Music, Light, Laughter But Most of All Questions

Atresbandes, the experimental Catalan theatre company, are back in the UK with a tour of their latest show ALL IN, that stopped in London this week at the New Diorama Theatre.

Formed by Mònica Almirall Batet, Miquel Segovia Garrell and Albert Pérez Hidalgo in 2008, the company aims to question everything its members encounter, believing that doubt and uncertainty are as important as mutual understanding. This time, they have also teamed up with performer Melcior Casals Castella - the first time that ATRESBANDES have created work with someone from outside the company.

Despite having interviewed Atresbandes for Disclaimer, I was still surprised by the show. It takes you out of your comfort zone. It forces you to ask questions.

When we first enter the theatre, we notice two black silhouettes standing at the back of the stage. As the lights go up, we see that the two actors standing there are covered in black. Both are carrying microphones.

Suddenly, one starts discussing how one of his acquaintances, who did a life coaching degree on the internet, advised him to throw away the junk in his flat. As a result, he is thinking of storing the junk and wants to hear the other silhouette’s opinion.

This conversation, which seems casual enough, takes on a new dimension thanks to the costumes and also the slow pace at which the actors are speaking. We hold onto every simple word, and even a breath becomes humorous. The topic of conversation is personal, yet we cannot see these people’s faces.

As the two silhouettes leave the stage, a third person enters to the loud sound of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. The striking lighting and visuals by blast flashing neon lights above him as he enters in a simple shirt and jeans.

After a long period of loud music that becomes claustrophobic under the lights, the man picks up noise-cancelling headphones, puts them on and the music stops. An audio documentary starts a commentary about Beethoven’s life. There are whole worlds in people’s headphones that probably deserve to be shared, but we are now so used to listening by ourselves.

A very memorable scene follows, as the four actors are present, in clear light. The four characters have found themselves in a flat, and are about to prepare dinner. Every detail of this dinner is explained, and everyone is prepared to have a great time and eat a healthy meal. However, one of the characters, an “outsider”, doesn’t drink and is vegetarian. This spoils the group’s fun, and soon enough, things degenerate, ending up with one of them taking off his pants and another vomiting (shown efficiently with water) on the chicken.

The scene is hilarious, and despite the lack of furniture, we can see the flat very clearly. As one of the characters picks up a gun, we understand how, when alcohol is mixed with rubbing people the wrong way, things can go awry. In a private flat, anything is possible.

The topic of the collective is taken to the next level in the following scene, as the screen on the back wall presents North Korean dancers perfectly synchronising to form beautiful shapes. The result is mesmerising, but also slightly scary. In our “Western” 21st century world, the individual is at the centre while in other cultures, the collective is of high importance.

The audience is meant to wonder days later what they were actually watching

Atresbandes comment on this fact and wonder whether one way is preferable to the other. Company co-founder Albert Pérez Hidalgo comments, "We have found the beginning of the 21st century perplexing, as new freedoms clash with a new orthodoxy and it is this contradiction that has inspired ALL IN. The masses that religiously follow the instructions of a charismatic leader have been joined by a new multitude, constantly shouting the same slogan, "Be yourself!" With ALL IN, we want to question what's behind this mantra."

Next, we are in a nightclub. This time, this isn’t shown through the lighting but through music. Dancers are raving synchronically except for two of them: the “outsider” from the dinner scene, and the singer in red standing on a podium. The singer gives the outsider the feeling that he may not be alone. We then hear a voice talking about DJs as dictators, as they dictate what people should do through sound. We may feel like we are free to leave the club, but are actually addicted to the sound. Which dictatorship is better?

The show ends with the return of two black silhouettes from the beginning. As they talk more about storage spaces, the woman mentions that she read an article about the types of people who store objects. Every audience member recognised is one of them.

Talking about preserving objects that matter to no one but ourselves reminded me of the meaninglessness of it all. Yet, we analyse it, look into the psychology of it, write books about it, coach people about it – because that’s what people want.

This is a show that stays with you. The audience is meant to wonder days later what they were actually watching.

ALL IN does not try to give answers, but wants to leave us with questions about our world, our connection to one another and what our individuality really means.  

All In is currently on tour.

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