January 07, 2013

Architects

The first thing I noticed about Architects was the way that it threw me. Its been hard writing this review because what I remember most about the play is not an idea but a sense of confusion. Let me explain: when you enter the theatre in an abandoned warehouse in Bermondsey, you find yourself in a labyrinth. Through its twists and turns you eventually come to a bar- hopefully having found your friends you sit down and join them for a cup of tea (in my case) or a glass of wine or beer (if you are more adventurous or come in the evening!) and then the play begins. It begins with a pregnant woman removing a shoe from the interior of a model cow, then we have a speech about architecture and are informed that we are on a boat, a pleasure cruiser where everything that we could possibly want is available. Everything- yes that's everything- there is even the opportunity for women to have sex with Dolphins if they want- by again crawling into the model of a Dolphin and well, I'll leave the rest to your imagination.


This is unsettling- this was unsettling to me. It becomes clear as you proceed that this is really a re-telling of the myth of the Minotaur- a retelling in which the audience has become the virgins and youths sent from Athens to become the food of the minotaur in Crete. This retelling is subtle: many within the party I went with did not immediately get it, but it is definite. Its subtle because it is clothed in thoroughly modern clothing. We are presented with an image of the Minotaur story as it might look to a modern audience- filled with the coarse hedonism of modern life. Its also a story that retold in this fashion takes on ideas about totalitarianism: lost in the dark with others shouting that they don't need or want you around, you are reminded of the reality of democratic tyranny. It is not that we all fear execution as in the old days: but that we know execution as show trial. It is when as Bukharin found you convict yourself with the crowd that you too become of the horror of your own demise.

Ovid may not have imagined the uses to which his story could have been put in this sense. The features are there: we have Daedalus, the architect, the queen pregnant with the bull's child, the bull human itself roaming the world, children who dance in the air above and fall to the ground in death (see Icarus), the virgins and youths taken to death. In a prologue about architecture we are even told how to interpret the story: architecture, our actress tells us, is the way that the past is reinterpreted constantly by the present. The old materials, old forms, old ideas are neither discarded nor copied, but changed. A tradition is formed through its continual alteration and we speak, not just with each other, but with the past. She declaims about the neccessity of art and architecture making a statement about past and present, about future too. But this is where I was confused.

Because ultimately I could admire the cleverness, the subtle work of translation- even the Borgesian argument about the fact that copying is not possible anymore- but couldn't really see the point of any of it. Two things stuck in my mind: was the argument that only the Dionysian, ecstatic, sexual side of Greece had survived into the modern world, leaving the Appollan behind? Was the argument something about the nature of human relationships? Either I was not clever enough to see- or the problem with Architects was simple: its an amazing idea, its disturbing, but it functions on the level of style and not substance. If this is a statement, I'm not sure that its saying very much.