Friday, November 27, 2009

The Travelling Circus of Pretension

So, this is what happens when a bunch of Colombo’s arty thespians take it into their heads to draw recent events on an allegorical map and shit all over it.

Based on a short story by someone who calls himself MASii, The Travelling Circus by Mind Adventures is a cheap knockoff of Salman Rushdie in his Haroun and the Sea of Stories phase, centring on a boy who speaks in numbers living in a village where everyone else speaks in colours.

Preceded by a suitably whimsical musical introduction, the director and self-avowed ring-mistress begins the play by situating it in the Village of Fat Hopes on the Island of Short Memories. She calls it the Travelling Circus of Refugees.

What follows is a ghastly wallowing in pseudo-intellectual pseudo-empathy; an ostentatious indulgence in sententious frippery at the expense of the very people it claims to speak for.

During the course of the hour (it feels like several), this disingenuous excretion of fringe theatre disgorges such asinine monstrosities as the Cost of Living Cow, the Propaganda Lizard, and the Britney Spears Mynah Bird on a hapless audience. And that’s only the animals—the people are no better (the solitary goday accent adopted by the government soldier is cringe-worthy in its condescension); the set pieces far worse:

The bit in which a traumatised trinket trader lapses into day-mares about the bombing of his house is a literal song and dance and gigolo giggle about people on fire and dismembered limbs. The Johnny Batta waltz with lofted ‘Danger – Landmines’ signs, the caterwauling foppery set around an air-raid, the Socialist/NGO Exploitation Dance, the cricket matches… I could go on, but why bother?

What’s wrong with this Travelling Circus is its moral slackness, its shameless pretension, its horrendous reductionism. The Sri Lankan conflict is trivialised as a Civil War of Lies in which both parties are equally culpable; shirking substantive commentary, it is a spurious caricature fleshed out with Question Trees and second-rate hogwash.

In their defence, the perpetrators will no doubt espouse lofty intentions; on the company’s website, the director claims they wanted to “comment in some way on what [they feel] are the most pressing concerns in our country right now”. Oh, right. A sly sideswipe from the sidelines, the play is like some drink-sodden tripped-out spawn of Lewis Carroll and Hieronymous Bosch. Overreaching in desperation to achieve significance, it fails.

The pity of it all is that unlike the previous insult to theatre that provoked my ire, the acting in this piece is fluid and sure-footed, with sparkles of brilliance from a select few. But if we are to believe the souvenir, they deserve no defence. Apparently this shameful exercise in disaster porn was an attempt at devised theatre for which the whole cast is guilty. That leaves only one question to be asked: what the hell were they thinking?