Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Like many critics, I am not in the habit of writing about a work-in-progress. But in certain circumstances, you just get the feeling... why not? Plenty of theatre does not need gloss to make a clear and relevant point. Audiences, from my experience, do not really care about mistakes, perceived or actual - they care about the contest for reality. This can be present in theatre at any stage of development.

Having said that, it's hard to  imagine a work-in-progress feeling more complete than this work from Agrupación Señor Serrano, presented as part of the Venice Architecture Biennale workshops I attended as a participant. We enter an auditorium half-filled with seats and half with cushions on the floor, and are met with a stage that gives off a similar sense of lounging, white sofas lazily strewn together to form a lounge room, with a big screen projecting a video game behind.

At this point, I admit, I expected what followed to be shit. Call it years of seeing theatre stages of lounge rooms, unselfconsciously realised on stage in a replication that shows no acknowledgement to a world outside a middle-class world of leisure. In retrospect, I should have noticed the tiny abnormalities. Why the casual appearance of the actors? Was there not at the same time some tightness in the air? Why the all-too-boys-club behaviour, joking and high-fiving one another in front of a video-game replay of Italy vs Croatia in the World Cup? Why the clashing combination of sterile sofas and home-made cardboard shanty town on the table?

Kingdom is an experiment in Game Theory and narrative, something like the beginning of Run Lola Run on a football pitch. It is told through live filming of miniatures, and employs various home-made storytelling techniques. The narratives focus on 'Max', a kid from a shanty-town somewhere in the third world, who is unnaturally good at football. Narrative #1 sees him rise through the football world of Lille OSC, Sevilla, and Manchester United, ultimately to score in the World Cup. But by the time we reset and loop back to Narrative #2, things have begun to go wrong with the story, as with the careers of so many sporting heroes.

The haunting accuracy of the observations is the most remarkable thing about Kingdom. From the rags-to-riches narrative to the plight of migrant workers working on the stadiums in Qatar, it's all here, and when it's together in the same stream - it's scary. The narrative of a life in football seems to represent perfectly the aspirational life of the first world, those comfortable sofas the players are sitting on. The narrative threads which are not resolved - whatever happened to the father who borrowed money to buy Max a football? - are brutally forgotten and passed over like the trash as which they are treated. As I was watching Max become the CEO of a soft drink corporation, the same soft drink that we would later be served with alcohol, the metaphor was obvious - we are complicit in this system. That this is a life many aspire towards, this fabricated reality of sport, and the consumers of it - we have caused this narrative. So we must drink the drink.

I chose not to drink. But I understand perfectly well the point - and this performance was all the more valuable as it operates in an area almost totally unexamined. I thought instantly of the responses to the recent protests in Brazil - those which went something like 'why can't they just keep their politics out of football'. Well, this sort of shit is why. Because for every hero that is created, there are 10,000 lives which are totally obliterated. You don't see those lives, but they certainly exist. They are sacrificed to uphold the narrative of success.

The number I used in the last paragraph, 10,000, looks to me now to be laughably small - who knows what it becomes in the future? And so the narratives spiral and multiply endlessly, and the show continues into infinite.

by Agrupación Señor Serrano
with Àlex Serrano, Pau Palacios, Diego Anido, Ferrán Dordal,  Alberto Barberá
Biennale College, Venice

No comments:

Post a Comment