Review : Camembert (BATS Theatre)
Devised theatre is probably some of the most fun theatre to be involved with and to create. For those unfamiliar, devised theatre is theatre created by the performers and creatives collectively - the script and performance concepts coming from discussion and group exercises, usually focusing on one key theme. In the case of Acts of Kindness Theatre's "Camembert", this theme is love. But love of what, you might ask? Well, in the space of an hour, they give themselves the lofty ambitions of covering all different types of love; love of family, love of friends, romantic love, love of anything from music to Disneyland.
Aside from some sections performed together, the show usually consists of each cast member having their own scene, potentially autobiographical, describing their own experience of love. Well, more accurately they each choose one from each of the list above and make a sketch about it. The opening scene sees them walking around the stage in a robotic manner until they bump into each other, where they suddenly come to life and connect, whilst we listen to interviews where the public were asked what love means to them. Filling the space like this is a drama exercise as old as time, and put to practice on stage it feels just as outdated as one might expect.
The rest of the sketches proceed in similar fashion; a young woman struggles to find love in the modern world (clubs, tinder, fifty shades, you fill in the blanks), a woman (who I can only assume is meant to be an science teacher from the otherwise entirely inconsequential discussion on science at the beginning of her scene) discovers love in a dance scene with fairly clunky choreography, and a man dances with his daughter to both old and new music, just because they like music. None of these scenes have anything new to say and feel utterly bland. The one exception to this is a shadow puppetry scene in which a princess and her dragon Ron rescue a prince from a wizard, only to leave him and treasure their valued friendship. It sticks out like a sore thumb as an attempt to stick on some usual stage imagery and work a feminist theme into proceedings. Though it is nice to look at, it is such a shoehorned effort that it loses all credibility.
Being so simple in premise and execution could be forgiven with or even serve to showcase some talented performers. Arihia Hayrice, who performs as the daughter in the music scene among others, has some good timing a few funny line deliveries, but all the others gave either over the top or banal performances. During an improvisation scene based on things the audience members said they loved (introduced by the words "this is the part of the show where we do a bit of improv"), three of the performers (Hayrice, Jess Bromwell, and Lilia Askew) interpret the love of Dungeons and Dragons. This leads to a toe-curling moment where Hayrice admits to never having played before, only for Bromwell to reply "You told me you knew how to play!", blocking another's idea for the skit instead of building on it, which is essential in improvisation.
"Camembert" aims to be "Love Actually" on a cracker - something to warm you up and remind you of the people and things that you have and value, and ends up feeling like a stale and stinking cheeseboard of every cliche and worn out interpretation of love in existence. In some respects it may have been an impossible brief given the enormity of their topic, but this show offers nothing that a million others haven't already done before, better, and more entertainingly. One star.
Whispers from the crowd:
"I really liked it, it was full of love."