timely reinvention

marie-anne mancio: going (with coming), new york

Going (with Coming), Theatre of Mistakes/The Relationship

Going (with Coming), Theatre of Mistakes/The Relationship

Going (with Coming), Theatre of Mistakes/The Relationship

WHAT COMPRISES A PERFORMANCE MISTAKE? FOR 1970S BRITISH GROUP THE THEATRE OF MISTAKES, IT FUNCTIONS TO HIGHLIGHT STRUCTURE, TO PROVE FORM IS BEST READ THROUGH RUPTURE. THIS IS THE CASE WITH GOING, THE FIRST OF THEIR WORKS TO BE WHOLLY REHEARSED, MISTAKES INCORPORATED.

Beneath bare light bulbs, three men and two women (or two men and three women) constantly threaten to leave (“Really, I must go”, “I do think I’d better be going now”) yet never actually do. The repetition of text and gestures drawn from the rituals of saying goodbye becomes increasingly violent. Hands slam on a table, a cigarette packet is tossed, performers square up to one another, detain and push away. Phrases are non-committal, casual, petulant, full of rage. Silences are punctuated by swoons and vocal choruses which lend gravitas to even the tritest pop songs. Going is relentless: a structure with a human metronome and no ending. Our satisfaction comes from figuring out its fugal form, recognising the mistakes and the corrections they trigger, and then watching it play out over the five acts, each performer playing every part.

As director Fiona Templeton says, when Going was conceived in pre-Thatcherite Britain, noone looked like this. Slick-haired and grey-suited, its performers could have belonged to a nameless organisation somewhere on the ‘wrong’ side of the Berlin Wall. They appear locked in a Kafkaesque struggle from which there is no escape, penned in by the audience on four sides, by a formal conceit. Little wonder that when Going was performed in Pittsburgh’s Western Penitentiary, prisoners adored it; lifers felt it reflected the futility of applications to the parole board. Post 80s, everyone looks like this, like the face of faceless corporations; of commuters caught in the 9 to 5 treadmill.

The story is that when Going toured to New York in 1978, performer Mickey Greenall sat in the audience on his night off and fell asleep. In New York in 2008, this is unlikely. Two acts have been replaced with Coming, a work created by Templeton and her company The Relationship that takes on the task and structure of The Theatre of Mistakes’ earlier Homage to Pietro Longhi. Like the latter, Coming relies heavily on improvisation. A designated performer takes the lead and others copy. The Relationship works very well as an ensemble under Templeton’s direction, performers picking up cues from one another, incorporating elements inspired by the day’s news. They all have presence. There is Katy Brown’s terrifying boot camp leader who screams her way through a gruelling set of physical exercises, drenching herself with bottled water; Stephanie Silver’s leap from a table top in high heels. The audience is co-opted—asked to hold a spool or choose a playing card, to put on lipstick. Structure is less legible. Spatially, Coming leaks beyond the taped borders of Going as a performer exits the intimate theatre to the street. Like boisterous revellers, others clamber over swags of ribbon, toss shreds of paper, skid on a slippery wet floor.

Reviving Going in this context is a bold move. The Theatre of Mistakes was a core of The Ting (a larger, fluid group instigated by Anthony Howell in 1974). Anticipating the current emphasis on participation, they devised from a series of rule-based exercises (The Gymnasium) explored and refined in open workshops. Fiona Templeton’s input was crucial to their conceptual development. Going grew out of process: out of the mannerisms, intonations, formal concerns, dynamics and the collaborative practices of Howell, Templeton, Peter Stickland, Micky Greenall, Glenys Johnson and Miranda Payne. Is this still a Theatre of Mistakes work if none of those performers is in it? Does it matter?

According to Stickland, Going is to The Theatre of Mistakes what Waiting for Godot is to Beckett. It’s the work in which their prolonged enquiries into mutuality cohered and also the last time this core group were united in purpose and investigation (Templeton stayed on in New York to pursue her own projects, the group fragmented, eventually disbanding in 1981). The piece is so exquisitely classical in structure, so elegant, that to intercut it with anything is inevitably to dilute it.

Despite the input of Norwegian Signe Lie Howell, despite Templeton’s Scottish background and her engagement with French literature, despite influences as culturally diverse as Robert Wilson, Noh Theatre, Giorgio Morandi, Sol Le Witt and Gertrude Stein, there was always an Englishness about The Theatre of Mistakes. It adopted Purdies Farm in Hampshire as a rehearsal and performance space. Its work was made on the dole, in fields and barns, on Hartley Witney cricket green, its participants played shove ha’penny down the local pub. In Waterfall, their other seminal work, they dressed in cricket whites and recited koans about the weather. Theirs was an absurdist humour inscribed in the very language of Going; “Don’t be so silly” just doesn’t sound the same with an American accent.

Then again, perhaps these misgivings are pedantic. Instead of ‘beans, beans, beans, beans’, we have Javier Cardona’s lush singing of a Puerto Rican tune; Julie Troost, Adam Collignon and Chris Wendelken bring a different kind of repression to their performances. What Templeton achieves in her revisiting is a destabilisation of the classicism of Going through the romantic chaos of Coming. In that sense, this is a new type of mistake. In place of a minor rip in the fabric of the work, we have a gaping hole.

But paradoxically the fact that Going is still so effective, even in its edited version, even 30 years on, reconfirms its classic status. Templeton calls Going (with Coming) “both a play and a game” and leaves me thinking this high-risk strategy was a smart move.

Going (with Coming), created by The Theatre of Mistakes, performed by The Relationship, director Fiona Templeton, performers Katy Brown, Javier Cardona, Adam Collignon, Stephanie Silver, Julie Troost, Chris Wendelken; Chashama Theater, New York, Sept 3-13, www.fionatempleton.org

RealTime issue #88 Dec-Jan 2008 pg. 37

© Marie-Anne Mancio; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2008