“I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I didn’t have a frontal lobe…………”
Ridiculusmus have been around since 1992, twenty one years, a real achievement for a small theatre company. I saw them in their early days up at the Edinburgh festival and had managed to hear nothing about them since so I was a little surprised and very pleased when their name appeared in the SJT’s Spring/Summer programme. Their latest show, Total Football, is a wry, surreal look at what it means to be English and how we use sport as a means to find a tribe and an identity in a shifting, globalised world. Identity, who you are and what labels you (or other people) attach to yourself, has become harder to define than it ever was.
The chief pleasure of the piece is in watching Jon Haynes and David Woods perform. They have worked together so often and know each other so well that they have a relaxed confidence in each other which informs everything that they do on stage. They can each motor along at full speed knowing that the other will always keep up and take risks certain that the other will always be exactly where they need them to be. It is great fun to watch and it allows you to trust them and let them carry you along with them- even when you are not sure where they are going. There is a sense of danger about what they do which stems directly from this. You never know quite what they will do next and when the unexpected happens (as it does) it is both surprising and something which you always knew they were capable of. Their contrasting physical presence and different personalities work well together on stage and there is some nice use of perfectly controlled physical theatre. All plays should be theatrical, but sadly not all of them are. If you could sit at home and watch it on DVD without losing anything much then it is still theatre, but something is missing. In order to really understand what a company like Ridiculusmus are all about you have to be there, and that’s just how the best theatre should be.
The play itself is funny and sharp. Sport and the passion it arouses is a bizarre phenomenon to those like me who only enjoy tennis, a line from the play which struck home with me. The main thread which holds the plot together looks at the way that the 2012 Olympics were used quite deliberately to foster national image and pride, and it is a welcome antidote to all the self congratulation that went on, however well deserved it may have been. Immigration and its relationship to identity is a very current issue and this is also explored quite touchingly within the script. Nobody is sure who they are, nobody is as secure in their own individual identity as they would like to think- never mind a national one. It’s a good time to look at the English and attempt to decide who we are. There was a time when the English knew exactly who they were, the Elizabethans and the Victorians certainly did, but I’m not sure that we do now.