BWW Reviews: MAKE BETTER PLEASE, Battersea Arts Centre, May 3 2012


Uninvited GuestsMake Better Please (at Battersea Arts Centre and on tour) is part group therapy session, part quasi-religious rite and part performance art and a theatrical experience that that speeds through two hours of invention and participation. When it works, it works very well and when it doesn’t, well, it doesn’t, but it entertains and it makes you think.

On arrival, one is ushered (literally) to a small group and invited to take tea and biscuits and peruse the day’s newspapers. Conversation is turned towards the bad news (of which newspapers have never been short) with everyone is obliged to write a headline of a wispy piece of tissue paper. Each participant (we don’t feel like an audience yet), after a bit more tea, introduces their grim story explaining why it affected them. Music – dissonant, like Stockhausen, floats around the hall. Frankly, this was exactly like a “news values” seminar on a journalism course – a good one too – with someone’s Ipod turned up a little too high.

The smaller groups become one large circle, with Uninvited Guests’ performers requesting silence for contemplation (like a Quaker meeting) before each group’s spokesperson talks about the bad news identified by their group. Then the performers go into the centre of the circle and demand that they be seen as the various evil persons mentioned in the stories. We ask them questions which they do not answer, but instead absorb, contain, hold.

Then, just when the news values seminar threatens to become an ethics seminar, the mood changes and the Quakers-vibe gives way to an exorcism full of grotesque body parts attached the performers who wail and scream as all the evil brought to the surface in the previous hour courses through them amid crashing drums, bass and gongs. There’s masks for us all to wear somewhere along the line and inevitable reference to Afghanistan too.

After the exorcism is completed and the scapegoat expelled, we get a chance to bring some metaphorical light to complement the literal light now filling the mercifully quiet again hall. After a bit of feelgood from a handful of speakers recounting good news stories, the show finishes outside, with our wispy bits of tissue paper with all the bad news of the day lit by the performers, who greet the flaming demise of the grim headline with the words, “Make Better Please”. And, in a way, it does.

One takes what one wants from a show like this – I loved the “seminar” sessions because I like seminars, but I didn’t care for the exorcism because I don’t care for that aspect of religious mysticism. But everyone cared about something and everyone was affected, some moved deeply. I venture that such was the intention of this work, a kind of collaboration between actor and audience, good and evil, silence and noise. And it’s a lot more fun than Question Time!         

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