Maureen Sullivan gives her verdict on ‘Utter Mess’, a collaboration between Stonecrabs Theatre and Busu Theatre from Japan.
I was very privileged to catch one of only three Island performances of ‘Utter Mess’, sandwiched between shows in Tokyo, then London and the Edinburgh Fringe. It is a collaboration between Stonecrabs Theatre, based in the UK and Busu Theatre, based in Japan. Add to that creatives from a British, Portuguese, Japanese and Latin-American background and you have a….mess? Certainly, a piece of theatre that is impossible to categorise, which is kind of the point. In our crazy world, we spend far too much time trying to put things in boxes (real and conceptual) in order to attempt to make sense of them.
First, we heard from Andrew Butcher, a spoken word performer, who started us thinking with his takedown of the relationship between the British and language – not just our language, but other languages. Just as we were starting to consider all the ideas he had introduced, the main show threw so much more at us. It is a complex, layered and brilliantly conceived piece of theatre – one of those shows that has you thinking about it long after leaving the auditorium. One of those shows where three days later you suddenly recall a scene and understand it from a different angle.
Featuring two amazingly talented actors, Inês Sampaio and Etsuko Shirasaka, ‘Utter Mess’ combines a wealth of theatre practices, including mime, clowning, magic, improvisation (with audience involvement), and Japanese kyogen. Music also features, sometimes as a traditional background; sometimes as a focus itself, layering sounds, singing and audience (literal) feedback to create something unique to that evening’s show. Simple props and costumes bring out the creation of multiple characters (including robots) as the performers tell their story of meeting to develop a piece of theatre and ending up in the Museum of Lost Things, where nothing is remembered, and we have to search for what is lost.
And if that sounds like an ‘Utter Mess’, in one way it is – like life, it defies categorisation. It presents questions and paradoxes and asks the audience to share in the confusion – and the hilarity. Because it is very, very funny. Yet, like the best comedy, lurking under the laughter are serious issues. How does the past relate to the present? The traditional to the modern? Humans to each other? And themselves? What need is hiding under the current obsession with recording every minute of our own lives on social media? What has the last two years, going through a global pandemic, clapping on our doorsteps, doing quizzes on Zoom and so on, shown us about our need for human relationships and communication?
Franko Figueiredo, artistic director of Stonecrabs, says:
“If we shared a common space with other cultures, if we danced, sang, shared each other’s stories, we would be so busy enjoying (understanding and respecting) each other’s company, that we could end all conflict.” That would be a wonderful global project, but in the meantime, the team behind ‘Utter Mess’ have done their own work in that direction, and encouraged us all to think about the absolute human need to reach out and, as the novelist EM Forster put it, ‘only connect’.”
Being in the audience of ‘Utter Mess’ was among other things, the chance to make some of those human connections, and to reflect on our own lives and the lives of those around us – globally as well as locally – while enjoying the comedy and tragedy perfectly evoked by the talented actors. ‘Utter Mess’, yes – but also an utter, utter delight. The Edinburgh Fringe audiences are in for a treat.
Maureen Sullivan is a regular contributor to Island Echo’s coverage of the Arts on the Isle of Wight. Maureen has been actively involved in the Island’s amateur dramatics scene for several years, appearing in many different roles and guises with several theatre companies. In her free time, Maureen also writes and reviews at iwtheatre.org.
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