Feral Theatre: Invisible Giant

Feral Theatre: The Invisible Giant

On a darkened stage, we see heaps of discarded junk – black plastic bags stuffed with goodness-knows-what, cracked white plastic chairs, a Brighton & Hove Council recycling box. A constant, amplified drip-drip-drip sounds. We hear muffled sounds of scraping and digging, and four boiler-suited figures enter, wearing miner’s headlamps. They speak in a kind of Riddley Walker-esque new-world old-world English, and as they pick through the rubbish, stories unfold. These four are future archaeologists known as SCUZ (Synthetics Collectors in Underground Zones), working through the pile of plastic bags, unearthing treasures used by humans in some long-lost era – things made of plastic, which the show implies, is no longer in use in this future, possibly post-apocalyptic age – and is therefore an interesting treasure.

Using some text, but mostly through physical movement, visual imagery, soundscape, and puppetry, a story unfolds – two of the four look on as the other two tell the tale of how humans used to live, in their odd world of Polly Pockets, plastic hair grips, and flip-flops (which are actually made of a natural material, rubber – but never mind). Things which are All Cast Away (cue song). It is a little unclear why two of the SCUZ members are seen acting out the tales and two are observing – and often hard to pinpoint where we are supposed to be. Are these two witnesses seeing back into the past? Are they imagining what the uses for these things might have been? (If, so it is hard to understand how they could guess so accurately.) ‘If plastic could talk, what story would it tell?’ is the byline for the show, and perhaps we are witnessing the plastic telling its own tale – but that doesn’t quite make sense of what we are seeing either. It’s a dramaturgical conundrum! This section of the show is overly long and suffering from numerous odd narrative choices. I struggle to work out what a TV-watching scene means, other than a vague ‘everything about our contemporary world and how we are raising our children is wrong’ kind of commentary.

However, there is some lovely performance work in this section, with acrobalance moves merging effortlessly into physical acting, and some great ‘poor theatre’ uses of random objects to tell stories, such as a bridal veil made from bubblewrap, and swing-bin lids as helmets on a bike ride. The use of children’s toys in the show – a xylophone, a little dog on wheels – is a nice touch, a gentle commentary on the Toys R Us throwaway culture handed on to our kids from age 0+. We see a rubbish cart arrive to cart the junk away, and again there’s a nice bit of classic physical theatre here – a chair, a bin lid and four black plastic sacks telling the story perfectly. The next section of the show tells us what happens at the landfill tip over the years, with the emergence of an odd little junk-baby as the new focus of the action…

If this all sounds familiar, yes – it is a very similar premise to Rubbish by lauded puppet-theatre company Theatre-Rites (reviewed for Total Theatre by Darren East). In Rubbish four steampunk-styled ‘excavators’ explore a mountain of black bin bags, from which puppets emerge and objects are animated. It is terrible timing for Feral, at the start of their life with this show, as Theatre-rites years of experience using puppetry to tell a similar story makes for a difficult comparison…

But all is not lost! The second half of Invisible Giant feels far stronger, more original, and more in keeping with Feral’s own style, established in their previous award-winning Brighton Fringe production Triptych. We move away from the cheery children’s entertainment mode of the first half into something far more dreamy and poetic. A great blanket of plastic bags unfolds across the stage, weaving and fluttering and transforming from wave to cloak to dress. A clear sheet of polythene creates sea ripples. A seagull soars and dives. Eventually – and we’ve waited a while but it’s worth it – the Invisible Giant appears, a glorious construction of clattering junk. A sad and sorry Frankenstein’s Monster which the human race has created collectively from our rubbish piles: and like Mary Shelley’s creation, this Monster murders without meaning to, and thus the poor seagull dies. An all-enveloping surf of white plastic rears up; a ‘skyline’ oasis of plastic bottles surrounded by fairy lights emerges. The only thing marring this lovely section of storytelling was the inadequate lighting – the key figure of the story, the Invisible Giant, emerging without any focused light. But this may well be down to the technical restrictions of working with the quick get-ins of a fringe production.

For me, the second half of the show is the show – the first-half potted history of the human race and its follies felt a little too polemical– the image of the sad plastic Giant and the doomed seagull tell their (literally) entangled story very well without any moral to the tale, and without the pre-amble. It was the sea of plastic in the sea, and the relationship between plastic (personified as the Giant) and nature (represented by the seagull) that was the essence of the tale. I also liked the fact that the plastic in the show was attractive, aesthetically pleasing – it was alluring, seductive, a dangerous drug.

There’s a lot of potential here, but the show needs a structural overhaul of the narrative, the voice, and the tone. And a good lighting design! The strong cross-over with Theatre-rites’ Rubbish does need to be addressed: there’s certainly room for more than one show for family audiences about our throw-away culture, but perhaps not for two puppet-theatre shows featuring a team of four excavators foraging through rubbish bags. Ditch the archaeologists! I sympathise with the frustration of finding that someone has come up with the same idea, but Rubbish is in its second touring year.

Invisible Giant is not there yet but it has a solid future, I am sure. Already present in these early days for the show (seen by Total Theatre on only its second public performance) are some lovely ideas, beautiful designs, haunting images, an interesting soundscape, and robust physical performances. The best is yet to come…



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Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing. www.dorothymaxprior.com