12 May 2016
Silent Faces are an emerging integrated company and their physical theatre show Follow Suit has been awarded the iF Bursary at this year’s Brighton Fringe. Review by Colin Hambrook
I caught up with Silent Faces' show Follow Suit as the finale piece creating a perfectly-formed ending to the day of discussion and showcase at the iF Platform event at the Sallis Benney Theatre on Monday 9th May.
Follow Suit immediately took me back to my days of training at Dartington College of Arts where Expressionist modes of theatre were popular, being the kind of education establishment that encouraged social engagement and an awareness of art in relation to cultural values.
The show opens with four besuited characters behind their corporate desks staring out at the audience with increasingly exagerated expressions. You can imagine the fun the cast had in the devising process, creating playful improvisation: “you can try your angry / bewildered / surprised / ridiculous / astonished face, now, please”.
Follow Suit is packed with parody of financial companies and the values of Capitalist enterprise, imbued with perfect comic timing. The show had the audience at Sallis Benney filing reams of laughter as each character at turns individually and collectively goes through the throes of his/ her own Stationendramen (station dramas) - the term used in Expressionism for the personification of authority as a dramatic pivot for the struggle against societies dominant value structure. In this instance, I've used the term is used to evoke the 'work station', as opposed to the 'stations of the cross'.
Of all absurdist theatre-makers Follow Suit pays tribute to Beckett, especially and to Antonin Artaud, the unacknowledged originator of contemporary dramaturgy that places sound from within the body at the heart of theatrical language. Artaud spent the majority of his life incarcerated in mental hospitals across Europe in the early part of the 20th century and so like the cast of Silent Faces was no stranger to the mores of the mental health system.
Choreographed mock-horror oozes from the disinterred bodies of the four caricatured office workers with style, grace and an unerring proclivity for dark humour. The pace of the show is measured in body bags - reminding me of Terry Gilliam’s classic Brazil. And like Gilliam’s film Follow Suit has a retro-futuristic look and feel, in costume and stage design, used as a foil for the shows buffoonish, slapstick quality.
My only gripe was that there was a tendency for Follow Suit to persistently draw out its dramatic pauses to the nth degree, which at times worked against the flow of energy behind the piece. However, it was clear that Follow Suit is in its staging infancy and that it will become further honed as opportunities for the company to perform the show are realised.
The following night I went to see The Ricochet Project - a contemporary circus collaboration at the Dome. Like Follow Suit, Laura Stokes and Cohdi Harrell’s show Smoke and Mirrors begins with a mechanical disembodied voice quoting stocks and shares, using financial figures as a backdrop for the staging of city workers with suits and briefcases, dressed as metaphor.
Both shows share a meaning in common asking the audience to think about our relationship with finance and authority and the way our lives are increasingly regimented and restricted by corporate sensibilities that have no regard for humanity - or for that matter for any form of life - above and beyond the dollar.