Offending the Audience

Tue 18th – Sat 22nd October 2016

reviews

Anunita Chandrasekar

at 10:01 on 19th Oct 2016

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How does one review a play that systematically destroys the task of the critic? Handke's infamous 'anti-play', Offending the Audience, eschews every familiar theatrical device in order to present 'a prologue' to every other theatre going experience. The play creates a simulacrum of the theatre-going experience, with fake stewards taking coats and assigning seats within the theatre in order to present theatre at its purest and most abstract - there is no distance between audience and stage, 'no play within a play'. What we see is the bared skeleton of the theatre; the abstract framework whose corollaries (the fourth wall, the passivity of the audience, the artificial use of time and place) underpin almost every theatrical endeavour.

From the outset, the audience are told are told exactly what they are experiencing ('not what [they] expected') and what they need not do ('form an opinion from a bird's or frog's perspective') by three speakers whose very 'speaking is [their] acting'. The speakers continue in this manner, attempting to offend the audience and their expectations of a play in almost every conceivable way. They dismantle the already minimal set with its naturalistic implications, shriek obscenities at the audience and even invite the audience up on stage to share food with them.

Every device, from keeping the house lights on throughout the play to an interlude involving livestreamed footage of the audience being projected onto the walls, is designed to increase the audience's self-awareness for, as we are repeatedly told, the speakers 'don't pretend [they] are alone in the world'. Handke initially intended the play to be a pamphlet or an essay and its declarative language, reflective of the dogma necessary for polemic, is contrasted with almost incantatory repetitions of certain words and phrases, which succeed in explicating the frailty of language and meaning. Both styles are captured brilliantly by Ellen McGrath, Carine Valarche and Andreas Bedorf as the three speakers.

Even at the time of its original production, Offending the Audience was not completely radical - almost 30 years earlier Brecht coined the term 'Verfremdungseffekt' and Artaud developed theories about the Theatre of Cruelty - and productions staged almost 50 years later could risk seeming quaint or outmoded. The direction of Zephyr Brüggen and Jake Thompson must therefore be commended for the innovative liberties it takes with Handke's original material to ensure the play retains its ability to engage and perturb the audience and remains an invigorating experience.

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