Frantic Assembly have quite a bit in common with Volcano Theatre Company. Quite a bit indeed, actually: during a catalogue in the Frantics' show Flesh detailing who has been involved with whom, we are told that "Andrew used to go out with Fern", and begin to suspect that their links with that other Swansea-based physical company are, or have been, more than merely comradely. However, where Volcano have made a speciality of high-culture deconstructions (the Communist Manifesto, the plays of Ibsen) which are at once hilarious and disturbing, Frantic Assembly have concentrated more on popular culture, or at least on the culture of their own age group. Their last three shows, Klub, Flesh and Zero – collectively entitled "the Generation trilogy" – are now in repertoire performance at BAC.
I must admit that I have not seen Klub, but on the basis of the subsequent two shows, the Frantics' stock in trade is a serious engagement with the preoccupations of their generation. Sometimes this may be symbolised in sequences of intense, choreographed hurtling, sometimes through speeches of individual confession (or apparent confession), sometimes through punning allusion: Zero is performed around a gingerbread Wendy house, which stands both for thoughts of domestic stability and the jargon of clubbers – they are literally In The House. Similarly punning texts by Spencer Hazel – particularly in Flesh, as the four performers effectively offer themselves as meat for our fantasies – can, though, detract from the primary thrust of the show by their very density. As against this, the directness with which the quartet address the audience is nicely disconcerting; one cannot simply spectate – one becomes a combination of confidant and voyeur.
Zero attempts to synthesize the high and low concerns of late twentysomethings, giving equal weight to pangs of "there must be more" and to the routines of clubbing. The soundtrack, as well as recognisable snatches of Iggy Pop, REM and even The Carpenters, is blended and technofied up by DJ Andy Cleeton. But the company are perhaps more conscious of having created a body of work – "arguably one of the most significant and important theatrical events of the decade", as they grandly claim – and with encapsulating a collective spirit than with addressing a communal soul. When humour arises, it seems to be a by-product of their examinations rather than an integral part of their approach. Zero includes a line which may be truer than they or we would like: "Something's gotta be said and I don't know if we've really got anything to say." Maybe not, but they make a damn good fist of searching for it.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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