Outdoors: National Theatre Wales / Rimini Protokoll, Aberystwyth
How do you walk out of a production when you are already outdoors?
This is the question (the only question, unless you count ‘What’s the point?’) posed by National Theatre Wales’ collaboration with Berlin-based ‘reality theatre pioneers’ Rimini Protokoll. If part of the project here was to push the boundaries of what counts as theatre – what counts as art – as far as possible in the hope that we might come closer to a definition, ‘Outdoors’ reaches that breaking point. What is art? What is theatre? Certainly not this.
I actually feel sorry for the Heartsong Choir, a group of locals who have been meeting to sing together for the last twelve years. They provide the ‘real people’; Rimini Protokoll’s guinea pigs. Unfortunately, the choir are not used primarily for what they are good at. The select audience (the event takes place every Tuesday for a group of twelve) get to sit in on a choir practice that provides a heartwarming end - undoubtedly the highlight - to an otherwise damp squib of an evening.
Let me say that again: sitting in on the end of a local choir practice was the highlight of the night. This should tell you all you need to know about the rest of the experience. Provided with an iPod pre-loaded with video footage of various members of the choir circumnavigating the town, each member of the ‘audience’ is trapped in their own personal journey, wandering Aberystwyth in different ways, crossing roads, occasionally crossing paths and always accompanied by an audio commentary that very rarely rises above the banal. Just occasionally there is something to hold the interest: one lady ruminates on her relationship with God, only to be sidetracked by a dogwalker; another wonders about her birth family, having been adopted at ten weeks old. But for the most part the ramblings are as inane as you might expect from a bunch of ordinary people – of all ages and both sexes - given a brief to walk around a town talking about whatever comes to mind.
And that’s it. Despite that the iPods’ synchronicity means we all end up in the same place, from the very beginning, it is clear this is a journey heading nowhere. The rebel in me wants to disobey, to make my own journey, preferably home; if this had been a proscenium arch production, I would have walked out. But the nature of the piece dictates that I must stay until the end, trapped inside a piece of work whose one qualified success is that in pushing the boundaries of theatre, it stumbles across what theatre is not.
At least with conceptual art one can dismiss it – if one wishes – as then Culture Minister Kim Howells famously did to the Turner Prize, as ‘cold, mechanical bullshit’; with reality theatre, you are unfortunately trapped inside it for over an hour of your life, while those who would decry public money being used to fund the arts are given more ammunition and another promising young playwright’s script goes unperformed. Outdoors is as uninspiring as its title suggests. If there is ever a next time, I won’t be walking out, I’ll be staying in.
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