action hero news

writing on ‘A Western’ by Kate Charles
May 25, 2010, 6:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

‘This is the scene where…’

Action Hero have the ability to transcend their environment through the invigorating and infectious nature of their performance. Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse who constitute the compact company sustain a beautiful chemistry, which enriches a performance that is essentially physical, and contains sparse words. These two solitary bodies evoke a roomful of excitable communal tension. The sense of communication attained, within both company and between audience and company, is so strong that you would be hard pushed to notice that there is in fact no dialogue. The calm and wry voice of the narrator punctuates the action laconically. This voice, sometimes Stenhouse and sometimes Paintin, introduces each scene as if recounting a film seen and dissected to the point of estrangement.

In contrast the shared physicality of the two is immediate and expressive. This proves to be integral within a disparate setting, – audience scattered around the dusty, warmly lit old church hall, all bare wood and well-worn equipment. We are up above the Forest’s other performance area that is half café half anything you please, taken up by the wide curve of a grand staircase and asked to sit wherever we fancy. (You could not have a setting that spoke more of being treasured and used, with fanciful designs painted on many walls and table surfaces.) Rather than its being an obstacle, they make recourse to the casual seating; moving round our tables and chairs, slamming doors, crashing off bicycles, tumbling down stairs, shooting, being shot at, and chaotically up turning card tables.

‘Please laugh in a malevolent manner if you are ‘a baddie’’, Stenhouse directs us, ‘That is, if you’re Mexican, Asian…’ and the list goes on until it transpires, ‘In fact, if you’re anything other than white, American, and male’, and most of the audience is chuckling wickedly in performance and in appreciation. Alongside laughter there is certainly a sense of unease. It is palpable that the audience is unsure from moment to moment whether to laugh, sympathize, whether to call out and join in, or maintain a reverent quiet, as the quality of the telling is teasingly undecided. This is theatre in its socially involved state, which Peter Brook might commend: theatre as a risky evolving thing that does not tell you how to react.
Action Hero question epic presentation and narrative. In doing so the performance touches on the nature of aspiration and scale, the smallness of the individual, the little and screamingly large bizzarities that go ignored in genre, stories about the sexes and sex. Gemma pushes a glass filled with water into the hand of a male audience member and stands intently facing him. She nods, he hesitates, she nods again insistently, and the man (partly in his role as spectator and part of the segment of theatre that is subject to the manipulation of the performers) is complicit in chucking water all over her face and front. Gemma doesn’t flinch but pauses, smiles and looks down at her wet prairie dress. The hero coyly refuses to be handed his drink, but insists through gestures and looks that the barman slides it to him, as the genre denotes.

The artful and mute movement establishes an offbeat, highly absorbing rhythm. The repeated occurrences, motif scenes, succeed in punctuating and structuring the performance by altering as the show itself builds. Ketchup is squirted on the whore’s dress the first time she dies ‘a slow and painful death’, and a second, and a third, until she’s scarlet sauce coated. What is evidently artifice is not denied by realistic props but celebrated until so explicit it is no longer artifice. Instead, the feelings of tragedy, hilarity, prejudice and eroticism, which are implied and elided in a traditional Western (including of course the perception of its own surreality and silliness,) are here smeared all over the surface like the ketchup.
Yet it is not all wry critique of an American genre. The sincere voice of the company is also present and expressing a certain wistfulness. As the Western trills out to the usual Morreconi noodles we’re told how the performers long for great stage sets, stunning effects, thousands of horses and hot sandy winds. The sensation easily achieved by these unattainable things must be worked for craftily outside of the mainstream; and what is created is a more complex accessible thing. Despite their apparent longing, Action Hero realize that what starts as restrictive necessity can be acted upon and transformed to become enabling, even desirable.

Being placed in a position of minority or difficulty turns out to be an integral theme then. Making this show most memorable is its sensation of uncertainty. Audience members are no longer safely concealed sitting in the dark. When the whore perches on a man’s knee to gaze at him and when another stranger is coerced into a fantastically gradually mimed dual their nervousness is as much a part of the thrill as Action Hero’s flawless physicality and pace. That we’re involved in their action, their danger, seems an honorary invite to adventure, and an almost wayward joy.

by Kate Charles

‘A Western’ in Nottingham
May 4, 2010, 11:33 am
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We will be performing ‘A Western’ in Nottingham on the 1st June at 10pm as part of Hatch: Across festival.

It will be at the Malt Cross pub on St James’s street

See you there