Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin
Entering BATS Theatre’s Dome space the first thing I hear is the music: My Way by Frank Sinatra played on some kind of wooden flute. Then we see the set: against the back wall there is debris including tree branches, a twisted and torn up road cone, a toppled over table and chairs. Between that and the audience is only a cut piece of tree trunk on stage right and a microwave stage left. The lighting is soft and minimal.
This piece is very reminiscent of Beckett style Theatre of the Absurd and takes a leaf out of Waiting for Godot. It’s a real-time depiction of two characters, sometimes three, stuck in some liminal space. The style was created after the Second World War and was Western theatre’s way of expressing the nihilism of a world after it had tore itself apart again. This show does well to borrow from this style as it engages with the confusing nihilism of living through COVID and technology’s rapid successions. Is social media inherently evil, or is it about how we use it? We are more connected than ever before, but because of how easy it is to connect, it’s not a priority to share physical vicinity with people, so are we also lonelier than ever before? Izzi Lao’s bleak and basic lighting design does a lot for the play by adhering to the traditional, bleak style. The choice of goofy wooden flute cover to Frank Sinatra’s famous ballad encapsulates this style of theatre. If you’ve never seen something like old-school Theatre of the Absurd then I would encourage you to go check it out, but a reminder that the style leans into being bleak and dryly nonsensical.
Being deliberately nonsensical at times gives the performance an array of interpretations. It’s a fine line to walk between abstract conceptualisation and complete randomness but this show is done in a way that has kept me thinking days afterwards.
In the programme, I read that the set is designed by Sarah Delahunty, who wrote the piece. This made a lot of sense since it seemed so deliberate, reminiscent (again) of Waiting for Godot as bare, broken tree branches litter the back of the stage, spindling out. Across the stage from each other lies the cut piece of tree trunk and the microwave. These are used as chairs by characters, telling all about how characters feel about the old ways or the new. Amongst the branches, however, are two steel chairs, one painted white, one painted black. I interpret them as a yin and yang as they were, in fact, 69’ing. The set as a whole does well as a magnifier to the play's intentions and even though it starts bleak and disconnected it is the characters who, because of each other, interact and change it into something better.
I am left wanting by the sound design. There is no sound design besides the live singing and ukulele (all by Ari Leason) which is fun but is so localized on the stage to their character. Investing in some atmospheric sound design could take this show to the next level, make it feel full and help replicate the sense that we are in some liminal, bleak, undirected space just like the characters are.
Interrupting Cow is on at BATS from now until the 12th April in the Dome. More info here.