Company Chameleon: Gameshow

Posted: November 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Company Chameleon: Gameshow

Company Chameleon: Gameshow, Nuffield Theatre, University of Lancashire, November 1


photo: Brian Slater

I saw Company Chameleon at the 2010 BDE in their first work, Rites, which dealt with the relationship of father to son and attitudes toward manhood and growing up. Two years later the duo of Anthony Missen and Kevin Edward Turner is again dealing with social development but from an external perspective. Gameshow is about the insidious values of advertising and mass media — particularly television. In the program note, Missen and Turner write that ‘since the early part of the 20th century, ad men have been selling the public false dreams, lifestyles to aspire to so that we always want the next thing. In creating Gameshow we wanted to parody this, to look below the surface of the commercial world and interrogate the substance of the lifestyles we are being sold. Alongside this runs the deconstruction of the cult of celebrity, a phenomenon driving aspirational lifestyles to a new level.’ Rites was very much a stage work, but Gameshow belongs as much in the television studio: while maintaining their distinctive form of dance theatre, Missen and Turner have collaborated with video artist Mat Johns to produce advertising and hidden camera clips that ratchet up the scope and efficacy of their work considerably. This is the first script Missen and Turner have written, and they have further broadened their collaborative approach by working with dramaturg Andrew Loretto, set designer Signe Beckmann and composer Dieter Kovacic (aka dieb 13) along with old friends Adam Carree (lighting designer/production manager) and Fabrice Serafino (costume designer).

Gameshow’s narrative follows the fate of a game show host, J.O.Z. (Turner in a blonde wig, white jacket and trousers, red shirt and bare feet), whose brash over-confidence diminishes in direct proportion to the increase in tenacity of a wily contestant (Missen). Turner’s opening number is a tongue wagging, hip-undulating, over-the-top dance that exaggerates — but only just — all the piped sex appeal of a game show host looking to assert his personality over the contestant and audience — especially (in this case) the girls. Turner drums up applause as he leaves the stage and basks in the adulation. Once he has left, Missen in tee shirt and jeans rolls on from behind a desk. Not at all used to the spotlight, his movements suggest discomfort, but he has the fire of someone who wants to make his dream come true. His opening dance includes a section in which he seems to cycle on his side across the floor, suggesting a willingness to advance despite the friction.

Gameshow is pure spoof, but embedded in the narrative is a commentary on the role of television advertising in which parody gives way to satire. In the game show’s first commercial break we see (projected on a screen on the back wall) an ad for Solvaproblemol, a dissolvable tablet for relieving symptoms of stress and anxiety. A white-coated doctor (Turner) talks in a snake-oil-salesman’s way about a new product to counter suicidal tendencies. He approaches a figure seated on a bench, pats his shoulder patronizingly and introduces him as a patient who can testify to the product’s efficacy. Instead the patient puts a gun to his throat and as the camera cuts to Turner’s face, we hear the shot, and see Turner’s face spattered in blood. Without missing a beat, the smiling Turner introduces the product that we see behind him in a field, about the size of a giant tractor wheel, as pristine as an Alka Seltzer.

Back in the studio, J.O.Z. is making his contestant jump through hoops (literally) to demean him in front of the audience, and to make himself look good. J.O.Z. exudes contempt by beating Missen with a plastic kosh, and putting a bucket over his head. Just as the treatment begins to remind us of images from Abu Ghraib, the next commercial for a video game corroborates it: two of the contestants resemble Bin Laden and Bush and another two resemble a hoodie and Raptero Cameron. In the video clip the underdog wins. This signals a turning point in the game.

For the next round, Turner asks one of the girls in the audience to pick out a piece of paper from a hat. The rule of this round is that Missen has to rap to whatever subject is on the paper. The girl draws The Lord’s Prayer. Turner is complacent, Missen is in a panic, but he does it and passes to the next round. Through his earpiece, Turner gets a call from his boss who is angry at his mismanagement of the show, and we understand that unless Turner can cause Missen’s downfall, his job and all that it represents is on the line. As the dejected Turner walks out of the studio, we see a slick clip of him as a macho sex symbol whom no beautiful woman can resist. It is in fact an advertisement for a perfume, Messiah, that J.O.Z. is promoting. Turner’s state of mind in the clip is in stark contrast to his state of mind when he arrives home to his wife, who is…Missen in fetching dressing gown and slippers. She goes to comfort her husband but he is in no mood to be comforted; he makes a weak attempt to show some warmth, but can’t bring himself to follow through. The sequence of this domestic dysfunction — made all the more dysfunctional by Missen’s drag — lasts an uncomfortably long time, but the discomfort is a metaphor for the disconnect between the onscreen image and its reality. Jimmy Savile’s story and the BBC’s reaction to his behavior is a recent example.

Turner makes his way back to the studio dreading the final stages of the game. He arrives like a zombie, but when the lights go up his grimace warps back into a smile; the studio is his world. In this final round, Missen has been given the task of making seven people in the street hug him and say they love him. The filming by hidden cameras is beautifully realized, as we see Missen carrying two shopping bags falling repeatedly on a busy pavement at the foot of a succession of unwary individuals in an attempt to gain their sympathy. He does it brilliantly, and once he has gained their attention, he explains his task and asks them for a hug and for each to say I love you. Some don’t want to know, others don’t have a problem. It’s very touching and very funny. Missen gets his seven people and passes this test. Back in the studio, Turner says to his audience ‘Let’s welcome him back’, but doesn’t mean it. He is determined to block Missen’s success and sits him down to a game of three riddles, like Turandot without the opera house: the third riddle is ‘What does God never see, a King sees only once and you see all the time?’ delivered with due condescension. Missen eventually gets it: an equal.

Turner is finished, washed up. He gets home, takes off his wig and jacket, brings out a large fish platter of powder and sniffs a few lines. In his vengeful imagination he engages Missen in a combative dance, which turns to violence, but Missen starts to beat the ever-smiling Turner at his own game, until he leaves him defeated on the floor in a pool of light needing desperately a dose of Solvaproblemol that he had so cavalierly endorsed.

One of the qualities I remember from Rites is the physical prowess of both Missen and Turner, not only in their individual dance sequences but in the closeness with which they worked together. In Gameshow, dance is used to great effect in the expression of the contrasting characters of host and contestant, but the dance sequences are not as central to moving along the story as the text and film. Both Missen and Turner put in excellent performances in their respective film roles.

The soundtrack by Dieter Kovacic is everything one would expect from a composer who has worked continuously since the late 80s ‘rendering cassette players, vinyl, cds and hard disks into instruments’ and it links each segment of the show effectively and sensitively with both a lovely sense of humour and pathos.

Because the setting of Gameshow straddles both theatre and television, getting the right balance of stage environment is a challenge. Television has slick production values, leaving little to the imagination, while the stage is more ‘handmade’ and leaves much to the imagination. The camera can also screen out unwanted elements in the studio, whereas in the theatre what you see is what you get. What you see in Gameshow is a set designed to accommodate both a television studio and the kitchen table in J.O.Z.’s home, which stretches credibility a little too far. But if the production values of television and theatre have not found a way to coexist seamlessly in Gameshow, the title of Company Chameleon’s new work, Pictures We Make – scheduled to open on February 14 at The Lowry – suggests the research continues.