Throats: A world in pieces

Internationally acclaimed director and playright Gerald Thomas launched his London Dry Opera Company with the show Throats in February, and Jungle went along to check it out.

Once the lights dim we have plenty of time to sink into the darkness while listening to the notes of a deep piano melody. What follows is an intriguing dialogue where an assertive voice instructs the second person’s imagination, endorsing or disapproving of their responses. After the sound of a car crash, we are introduced to the first visual images of Throats: a dinner table set amongst the debris of the World Trade Centre, a wounded head lying on top of it, and a pompous mâitre d’hôtel who carries out his honours to the spectators. All of this was constricted by a transparent panel, a tangible fourth wall that separated the stage area from the seats of the audience, guiding us from an immersive sound experience into a more pictorial one.

The butler, whose bald head constantly bleeds, welcomes his guests to this macabre version of the Last Supper. One by one, the characters present themselves, their attitudes both daunting and fearful. Some of them mention the orders they have received from a certain “he” – who could perhaps be understood as the same man whose voice we heard in the beginning.

The atmosphere is sobering and dense, with a hint of irony. However, shards of comedy also bring some humorous aspects to the piece: for example, with a character randomly dressed in a Brazilian football strip, and a man in blue high heels who states, in the middle of a serious discussion, that he is John Malkovich.

During the piece, some of the dramaturge’s political concerns are made clear through his use of text. There are allusions to realistic and fictional ‘facts’ of happenings in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, New York, London and Berlin. In another instance, a woman walks in carrying a tray that contains different drugs, ID cards, European passports, recipes for Molotov cocktails and biological weapons. Moreover, constant references are made to the attack of September 11th, as well as a possible conspiracy in which that same woman seems to be, or not, involved.

There is a religious debate in Throats as one of its characters often affirms having reached a low point in her devotion to God, whilst a – black – orthodox Jew admits feeling excited before he is seen crucified after a change in the set. In this new image, there is a big cross that resembles the one erected by the rescue workers of the WTC, created from remains of the towers. In this scene, the characters alternate who is to be crucified and they often touch upon the theme of independence.

As it draws to an end Throats does begin to lose a grasp on the audience’s attention with the use of some loosely presented images, and dialogues that become wearing, leaving an unresolved feeling along with a great deal of wine – a metaphor for human blood – spilled around the stage.

In more traditional terms, there is little to be comprehended from this piece’s sequence of facts, but this does not affect its overall value. Its fragmented dramaturgy offers us a rich collection of images and references that are recurring all through the play, giving clues to our interpretation. It would seem that those who do not simply endeavour to find a coherent narrative can actually connect with the piece, and thus, attribute to it a sense of wholeness. A thought-provoking experience.

By Mafê Toledo
Photo credit: Alastair Muir

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Throats @ The Pleasance Theatre
Islington, London
18 February — 27 March 2011
Tue-Sat: 8pm, Sun: 7pm
Full Price: £8 – £15
pleasance.co.uk

One Comment

  1. G C

    i do NOT require a coherent narrative or consistent characters (or characters in the psychologically realist sense of the term) in the first place to enjoy a piece, quite the opposite. what i do require, though, is a framework upon which what i’m watching is based. it doesn’t mean that i have to be able to identify it, but it has to make me want to do so because i know there is something that has challenged me, intellectually or emotionally.

    if all i get is an incoherent sequence of progressively more wearing images that come out of nowhere and lines that are either just there for effect (the influence of john cage’s “composing with dice” approach is i think obvious – and i’m not being flippant, i’m genuinely convinced of this) and the random mentioning of tragedies/events/issues as if a list was being set up without them EVER being given any sort of treatment, in that case, all the imagery is form without substance, it becomes empty trickery, empty words – they’re not difficult to decode, they’re impossible to decode because there IS nothing to decode.

    absurdism/nonsense for its own sake had its place in art/theatre/music (john cage) as a break with established patterns, as a way of questioning the boundaries of art and thus extending them, as a way of introducing new working practices to it. there is a reason why i can’t think of any famous contemporary composers who still compose with a die – either i’m too ignorant OR, possibly, the aim of that particular approach (and other experimental approaches – experimental in the teleological sense of the word, i.e. as a way of “trying out stuff” in order to find something out, not as a self-serving solipstic act) was a means to an end (i.e. the inclusion on the part of the generation following cage and his contemporaries of new ways of creating art).

    if you still hang on to such practices for the sake of it, what you produce will necessarily come out empty and uninvolving and also look INCREDIBLY DATED AND OLDFASHIONED.

    another problem that i’m too bored to go into now is the poor quality of the script – if at least mr thomas could write – like howard barker who – if he knew him (he gets pissed off at reviewers comparing him unfavourably to barker because he doesn’t know what that director playwright is, which is really only a reflection on mr thomas and his knowledge of contemporary theatre (i suggest he go and get acquainted with barker, it might do him good), not on howard barker.

    there would be so much more that should be said, but i’m starting to feel the way i did when i watched the piece, so i’ll end with a positive note. the acting ensemble, who are forced to work with very little, do an extraordinary job and are the only redeeming feature of a show that descends into involuntary self-parody almost from the word “go” – this said, this almost makes it compulsory viewing. don’t go on your own, though – the most fun i had was the looks my friend and i exchanged in reaction to goings-on on stage.

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