Saturday 16 November 2019

Exit Strategies - Theatre Review

What: Exit Strategies
When: 13 - 17 November 2019
Where: Main Hall, Arts House
Created by: Mish Grigor, Eugenia Lim, and Lara Thoms
Performed by: Mish Grigor
Lighting by: Katie Sfetkidis
Sound by: Nina Buchanan
Video by: Zoe Scoglio
Dramaturgy by: Anne Thompson
Mish Gregor - photo by Bryony Jackson
The world is on fire, Brexit is happening - or trying to happen - and a colonised world is trying to run away from the mess which has been made. All of these tragedies can be boiled down to the fault of one person in one single moment in time. If only Mish Grigor could work out how to leave the room! Exit Strategies, on this weekend at Arts House, is her attempt to solve the world's problems by just figuring out the best way to get out and then relying on chaos theory to do the rest.

Exit Strategies is an absurdist dirge to the human wish to always move on. Lim's clever linkage between exit signs which show the way out and chromakey green which allows unwanted things to disappear (with a slight nod to airport runways) is an outstanding corollary to Grigor's oratory on how difficult the act of leaving can be - kind of like the situation the UK find itself in now.

Exit Strategies is structured like shattered glass, the cracks of indecision being pressured by the growing need to get out and finally exploding into a fragmented picture of Grigor's life juxtaposed on a world population trapped by the tyranny of progress drowning in the refuse of the mistakes of the past.

I kept finding myself remembering the sensational Aphids and Malthouse co-production A Singular Phenomenon as I watched this show (Thoms' influence perhaps?), and also felt a touch of Grigor's previous work with POST (Oedipus Schmoedipus). The irreverances, the puzzle pieces, the non-linear construction which surprises us at the end with a cohesive and impactful complet picture. This is how Exit Strategies works.

The prelude is the repetitive task of Grigor just trying to decide how to exit a room. Do you do it with a smile? With a nod? Slowly? In the dark? All of these (and more) are tried out to a quirky sound track (Buchanan) on repeat. It feels much like trying to play Donkey Kong without knowing any of the tricks.

Although we don't know it yet, this is where the analysis with world events begins. Who hasn't had a moment when they are convinced all politicians are monkeys? Perhaps if we though of them as video gamers playing a game they've never seen before we might have more tolerance...No, not a good analogy because they have seen it before - over and over again across time.

Grigor moves the conceit into farce as she explores leaving the room being chased by a bear, in a puff of smoke, whilst acting, etc. Slyly she then crosses into stories of her childhood.

This is where the conceit is tricky. I assume the corollary is that growing up is a form of leaving childhood but one of the problems with Exit Strategies is it swings wildly between explicit and implicit allegory.

I also found myself wondering if we really needed so much of Grigor in the conversation. Whilst the embarrassing teen stories worked well to highlight the range of reasons you might want to leave a situation, the older Grigor's messes caused me to lose empathy as she describes nights of careless drug use and poor decision making. I can intellectually draw the analogy about owning up to mistakes of the past and not willfully forgetting them, but this is a lot of post-show analysis doing the work linking it to the conversation about colonisation.

Having said that I did love the later markers which speak to admitting responsibility for an entire world which has been colonised and damaged by supernations including (but not limited to) the Dutch, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the British, the Chinese, the French, and so on. It is also illuminating and a fresh perspective when Grigor speaks to the original convict settlers and the question of colonisation/decolonisation faced by their seventh generation heirs. Should we all just leave? What happens with the mess we leave behind if we do? What does staying look like?

Grigor goes from the old analogue act of cutting yourself out of photos and sticking them on post cards to green screening yourself into pictures of exotic places in the world like the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China. It is kind of the more standard Photoshop technique but in a video component. Grigor interacts with herself on TV and then later on a full scrim (reminding me of Ros Warby's work in Monumental).

The scope of Grigor's work is huge, covering colonisation, exploration, climate change, Brexit, growing up, and just about every other meta act of leaving you can think of. It is performed in the huge space of the Main Hall at Arts House - including the old stage!

I think this vastness is a bit of a mistake too. The urge to leave is - at least - subliminally accompanied by a mounting sense of claustrophobia and perhaps panic and I think all of this would work better in a more intimate setting. A setting where Grigor can't leave either the room or her proximity to the audience - which would also mean we can't leave our proximity to her and her dangerous questions and ideas. It is difficult to relate to leaving being hard when the conversation can be left just by putting the span of the hall and stage between us.

 I love the ideas and, for the most part, the Vorticist construction of Exit Strategies. It was shorter than the advertised time (only 60 minutes) and having read some other reviews I suspect there has been some dramaturgical change since preview. Whatever has been done is good I think, as the work seems to have more direction, focus and power than previously described.

Exit Strategies is a good idea which can only get stronger through future iterations. In particular perhaps the climate change conversation can become more dominate given our current crises, which would justify the use of the smoke machine. Just saying.

What makes Exit Strategies so good is the ideas involved and the questions raised. All of these are made so much more accessible through Grigor's sense of fun and play. It also gives a really poignant debate about why we should stay and what we can do if we make that decision. After the show you are also given some writings by Jane Howard and Erica McCalman on the ideas raised by the show which are intriguing and insightful.

3.5 Stars

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