Nothing Happens (Twice)
A theatre production by Little Soldier Productions
17 March at Midlands Art Centre (MAC), Birmingham
Reviewed by Pete Millington
physical theatre duo draw parallels between Waiting for Godot and autobiographical
experience of being dressed as flamingos in Westfield
Mercè Ribot and Patricia Rodriguez | Directed by Ursula MartínezThe promotional literature for this production sketches a picture as to what to possibly expect from this quite wacky though very clever two-woman show. Some main elements:
Physical theatre - according to Wiki, a genre of theatrical performance that encompasses storytelling primarily through physical movement. Performers can communicate through various body gestures (including using the body to portray emotions), Waiting For Godot - a play by Samuel Beckett in which two characters, Vladmimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), engage in a variety of discussions and encounters while awaiting the titular Godot, who never arrives. Strangely I have never seen, studied or even read Waiting For Godot but I feel I have grasped the concept sufficiently by osmosis, and imagined the detail and dialogue, such that I would feel confident to discuss at a dinner party.
Two Spanish women dressed as flamingos promoting the Andalucian tourist board in Westfield shopping centre... ok, at which point the intrigue began to set in and I became more tempted to see this production than I probably would be to seek out Beckett''s original, as intellectually genius as it undoubtedly is.
Beckett's original? Though herein lies the twist because Nothing Happens (Twice) is not actually an interpretation of Waiting For Godot (not a close one at least) as much as being a play about not being allowed to perform an interpretation of Waiting For Godot. Which is where this play of parallels becomes both clever and entertaining, as the audience quickly realises that we are part of the creatively-brilliant conspiracy to witness a story about not being allowed to witness a story. Having not seen or studied Waiting For Godot I don't actually know whether such ironic themes run through it, though it is described as a play where nothing happens, so perhaps that's an irony in itself. When asked what his play was about, Beckett answered "it's a play about symbiosis", which I think refers to the close, ongoing relationship of the two main characters and certainly Nothing Happens (Twice) is a wonderful exploration of the relationship between these two clownish characters, Mercè and Patricia, at times both energetic and desolate, playful and sardonic, but always symbiotic.
The set for the play is very simple, combining a minimalist stage with some videography conveying text and purposely mundane photography. Yet the interplay of Mercè and Patricia is captivating from beginning to end and at frequent points the audience are howling out loud with laughter. The physical theatre is strong, using props as metaphors and not forgetting the flamingo costumes, and indeed the costume changes (which exemplify the Nothing Happens (Twice) title to an exasperating degree). I note in the promotional material that Mercè Ribot
and Patricia Rodríguez have worked with Paul Hunter (Told by an Idiot) whose production about Aston Villa winning the European Cup I saw at The Rep last year and was the first time I had read a description of what physical theatre actually is (and a bit like Waiting For Godot - I knew what it was without knowing what it was, probably through watching Charlie Chaplin as a kid). I do very much like the genre of physical theatre, the sense of crazy, clowning ad-lib whilst at the same time being a vehicle for pathos - the tears of a clown or in this case two clowns.
I don't know how long Waiting For Godot takes as a theatre production, I have in my head it should take about 6 hours to do the concept full credit, but Nothing Happens (Twice) is of a very manageable length, less than an hour including the clever interval where the 'off-duty' actors play a game with the audience just to prove they have read Waiting For Godot but without breaching performance copyright.
I feel that disallowing Little Soldier Productions from performing an interpretation of Waiting For Godot smacks of the publishing company's legal department shooting itself in the foot, a bit like the Tolkien estate instructing a cafe near where the author lived as a child in Moseley, change its name from The Hungry Hobbit, one is left thinking "oh! Come on!" But in this case the genius of Ribot and Rodríguez has prevailed.