The first interaction comes the day before the show, when you are sent a digital copy of “The Manual” and instructed to read every word. Never fear if you don’t have time, they will also hand you a copy on entry at the venue with the same instruction. However, on this particular day I found myself with a need to be distracted from the chaos of life and so I did indeed sit and read as much of it as I could. Page 3 is a recipe for soup which google translate tells me is in Belarussian. A few sections are completely indecipherable, but for the most part it introduces me to the world of What Keith Did. From the purpose of the “in” and “out” pipes in citizens rooms to the global centralisation of governments, it sets the scene for the bizarre reality we’re about to step into.
Entering the coworking-space-turned-fringe-venue at twofiftyseven, I’m impressed at the use of venue. The team have brought in some stage lights, projection and set which simultaneously transform and embrace the industrial vibe of the venue. The concrete floor and air conditioning pipes in the ceiling look like they’ve been constructed as part of the set as we see a bleak apartment. One wall has a large crank handle below a projected battery on 0%, and our sole character who I assume, after reading the manual, to be a Kevin (James Kiesel) is splayed out, asleep centre stage.
What follows is a few days in the life of this ordinary man, in his extraordinary world. He takes a trip to a milk theme park, eats, complains, defecates and attempts to “do the work”. 90% of the show is performed in realism with the 4th wall left firmly intact. Suddenly, towards the end of the show Kiesel breaks out to the audience and asks us “does anyone here do the work”. There is no response because we weren’t expecting it. Kiesel handles it with charm, but the moment is awkward because the expectations of performance mode have been well and truly set, and the audience doesn’t factor into it in any way before this. We are simply asked to observe, and reference the correct page of the manual for context.
This speaks to the central issue with this show. Director Alex Suha and Kiesel have clearly put a lot of effort and thought into the world, and the manual is an interesting and unique element. Unfortunately, the same dramaturgical rigor has not been applied to live performance in the room. Kiesel is an able performer, and gives great physicality to his role but I find the action onstage fairly unengaging. For my taste, it is neither mundane enough to be interesting, nor eventful enough to be gripping. It falls in an awkward no man’s land which I find difficult to get invested in.
I think this is a shame, as the world-building and concept indicate that the team have clearly got a great creative vision, it just hasn’t translated onto the stage (yet). The show’s producer Sabrina Martin does provide some entertaining relief as the Stage Manager/Mascot providing ambivalent support and I must give credit to Jacob Bank’s AV design which is retro and lively, and gives much needed texture to the visual experience of the show.
What Keith Did is a fun and unique concept, yet to find a place for the audience in its world. It runs until March 5th at Twofiftyseven. Tickets are available through the Fringe website.