Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Soul Boot Sale

Over to Riga now, where I am spending 5 days at the annual Latvian Theatre Showcase: nominally a selection of the year's best shows gathered into a short period.

As usual, I go in blind to much of the subtleties of the context of Latvian Theatre, with its heavy historical and contemporary Russian influence (or perhaps German if you go back far enough).

I'm being hosted here by Latvia's Theatre Labour Association, who will also nominate awards for some of the works, and run a press conference where I will discuss the works viewed together with other experts from Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Russia.

Sometimes we're being required to piece together information from different sources - synopsis, google-translated text, so on. Nevertheless, there's something about great theatre that doesn't need translation, so I will be relying on that universality here to pull me through. (As usual, actually).

The Soul Boot Sale

The way that history is passed down through generations as collective memory is discussed extensively by theorists in psychology, sociology, geopolitics and other fields. The former USSR and Eastern Bloc states can appear to outsiders to be largely obsessed by it - continually reworking their national identities in response to newly-found (and simply re-evoked) historical disputes large and small. Germany is perhaps the king of this, forever occupied with its previous atrocities, the country is occasionally unable to properly conceive of its current ones. Trauma is constantly relived and reworked to suit new political ends.

It's a site of significant interpersonal and social politics, and a rich - if perhaps overused - site for theatre as well. This collaboration of young artists led by director Inga Tropa make full use of its potential in The Soul Boot Sale (Dvēseļu utenis), essentially the story of a sharehouse of internationals trading blows over their historical differences.

Given this slightly cliché premise, The Soul Boot Sale really shouldn't be good theatre. But it really is. The conceit of the sharehouse is present in the form of 6 freestanding refrigerators (set: Pamela Butāne), each containing an actor invisible to the audience, which open and shut as the protagonists talk - immediately creating a feeling of teenage drama, complete with regular slamming of doors in disgust. The bickering over minor details begins almost from the outset ("do I ever complain when you forget to wash up your stupid saucepans?") as the housemates discuss Dollar's farewell party to happen later in the evening. The rapid-fire script (Justīne Kļava) begins in this gear and doesn't let up for the entire play, even as the scenes evolve.

Photo: Janis Amolins

Following this Beckettian opening, the plot gets even more futile, moving through a series of modules, as the set transforms in response to new states. The TV screens on top of the fridges (a features of many sharehouses) come on to reveal the actors inside the fridge - showing first their mouths, then the eye, and finally entire bodies. The effect is a sextych of portraits interacting with each other - eerily synchorinised as well (I actually thought it was pre-recorded) as the actors trade racial slurs and jibes about housekeeping, smoke and set off firecrackers inside their tiny rooms, and generally trade blows in violent, energised contest.