(c) photographs Alex Brenner
Friday 26th July 2013
Down Dog Leap Stairs, along Sandhill, under the great green-blue arc of the Tyne Bridge, along the catwalk of the Quayside, already chocker with Lynx, tribal tattoos and L-plated women sporting mini willies on glittery hats, to Live Theatre, the whole while dwelling on that word – ‘collision’ – what it means; what this play might collide.
The results are not as explosive as the title suggests, but no less poignant for that. The Collision of Things is only tangentially about collisions: it also shows us how our relationships subconsciously react to positive and negative frictions. That other word there – ‘things’ – the unquantifiable, the unexpected, the stuff that makes up our life yet we rarely acknowledge or know what to call.
Tom has arrived in London from Yorkshire to trace the (apparently more exotic) life his late father led. Argentinean Luciana and Dutch Jan are the lucky-in-love couple whom Tom finds himself living with after the “ball ache” that is flat hunting in the capital.
There was discussion on our table after the show about the chronology of the narrative, which won’t make sense for me to detail here and seems likely a moot point anyway. Story-wise, Tom’s role is classical: the outsider who inadvertently forces a wedge between the beaming couple, showing Jan that there is more to life than his smart suit and desk job; and Luciana that – maybe, just maybe – there is more to life than Jan and the child she so yearns to have with him.
It may sound reductive to say so, but that’s pretty much all you need to know about the plot. In an hour long piece, it unavoidably races towards its denouement – which, I was undecided about – is either The Collision of Things’s genius or its Achilles’ heel. I found much to enjoy in this piece, and in retrospect I think the tight, fast punch that it delivers is apt, but the most positive point I kept coming back to when making notes for this review is how it doesn’t easily let you call it a play. Sure, it has all the hallmarks of theatre, and in many senses is incredibly traditional, but The Collision of Things felt to me more than just a play.
Take the amazing original score, or musical backing track, for a start. Cued and played by the actors themselves from a small laptop to the side of the stage, you never feel put off by it – as if they somehow just couldn’t get someone off-stage to tech for them. The result is that the laptop and the sounds it produces – melancholy, cool, delicate electric guitar sounds at that – become symbolic of what the characters are trying to do: mould and create each other’s lives; make iTunes playlists to suit their own existence. This is a play that sounds like a drunken mp3 battle between housemates at 2 in the morning: gritty and at the same time affectionate. In other words, genuine.
Mixed with low-hung strip lighting that gave much of the show sun-bed style brightness, The Collision of Things aesthetically resembles an über hip music video or a Sims-esque peep show. This, of course, would all be incredibly pretentious and redundant if the characters weren’t engaging in meaningful and interesting ways. Luckily, The Collision of Things has tremendous set pieces in spades. Tom, searching for information on his father, finds a picture of his parents dancing and emulates, presumably, the first dance of their wedding; Jan, bored in the supermarket, imagines himself the freedom of being different animals, galloping a horse down the aisles; and Luciana, frisky and ready to ‘try again’ for their baby, sexes herself up in the bedroom in anticipation of Jan’s return. These and many more scenes are bizarre, beautiful little vignettes that fuse physical performances with schizophrenic dance routines and hyperactive monologues. That the set never changes and the props remain constant is testament to the actors’ skill: you can almost taste that coffee in their London home; you can almost reach out and touch the leaves that fall as Jan and Luciana meet in the park.
There are several excellently funny scenes in which the trio get drunk and loll around, tumbling through and against each other, unsure of how they ended up in each other’s lives. In the show’s most perfectly realised scene, Tom jumps into the Thames as a desperate Jan wails around and an ecstatic Luciana cheers him on. All done in silence save for the hybrid backing track from the laptop.
This is not to say that all of the scenes are ideal. The beginning, in which the three talk simultaneously, ends up making the audience ‘compete’ for listening time, and feels a bit chaotic as a result, which may have been the director’s intention, but left me a little baffled. And the Tom-punching-Jan scene seemed a bit too slapstick for its purposes, which are more cathartic than a pie-in-the-face style cartoon brawl.
Nevertheless, the abiding feeling I have after two days away from The Collision of Things is that I would really like to see it again. What this play achieves in an hour is a genuine sense of empathy, particularly for Luciana and Jan, and a sense that we’ve all ‘been there’, even if we don’t know what or where ‘there’ is. In a particularly delicate scene, Tom and Luciana discuss the moulds that we think our lives should grow to fit, and our desperation, envy and confusion when things don’t work out as we’d expected. Again, it’s a feeling I’m sure everyone remembers or knows. The great thing about The Collision of Things is it shows us one impression but never lets us believe that it is the right one or the only one.
A play – dance routine, extended video, who knows – that can present such universal concepts and still look and sound downright sexy, weird and raw as this is a winner in my book. Do yourself a favour and search it out.
By Jake Campbell
July Guest Reviewer