Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Theatre review: Archimedes' Principle

Theatre's rarely afraid to deal with touchy subjects and the Park Theatre's studio space gives us a continental take on the paranoia and witch-hunts around paedophilia. Josep Maria Miró i Coromina's Archimedes' Principle follows a single sequence of events in a swimming pool's staff changing room, but tells its story out of sequence, jumping back and forth with a few moments being repeated as we see where the pieces fit together. Brandon (Lee Knight) and Matt (Matt Bradley-Robinson) are young swimming instructors at the pool, working with children. After the morning's classes, Brandon is taken to one side by the pool's manager Anna (Kathryn Worth) and informed that a serious accusation has been made about how tactile he is with the children he teaches.

This comes just a few days after the papers exposed abuse in a nearby youth group, so the town is in a moral panic. Soon Brandon finds how easily people who've known him for years will distrust him, and the pool is under siege by frightened parents.

There are certainly some interesting ideas being explored here - the buff Brandon is miles away from the stereotypically sinister, reclusive paedophile of much fiction, and the way the story comes round to scenes we've previously seen, but with new information about what came just before it, plays into the idea of how context can make seemingly innocent remarks take on dark overtones - a joke Brandon made to Matt just before the shit hit the fan, turning into ammunition that turns his friend against him. Brandon's guilt or innocence is never established, and it's almost beside the point - it's the rumour mill and hysteria that can instantly ruin someone's life that are the issue here.

Archimedes' Principle is the one about water in the bath and running through the streets naked, so it's apt enough that Knight has aFULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY ALERT!(two of them actually since the scene in question is one of those that gets repeated.) Now, I'm not saying I'm a noted authority on the use of male nudity on stage1 but this is a naked man put to a use you see all too rarely, and one I find interesting: Someone using his own nudity as a form of, not necessarily sexual, aggression. (And, from what I've now seen of Lee Knight, it's fair enough to assume he could do some damage. If he used it as a club or something.)

But for me Archimedes' Principle has a major plausibility problem - at times it's not so much a plot with holes in it as a hole with plot in it. I think it was a mistake for translator Dustin Langan to anglicise the names, and director Marta Noguera-Cuevas to go for a naturalistic staging. I don't think keeping the action in the original Spanish setting would have made the characters' actions make total sense, but at least not knowing the local laws as well might have led to forgiving characters who seem to have had a common sense-ectomy. Anna in particular makes Gordon Brittas seem like a model leisure centre manager, her response to the situation being to break any number of employment laws and talk round in endless circles, which the story's structure only makes worse. I had to make a conscious effort not to say "DUH!" out loud when she vaguely contemplates the idea of contacting the police about the lynch mob outside; this is roughly 90 minutes after a parent (Julian Sims) broke into the staff area and made a serious criminal accusation against one of her staff, accompanied by a barely-veiled threat of violence.

It's also disappointing that, while the play raises the issue of people mistakenly associating homosexuality with paedophilia, it then lets it hang without properly discussing and dismissing it. But my main issue here is that of the characters' actions not making the slightest bit of sense, and it's one that stopped me from caring about the discussion that resulted from them.

Archimedes' Principle by Josep Maria Miró i Coromina, in a translation by Dustin Langan, is booking until the 11th of May at Park Theatre 90.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

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