Roller

  • Physical Theatre
  • Writers: Rachel Mars and nat tarrab
  • Producer: Claire Summerfield at Tandem Works
  • Performers include: Rachel Mars, nat tarrab, Kailing Fu, Sapira Zarum
  • Barbican Centre, London
  • Until 2 December 2017
  • Review by Owen Davies
  • 26 November 2017
Roller
3.0Reviewer's Rating

This extraordinary and entertaining performance piece comes to the Pit under the banner of The Oxford Samuel Becket Theatre Trust Award. It is part drama, part dance, part mime, part roller skating. It is funny and challenging by turns and has a wonderful cast of women of all ages whose joyful rapport shines through the piece. If it is occasionally mystifying I have no objection to being forced to puzzle my way to my own conclusions about the piece and what it has to say about current cultural preoccupations. There was a lot of focus on the crimes of the patriarchy but presented with enough wit and passion to make it anything but preachy.

The Pit is set out with rows of seats on three sides and the performance begins in almost total darkness. We first see two of the performers rolling up the floor covering which looks like a wooden gymnasium floor, which immediately tells the audience to pack up any preconceptions about what they are about to see. Then Rachel Mars and nat tarrab appear on stage looking like futurist giants – we subsequently realise they are on top of two tall platforms that can be wheeled around the stage. They begin an overlapping dialogue that becomes more and more passionate and leads to some uncomfortable moments for the audience as we begin to think we may be the target of their righteous anger. And as their fury mounts, the rest of the performers construct what looks like an oval track around their platforms – at first I thought this might be a track for the roller derby mentioned in the programme notes but again it is removed before it can be used for any skating. There is a lovely ‘silent disco’ moment when all the women are dancing to the sounds on their headphones and then begin to sing out loud the songs that they are listening to – a joyful cacophony. And it is rare – and a treat – to see such a brilliant age-neutral cast of women on a London stage. And at the end we do get the roller skating that the title of the piece leads us to expect – the splendid Sapira Zarum kits up and rolls around the empty stage that is left after the various constructions are removed.

The piece is by turns funny, challenging, and thought-provoking. It is performed by a group of women totally committed to the piece and to the bizarre world view presented by Mars and tarrab. It is indescribable and so a nightmare for a critic. If you are an adventurous theatre go-er it is very much worth a visit to make up your own mind about its message(s) – and to enjoy.

About The Author

Owen Davies was brought up in London but has Welsh roots. He was raised on chapel hymns, Handel oratorios and Mozart arias. He began going to the theatre in the 1960s and, as a teenager, used to stand at the back of the Old Vic stalls to watch Olivier’s National Theatre productions. He also saw many RSC productions at the Aldwych in the 1960s. At this time he also began to see operas at Covent Garden and developed a love for Mozart, Verdi and Richard Strauss. After a career as a social worker and a trade union officer, Owen has retired from paid employment but is a student at Rose Bruford College studying for a BA in Opera Studies.

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