Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Theatre review: Trust

My first visit to the Gate since Ellen McDougall took over as artistic director, and as soon as you get into the building you can tell she’s kept one of her predecessor’s innovations and taken it to the next level: Christopher Haydon introduced the idea of commissioning artists to decorate the staircase and front-of-house with artworks that reflected the current production, and Jude Christian’s production of Trust, designed by Bethany Wells, is in its entirety an art installation. Wells has turned FOH into a building site, the future home of some luxury development, while sound designer Ben Ringham has installed a recording of a Spanish language lesson in the toilets. Christian’s own installation is, essentially, the director herself – she’s set up a bedroom at the edge of the auditorium and has moved into it for the duration of the play’s run, and also appears in the show as one of the performers alongside Pia Laborde Noguez and Zephryn Taitte.

The theme of living spaces and gentrification is a nod to the housing crisis, Christian’s interpretation of the way Falk Richter’s play is concerned – in a mix of incredibly direct and wildly oblique ways – with capitalism and its failings.

The art installation continues in the way Christian has staged the play, which consists of a series of sometimes linked sketches, each of which sees new props brought onto the empty stage until it’s crowded, the title of each sketch appearing as the description card in a gallery. If there is a single idea that becomes clear over the course of the evening it’s of our relationship with capitalism being like a marriage that’s not working but nobody can quite end because they don’t know what comes next. Taitte and Noguez appear in a number of scenes as couples in a state of entropy, most notably the three-part sketch “14 Years / 3 Weeks,” in which they’re not entirely clear whether they had a 3-week relationship that ended 14 years ago, or a 14-year relationship that ended three weeks ago.

“Trust Me” most obviously stages the metaphor, Noguez putting her makeup on with a monologue about how she might have made several million Euros disappear on numerous occasions, but if you just give her more money she’ll definitely mend her ways sometime soon, while on the other end of the scale “The Great Bark” has Taitte put on a dog mask and get the audience to join him in an animal cry of rage. Maja Zade’s translation is presumably a very loose one, given there’s a couple of scenes explicitly about Brexit in a German play written in 2009.

So this is a show that really shows a European influence well beyond the original playwright’s nationality, and while it doesn’t lack for inventiveness the results vary a lot in whether they entertain or test the patience. The connected speeches “The Fourth Generation” and “Landscapes Waiting for a Meltdown,” which bookend the play, certainly do the latter, Christian narrating a tangled story that veers wildly from the personal to the global and back. Leaving a window wide open for the last twenty minutes when it’s -3C outside isn’t likely to leave your audience with the best lasting impression either, even if you have given them an airline blanket. But in between these missteps the show’s quirks often work, with Noguez and particularly Taitte making an impression, even if the show is ultimately stolen from them by a Roomba.

Trust by Falk Richter in a version by Maja Zade is booking until the 17th of March at the Gate Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Ikin Yum.

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