Friday 19 October 2018

The Question in Bodies, parenthesis: April (2018)

I'm not really experienced in writing about theatre, especially the sort of theatre that hinges on you not knowing the ending, that depends upon a transformative revelation. While spoiling the twist of a movie is often not a deal breaker, the twist in a theatrical performance, which is still a one-time personal event in a way that a TV show or a movie cannot be in 2018, is sacred. I remember that episode of Toast of London where Steven Toast is on the radio being interviewed about being in a Famous Long Running Mystery Play, and blithely gives away the ending without even realising he's done it, and it's funnier if you know how hard theatre people try to keep stuff like that under wraps.

When Hermetic Arts – Carrie Marx and Chris LincĂ© – produced Unburied earlier this year, more than one person who saw it quipped on social media about the one big rug pull of the show, which is understandable, because it's a really great, brutal rug pull, but also a literal spoiler, in that it only works if you don't know about it, because otherwise you're ready to jump at any point to avoid the yank of the rug from under your feet, and that doesn't just spoil the twist, it unbalances the whole play, because you're so busy waiting for the sudden movement of the carpet, you're engaging with everything else with suspicion and that damages the experience of the show.

So, in writing about Hermetic Arts’ new show, April, I have to be really careful in ways that I'm not used to be. I was invited to see it by Carrie and Chris, and went down to London for its first performance this last Sunday (the second performance is this Sunday, 21st October, at the Old Red Lion, Islington, as part of the London Horror Festival).

Carrie plays April, a ghastly and vapid New Age positivity guru with a YouTube channel, a figure somewhere halfway between Poppy and Teal Swan, and the show is framed as a live seminar; there's some hilariously awkward audience participation involved.

It's not a spoiler to remind you that the show is part of the London Horror Festival, and that in some way, horror will intrude. And throughout the show, April raises and thwarts the audience's expectations as to how this will turn into a horror story, and where it goes in the end is unexpected and horrifying, painful and tragic.

April repeatedly says to the audience, “The body is weak,” and her work is to find a solution, an escape to that through positive thinking. And the absurdity of some of her tactics (and some of her inspirations – there's a pop culture figure who you'll not think of the same way again) both obscures the tragic horror at the heart of it, and makes it all that much worse. The body is in fact central to our identity, and things that affect our physical makeup change who we are. The body is weak, but the body is integral to who we are. Poppy, referenced at the beginning apparently for laughs, is more of an influence on April than she might originally appear, and the horror of Poppy and the horror of April travel in parallel directions.

And I'd love to unpack that further. But I don't think it would be fair. So to summarise, the body is weak, and we are our bodies, and the self is a whole, and fractures of the body and fractures of the spirit are more interlinked than we might care to believe. And the solutions or shortcuts that are supposed to circumvent the traumas we routinely face in the business of living can have seductively horrible consequences. And April is about that.

I saw the first performance, and I admit that it had some rough edges, and parts that didn't quite hang together as tightly as they could have. But another thing about theatre is that it's fluid. No two performances are the same, because in the theatre, the audience participates, and because that conversation between performer and audience allows for refinement of the performance.

I enjoyed April, because it's exactly the sort of identity horror I respond to. But if you go on Sunday, and I'd recommend you do if the idea of identity horror intrigues you, you won't see the exact show I did. There's something intriguing in that. I can't tell you all the secrets of a thing that you can't experience in the same way that I did. You won't see the show I did. But I still can't tell you. Horror theatre is a theatre of secrets, but the secrets you'll learn are your own.