I went with a friend recently to view PULSE by Manisfesto Poetico. It was promoted as capturing life in KL in an avant garde way. It had a large cast (I counted a minimum of 15 performers) including the great Jo Kukathas (who by the way captured the show), and a few other good performances including the activist and the Chinese business couple. We felt the direction was definitely creative and refreshing, and did cohesively hold the plot together well.
However there were some other things we also agreed on. – the story was one that seemed to have already been done to death …please no more rich uncaring sneaky loggers destroying peoples homes to make millions for themselves…. (unless the story can be told in a totally original way – which this wasn’t) – the tape across the stage we felt was not necessary, it was just a gimmick that added nothing to the performance – the long drawn out conversations in Mandarin I thought were pointless if the audience couldn’t understand it – (avant garde can be incomprehensible but it shouldn’t shut people out, then it contributes nothing) – The avant garde presentation of the story only really appeared as theatrical devices to present the story – which is also fine.
But to call it avant garde was a bit of a stretch. At the end of the day the audience could only really focus on the story (which is what audiences do), and though it was cohesive and dramatic it just wasn’t interesting enough…..except for one sub-plot. The relationship between the transvestite and the activist. This to me was the only really juicy thing in the play. It had suspense, drama and weirdness….something we all love, and something that could have been very avant garde.
Just the idea of it was avant garde. There just wasn’t enough of it. I don’t know why they promoted it as Avant Garde, I think unfortunately that made it have to stand up to a whole other lofty scrutiny it didn’t need to. Creative direction is exactly that, you don’t need to call it ‘avant garde’. If think if I had ‘stumbled upon’ this play as simply that – a play, I may have enjoyed it a lot more. I’d say cut the cast down for a 5 hander, and focus on the transvestite and the activist….explore their relationship, their problems, their highs and lows, their dilemmas, then set it all against a backdrop of all the logging issues….now there you have a fascinating story with a heart.