‘Mission Drift’ at The Shed, The National Theatre

2013-06-06 13.50.49This was my first visit inside The Shed, the temporary studio space at the National Theatre.  A large red wooden box accessed through a hole created in the exterior wall of the Lyttleton foyer, it has a plain black interior and a central performance area.

Sitting in the front row we risked tripping up the actors if we stretched our legs out too far, but such proximity afforded a very direct experience of the performances.

Mission Drift is a piece devised by the young american company TEAM as an exploration of the striving towards a Utopia of capitalism.  The props include three collapsible garden chairs, some tinsel, a grand piano and sand scattered from water bottles, reinforcing the ‘fringe’  energy and aesthetic of the show.

It is presided over by Miss Atomic, Heather Christian, as a purring chanteuse, part beauty pageant winner, part cackling cynic.  Two parallel stories unfold: one in Las Vegas just after the economic downturn, where Joan, a recently redundant cocktail waitress whose house on an unfinished development is now worthless,  spends her time in the neon boneyard where the lights of the imploded casinos go to die.  The second is the story of Catalina and Jorus Rapalje, newly arrived in New Amsterdam in the 17th century, who, perpetually teenagers, and constantly producing children, follow a 400 year odyssey from being early employees of ‘The Company’, the first multinational corporation, to being billionaire owners of a string of casinos in the shining city of Las Vegas, via trading with the native peoples through logging, farming and the nuclear bomb testing, and many name changes.

It’s an ambitious project to cover the length and breadth of US history through its focus on moneymaking, and, at the beginning it wasn’t altogether clear to me what was going on, but as it progressed, the energy and commitment of the performances made sense of the apparent chaos of microphone cables, dancing and lizards’ heads.  The music is a great melange of gospel, blues, jazz, a sprinkling of Elvis, and an offkey My Way, delivered by the on stage musicians, variously whispered, amplified, distorted or au naturel.

Being so close to the action meant that when Chris, the man who insisted he lived in the desert even though the city now surrounded him, shook the dust of his jacket, it drifted straight into our drinks and the back of my throat, an unexpected taste and smell addition to the visual and aural experience.

It was fun and physical, and amidst the chaotic exuberance there is a serious comment on the perpetual striving for growth and the ‘knock it down and build a bigger one’ of american capitalism.

It was a great first experience of The Shed, of which I hope there will be more.

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