Camera Lucida is a production developed by the cabaret performer Dickie Beau, winner of this year’s Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust. It explores the themes of language and resurrection – asking about the process of commemorating, through words, not only the dead, but also the living. In an age obsessed with recording the present, the manner in which we absent ourselves from the world through the process of representation is explored: as is the psychology behind our pursuit of permanence.
The form this production takes is essayistic: fragments of text layered in a collage style – performed using Beau’s trademark lip-syncing technique – but with an attempt at cohesiveness. The setting is a kind of dystopian matrix of cables and disembodied figures. The performers move like automatons: their renditions of segments of text taken from William Burroughs, Virginia Wolf and others feel disjointed and grotesque. Verbatim theatre is by nature open to interpretation, but this production seems to make a definite statement about the remedial possibilities of impartial reproduction as a way of life. In a digital age so seemingly transient, Beau suggests the intransigent possibilities of assimilation – an oblique agonism, given the somber tone of the piece.
There are some problems with this production. It is visually messy without this feeling fully deliberate. The images (a light box with the word SILENCE, Houdini’s levitating table in neon, and a piano that plays itself) are strong, but lose impact through their presentation. Equally the performances, which are excellent, require a bit more punctuation and placing. In short, it’s a thought provoking, prescient and innovative piece, it just feels in need (oddly, given the mentoring) of some firm directorial prodding.