a seventy-five minute joke no one except the performers are in on
‘Violent. Political. Entertaining.’ These are the words international company MKA use to define their convention-breaking work. But their latest offering, Baby, now showing at London’s 2016 Vault Festival, fits none of these categories. The action is tame, the message is blurred, and the show runs like a seventy-five minute joke no one except the performers are in on.
Rather than a tale of human triumph against adversity though, the show veers between a parody of the interview format and the ‘shout whatever we think of’ end of internal monologue.
Baby centres around a talkshow interview regarding one man’s survival in the arctic and a tussle with a polar bear after a disastrous plane crash. Rather than a tale of human triumph against adversity though, the show veers between a parody of the interview format and the ‘shout whatever we think of’ end of internal monologue. Seemingly billed as an environmental tale, it skirts around its central themes without ever really stopping to address them, happier to trail off and parrot unrelated phrases for their own sake. There’s no doubt something to pick apart among the scattered lines, but the clumsy rhythm of the writing makes this unnecessarily difficult to accomplish.
The play is very concerned with the nature of performance, and therefore itself; this means a large chunk of the dialogue, when coherent, is wasted on complaints about their own clunky lighting design or suggesting the audience feels too awkward to leave (making it far too awkward for anyone to actually do it). The performance is self-reflexive enough to be interesting, but can come across as lazily meta. Scenes are ‘structured’ around vague titles that make a point of mocking the audience for being there, and large swathes of the show are just too random and unexplained to be memorable.
The two performers, Tobias Manderson-Galvin and Tom Payne, are never less than engaging, somehow managing to hold our attention when the script and staging really shouldn’t. But this isn’t enough to tie together the mess of threads on offer. The disconnected nature of the scenes means that each line can be surprising, even effective – one can’t help laughing at some of the nonsense, the way a baby laughs at sudden noises. However it’s neither clear nor justified as to why they choose this particular style. It may work for some, but this reviewer can’t help feeling that the best audience for these performers would be each other.