will wonder why. It is at once alienating and engrossing, and I think it is the company’s strongest work for some time. But, for all I have said, never underestimate the silliness. It’s still two naked men in a bathtub.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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