The Rainbow Collectors and Karis Halsall: Hysterical

HystericalThis is a fundamentally conventional play by performance poet Karis Halsall that veers off on surreal departures using puppetry and clown, as two of the characters experience hallucinations. A young woman applying for a job at an advertising agency is assisted in her pitch to sell bottled water by a talking baby doll. Her more clearly troubled ex-violinist brother descends further into some form of psychological affliction during which he is comforted by the Lion from the Wizard of Oz.

It wasn’t clear to me how these events related to each other, or if the show intended to provide a linking commentary on feminism, consumerism, and the vulnerability of contemporary masculinity. It may be that I missed some important points of information: the Main Space at the Warren suffers from significant noise pollution. The cast do use radio mics, but still this seemed a less than ideal venue for this kind of show. The most effective moments, for me, came when the clownish Madonna on roller skates engaged more directly with audience.

All the performers set about their roles with fervour, the set is well designed and the whole production has the look of ambition, but as the piece progressed I found myself increasingly lost by the meandering narrative. There is the promise of a tantalising twist which doesn’t quite materialise, and many of the characters seem rather clichéd. The cold-hearted ad agency posh boss and her bitchy, dolled-up underling seem derivative of various movie characters.  There is a wacky mix of styles here attempting to address a serious subject, and it did generate some lively applause from sections of the house, but for me the sum of its parts didn’t add up to a coherent or engaging whole.

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About Matt Rudkin

Matt Rudkin is a theatre maker and teacher who creates work as Inconvenient Spoof. He has a BA in Creative Arts, an MA in Performance Studies, and studied with Philippe Gaulier (London), and The Actors Space (Spain). He was founder and compere of Edinburgh’s infamous Bongo Club Cabaret, concurrently working as maker and puppeteer with The Edinburgh Puppet Company. He has toured internationally as a street theatre performer with The Incredible Bull Circus, and presented more experimental work at The Green Room, CCA, Whitstable Biennale, ICA, Omsk and Shunt Lounge. He is also a Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Visual Art at the University of Brighton.