Architecting Re-Viewed

Review in Issue 22-1 | Spring 2010

Having first seen the show at the Edinburgh Fringe 2008, Dorothy Max Prior re-views The TEAM’s award-winning Architecting, this time presented at the BITE season in London; and Marie Kenny offers her first-timer perspective.

Re-View:

Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel Gone with the Wind – which presents the story of the American Civil War (from a southern white perspective) – serves as starting point, central theme, and metaphorical touchstone for Architecting.

In my first review of this ‘exploding at the seams’ show (Total Theatre Volume 20 Issue 4) I described it as ‘complicated, messy – and must-see’. Originally planned as four interlinked pieces, Architecting is an exploration of the American psyche that weaves together numerous strands of investigation: urban planning, the desecration of communities through natural disaster and/or human greed, the pivotal moment in US history that was the American Civil War, the heritage of Scarlet O’Hara and the abiding love of Gone with the Wind, the legacy of racism, the oppression of gender-asigned roles, the impact of 9/11, beauty pageants, the lure of reality TV, and the pursuit of fame. I referred to its ‘everything-including-the-kitchen-sink’ approach to staging and dramaturgy – a great structure of a set, the constantly morphing characters, the use of moving image, the inter-textuality with Gone with the Wind that requires a pretty solid knowledge of both book and film to make sense… and I expressed a desire to see the show again.

More than a year on comes my chance when this New York based company return to the UK, having spent a considerable amount of time redeveloping the show with support from the National Theatre of Scotland. On second viewing I feel less generous in my assessment. The ‘reworking’ has led to an even longer, messier and self-indulgent work. There are indeed at least two or three, and probably four, theatre shows that could be made from this amount of material. But where is the heart? What do they really want to say? I find myself wishing that they had kept to their original plan of four inter-linked pieces. A novel can hold concurrent narratives, for example by alternating chapters in different voices, and a film can use the camera and the editing process to exploit point-of-view possibilities. But here on stage, with so much happening for so much of the time in so many different styles of presentation, we struggle to get any sort of a grip on what we are experiencing.

On second viewing of this show, which since the first presentation in the UK in 2008 has subsequently had time and money spent on its redevelopment, I am even less clear about what I am seeing and what it all might mean.
Dorothy Max Prior

First View:

A problem arises with plays based on books or films when you aren’t too familiar with the book or film. You spend a lot of time puzzling over references which don’t make sense to you, wishing that you had done more research beforehand. [Editor’s note: But should you need to? An interesting discussion point! See www.totaltheatre.org.uk for further.]

Architecting is based on Gone with the Wind, but also has several simultaneous subplots. A politically correct remake of the film is used to compare the devastation of the American Civil War with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. There’s the story of a grieving architect desperate to create her father’s vision of building a development after Katrina’s destruction. And then there’s the story of a petrol station attendant who decides go on a road trip with a young woman who has her heart set on winning a Scarlett O’Hara beauty contest – he then becomes a contender himself (cross-dressing is something of a feature of this show).

Architecting was devised by the TEAM, and at times I felt like they’d tried to cram too much in: all the loaded metaphors were too much to keep up with. The play opens in a bar, where we are told to make ourselves feel at home; it starts light and funny and switches to serious and sombre and back again – another constantly changing aspect to try to assimilate.

The company are an extremely tight ensemble though, and the piece flows well, despite its complexities. Ultimately, all the subplots and characterisations come together to show that after disaster communities and individuals have an amazing ability to rebuild and regenerate. We find the strength to keep going.
Marie Kenny

The TEAM and National Theatre of Scotland’s Architecting was seen November 2009 at Barbican Pit, London as part of bite 2010.

For further reviews from the past quarter, and for the opportunity to respond to this ‘re-view’, see the Total Theatre website: www.totaltheatre.org.uk

Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Nov 2009

This article in the magazine

Issue 22-1
p. 39