Boasting a Fringe First from last year’s Edinburgh Festival, American theatre artists Geoff Sobelle and Charlotte Ford bring their spectacular piece of visual theatre to the Barbican as part of the 2011 London International Mime Festival.
In this uproarious yet grim tale of civilisation versus nature, Sobelle and Ford play the equally batty Jerry and Rhoda, desk monkeys for ‘Convenience Foods’. Jerry is a highly-strung obsessive-compulsive middle manager who finds solace in his Post-Its and antibacterial spray; Rhoda, the would-be siren of a secretary whose passions lie in her secret stash of Wotsits. And Jerry. Eyeing him covetously, she does her best to seduce him with long languorous licks of the film lid from her microwave meal, while he, terrified and infuriated in equal measure, cowers in the corner of his tiny office cubicle as she stalks him like a hyena slash mentally unsound vulture. Driving one another to distraction, their petty quarrels finally culminate in furious animal rutting in a dumpster, from which a traumatised Jerry springs, liberally spraying his groin with air freshener.
As nature takes over in a surreal turn of events and the office is gradually hijacked by flora and fauna, Jerry and Rhoda make a brave effort to carry on as normal in a doomed attempt to grasp at some kind of order. A shrub sprouts from the water fountain, a fluttering pheasant appears in a microwave box, a perfect menagerie of taxidermy scoots across the floor and menacingly (and hilariously) materialises, glassy-eyed, in doorways and on desks. Ivy creeps out of the filing cabinets and grows up the walls, growing more and more rapacious as the play accelerates towards the astonishing spectacle of its brilliantly absurd finale.
The sparseness of dialogue means most of the comedy is in the physicality. Sobelle’s clowning has the audience in hysterics – his lengthy, furious standoff with a bluebottle an old-hat but nonetheless hugely entertaining piece of slapstick. When the actors do communicate verbally, it is through meaningless clichés, nervous laughter and inchoate, blaring, nasal sounds vaguely approximating language. As their world falls apart around them and nature closes threateningly in, Jerry desperately attempts to cling on to the fabric of their tedious, comfortable, insular existence by droning random phrases of office jargon: “It’s golden parachute time”, “…all the way down to Successville”, “Thank god it’s Friday!”, highlighting the vulgar sham and fundamental emptiness of daily life in the workplace.
A hugely entertaining, dark satire on corporate life, office politics and human nature, this tale of the natural world taking its revenge underlines the insignificance of the trivialities of human life and its societal structures in the face of the beautiful, terrifying power of nature.
By Victoria Rudland
Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl is at The Pit, Barbican Centre until 29 January at 7.45pm. Tickets £16.