November 6, 2007, by Peter Kirwan
Invisible Bonfires (Rough Magyck) @ Warwick Arts Centre
I’ve accused productions and theatre companies of many things before now, but never before of being lazy. Unfortunately, that’s the crime Forkbeard Fantasy appear to have committed in their latest production, Invisible Bonfires . Some months back I reviewed their production Rough Magyck at the Complete Works Festival, a wonderfully bizarre site-specific piece investigating the supernatural in Shakespeare. Invisible Bonfires, their new play on the issue of climate change, is advertised as having developed from the work on Rough Magyck. However, what the company had done is actually copy and paste entire scenes and ideas from the earlier play into the new one, with little regard for coherence or sense. The result was, sadly, a mess.
It began promisingly, with the excellent Paschale Straiton, as Coventry City Council’s officer for climate change, doing her rounds of the audience who were told we were here to learn about, and take action against, climate change. The keynote speakers for the evening’s event, The Brittonioni Brothers, had flown in from the US especially to bring their entirely carbon-neutral roadshow to Coventry, and there was a great deal of fun as a bike was pedalled to produce power (apart from for the guitarist’s guitar, which was powered by a potato), cold cups of tea were dispensed by a hampster on a wheel and Mr Jobling, the resident electrician, pottered about trying to keep the show on the road.
Amidst the chaos, we were shown a film entitled Carbon Weevils, narrated by Chrissy Brittonioni. This very funny, and very insightful, cartoon portrayed humans as weevils, animals whose most fascinating role on earth was to consume and produce carbon at vastly accelerated rates. While vvery funny, the film also had the desired impact of reducing humankind’s activities to the insignificant place they occupy in the universe, and our mass consumption and incessant need for speed were justly criticised.
But from these promising beginnings, the play quickly descended into stupidity, in the worst possible sense. Elements of Rough Magyck started to be drawn in, with a film about Prospero’s books symbolising the turn of humankind towards a scientific era. Potentially interesting, this in fact gave little more meaning to the piece than to give the Brittonionis an excuse to dress up in Elizabethan tights, and more pragmatically seemed like a cost-saving exercise by re-using an old video clip. The motifs of Rough Magyck started coming back in- two versions of the Brothers talking on a screen and exchanging costumes; the discovery of a tunnel in the stage, through which the Brothers re-entered via a teapot; and Mr Jobling was exposed as Puck (WHY?!). The Shakespearean material was utterly and entirely irrelevant in this piece, ending up being little more than self-indulgent.
It’s a shame, because among the mess were some wonderful moments. The music of the Lotus Pedals, apart from some irritating occasions when it became a little overpowering, was very good, and they provided a beautiful love song written for the moon and the earth, while the cast twirled two little models around (sample lyric: “We’ve been together a zillion years”). The horse from Rough Magyck was also used to good effect. A life sized puppet expertly crafted, the play crashed into a final image of the horse gently pawing at the ground, moving as if real. It may not have meant anything immediately obvious (a return to nature?), but it was definitely pretty.
At other times, the jokes were drawn out to the point of self-indulgence. Pan was used again, but far less impressively in this production as he was on a far smaller screen, and his bopping about and “Who’s the babe?” remarks were cringeworthy, and his grand march on the human race, bereft of the awesome conclusion of Rough Magyck was limp. A 3D section, showing shower gel bottles moving in shoals, was technically flawed (the glasses made very little difference) and boring. A musically fun rock song called “Invisible Bonfires” was rendered cheap by the Brittonionis dancing gormlessly around, and the two hosts rather annoyed than amused. The only genuinely funny character was Paschale, her funny laughs and self-conscious mannerisms endearing her to others.
A crushing disappointment, and one which I genuinely believe was brought about by laziness. Other than “Carbon Weevils”, the play added little to the debate of climate change and failed particularly to entertain. The plot, such as there was, basically served to highlight the Brittonioni Brothers as fakes, as their show was diesel powered rather than carbon neutral. But why should we care whether the fictional show of two fictional characters is environmentally friendly or not? It didn’t even provide little insight into the mindset behind environmental campaigners, other than a brief aside mentioning that they’d jumped on the bandwagon. The ideas were there, and there could have been some great work done here, but the overriding impression was one of laziness and self-indulgence. Must Try Harder.