Review: Offending the Audience
This deconstructed production is almost the non-play Cambridge needs.
This new production of Peter Handke’s Offending the Audience, with its wearying insistence on anti-theatricality, was never going to be an easy play to review – and that’s even leaving aside the fact that its author is a well-known apologist for various genocides.
We are reminded on a near constant basis during the 50 minutes that this production lasts this is not a play, we are not watching actors on stage and any slip ups on stage really don’t matter at all because what’s occurring on stage is of no importance whatsoever. In short, the message is any reviewer who criticises anything about this Corpus Late simply has not properly understood the piece.
Handke takes the epic theatre genre to the extreme in this piece, placing total emphasis on exposing what theatre does at the expense of a plot or characters, and in this regard Offending the Audience is really quite successful. Audience members are greeted by two suited performers, who check our tickets, take our coats and show us to our seats. On stage: what is clearly the set of a play. All of this intelligently creates the illusion of a theatre, which will be progressively, if a little heavy-handedly, undermined and deconstructed throughout the course of the performance.
With a text like this, it would be very easy to fall into the trap of lazy direction: there’s no real need for actors to ‘act’ or for anything of note to happen at all. Fortunately, directors Zephyr Brüggen and Jake Thompson do not fall into this and have found a number of ways to successfully subvert the ‘theatricality’ of the piece, making use of a live camera which projects the audience onto the back walls of the theatre and an interlude where the whole audience comes onto stage and shares carrot sticks and juice.
This is where the piece is at its most successful, when it’s not taking itself too seriously and finds clever new ways to update the epic genre. One of the highlights of the piece is a section where Carine Valarche, who gives the most assured performance of the main trio of ‘actors’, asks us if we wouldn’t rather be having a drink in Spoons right now. With her tongue in her cheek and a wry smile on her face, she perfectly captures the black humour implicit in the piece.
Unfortunately, the beginning and end of the piece are not quite so successful in this regard, sometimes forgetting that at its core this kind of theatre is still supposed to be fun and entertaining. After 20 minutes of listening to the trio of performers take it in turns to shout bits of the script at us, the lighter section in the middle came as a relief, and it was a shame that the ending of the performance fell back into that slightly preaching mode.
Offending the Audience is an innovative, if not completely successful, attempt at radically challenging our ideas about theatre. Although it’s clumsy at times, if you want to see something completely different from the usual Cambridge theatre fare, then this non-play might be just what you’re looking for.