Uncanny – supernatural, uncomfortably strange, extraordinary
He could spot mushrooms with uncanny accuracy
The moral/social/primary responsibility of a theatre critic (beginner or not) includes giving a (short) description, an overview of the performance/production seen. Maybe that is meaningful (attempting to seek the objectivity, providing background information to the reader, preserving theatrical history for subsequent generations), but this is a separate topic.
In trying to change this tendency a little bit, I put this obligatory section at the end of my writing/reflection/review. Perhaps it also makes my writing (considering the context) somewhat uncanny.
The government was in a loop about the bombing
In a theatrical situation, in the theater, our assumption is theatricality of the situation, grotesque, weirdness, some kind of overacting (to bring out the ‘life of human spirit’). Ridiculing and laughing till the tears come. Shifting the actual events out from the proportions, overexposing. We look at the depiction of this utopian world, we laugh at it and leave to the ‘normal’ world.
The problem arises, however, if we can find a similar logic and especially similar situations in real life. ‘Trump’s rhetoric, Putin’s Russia, growing nationalism and populism in Europe, a declining democracy and speculations around the climate changes’ are examples which make us feel uncanny, if we look at them, if we read about them. And precisely because such situations should remain in a theater, in a theatricality. The walls of the theater should protect us from the realization of situations seen in a theater. But what if we now see these theatrical situations in the real world? Outside the theater? Where to escape now? The world is no longer composed of various ‘social treaties’, and you cannot step out from one society, if you don’t like the terms of the agreement, and find a more appropriate location (like Voltaire wrote). Where to hide from this global populism, hypocrisy, and loss of empathy?
‘Uncanny You’ brings the similar situations to the stage, exaggerating them to grotesque/ridiculous extremes, making fun of the essence/functioning of the (information) society, but it does not create this strange, frightening or weird feeling of uncanniness. Because it’s all reality already. The White House press conference or the media’s mechanisms, the apparent illogicality of populism, but its effectiveness at the same time terrifies me. And the growing popularity of such situations, mechanisms, and the increasing naiveness of people are surprising and weird. Everything is basically the same as before, but there is still something different.
The dance scene in the middle of the performance, in which two dancers formulated a very strange fluidity in their aimlessness was the only element in the show that had an uncanny effect. The dancers were indifferent, but the choreography was exact and definite. There was this certain non-motivational (deep) fluid that I could have been watching even longer.
Although I’m not gonna bring out the various components of the production (sound, light, design, etc.), since all of them are intended to merge into a single whole (and therefore, ideally, the viewer should not notice the separate ‘elements’, of course, unless specifically emphasized), I still have to mention that (audio)visual side was very interesting/exciting, the different room solutions were charming in their simplicity, being complete at the same time. Considering the background of one of the authors and directors, Ann Mirjam Vaikla (studied stenography at the Norwegian Theatre Academy), there is nothing surprising here.
Humour. I have to mention that this piece has been (half) made in the USA. And, ironically, the humour/jokes/parody on the stage was most closely associated with US late-night shows and talk shows, which similarly hyperbolically play out idiotic situations of real life/ordinary life. This humour/aesthetics goes even further. As a good example, you can watch the recent Emmy Awards Ceremony, where portraying one of the characters known from the above-described TV-show’s was raised to a new level, into a particular meta-comedy that, at least for a moment, uncannily confused the viewers.
However, during the whole production, I didn’t overcome the feeling that I should laugh, but there’s nothing to laugh about. And not because the joke was constructed somehow badly, but because of a certain distance/lack of context. The joke was not addressed. Stylistically approximately similar type of humour was in Paul Zaloom’s ‘The Adventures of White-Man’ that was played at the NuQ Treff Festival this summer. Similar grotesque, theatricality, overacting, exaggeration.
Humour is inevitably dependent on the surrounding context and depends on the type of human being, which is why often foreigners may not understand the sketches of the ‘Tujurikkuja’ or ‘Kreisiraadio’ that are in cult status in Estonia. One might say that ‘Uncanny You’ is an example of how art (especially theater) is related to its cultural context, the current (political) situation, and the type of person in the audience. In case of humour (and, in general, theater as a temporal art), the opposition “works – does-not-work” or so-called principle of difference of performances must be considered. One day the things fall together so that nobody laughs at the audience, sometimes the laughter won’t stop. The audience did not laugh the day I was watching the show.
Generally speaking, the entire theater experience was somewhat distant. As already mentioned, the work was not addressed to me. The word uncanny might really be used to describe it, but I’m not sure whether it’s possible in the same context/meaning as the authors meant.
And now the mandatory description/introduction/overview.
The main character of the production was Mother Bomb, the personification of the largest explosive in the world, set off in the spring. By the appearance (and also thematically) Mother Bomb reminded Dr. Strangelove from Stanley Kubrick’s famous film ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’. The character creation was similar to the Jim Ashilevi’s ‘Godzilla’ which premiered a couple of years ago in the radio theater Raadioteater which also explored the inner life of one single negative character (Godzilla) and opened up its sad fate. The production consists of various scenes that spin around the explosion of Mother Bomb, its consequences, assumptions, as well as reflections. Consecutive news stories confirm the ruthlessness of media mechanisms and how the news is constructed. The creation of fake news was demonstrated by repeating the same sentence over and over again, which eventually distorted it to the unknown. Finally, a pathetic (heartwarming?) letter to Mother Bomb was read out. The production creates a strange atmosphere, trying to create a variety of situations that would be uncanny, perhaps strange, weird and unusual. This is something quite different from what can be seen now in the Estonian theater landscape. So if you have time and opportunity, you can set your direction to Kanuti Gildi SAAL.
Photo by Ingel Vaikla.