Dublin Theatre Festival 2023: One Song: Histoire(S) Du Théatre IV
One Song: Histoire(S) Du Théatre IV bi Miet Warlop. Image byMichiel Devyver
It could be the set for Smells Like Teen Spirit. Dave Grohl’s disassembled drum kit scattered across a high school gymnasium. A five strong cohort of excitable stoners chatting in the bleachers. There’s even a cheerleader, of sorts. But there’s tell tale signs. A cello instead of a guitar. A keyboard. A metronome. A gymnast beam and a machine that shoots ping pong balls. There’s also the school announcer speaking through a megaphone, though you can’t understand a word she’s saying. But you understand her intent when five athletes begin warming up to boisterous applause. Introducing them through garbled speech, she clearly finds number three hilarious. Now the fun that is Miet Warlop’s One Song: Histoire(S) Du Théatre IV begins in earnest. A fun soon subjected to the law of diminishing returns.
What exactly begins is hard to say. It claims to be a music meets workout contest, but it feels like a durational song attempt for The Guinness Book of Records. All you can be sure of is its five musical athletes set about performing in the most physically strenuous and energetic way possible, for as long as possible. A violinist balancing on a beam, a cellist doing sit ups, singing while running on a treadmill, jumps to reach a synthesiser, and dashing endlessly between drum kits. Fascinating and absurdly funny for a minute or so, but the show runs for an hour. Durational surrender yielding too little in return as adjustments of the metronome manipulate speed, the stoners rocking out wildly to each mind numbing variation. A ping pong ball here, some splashing water there, a near impossible number of cheerleading spins all help break up the energised monotony. Otherwise its rinse in durational repeats till everyone collapses, mimics the pledge of allegiance, then rushes back onstage to receive a standing ovation.
Amongst other things, One Song describes itself as a reponse to grief. A mesmerising ritual defying time and transcending the body to form a community. Where one song can give meaning to a whole society. But that might not square with your experience where beats prove less tribal trance and more trying tedium. The cacophony of sound shutting out everything, including grief. More evident in performers pushing their bodies to their limits ensuring One Song defies time the way Groundhog Day defies time, reliving the experience over and over and over. Yet endlessly listening to its one song can feel like the brainwashing in A Clockwork Orange. A song, which, if you never hear it again might well be too soon. A little like grief arguably. Shifting from loose prog rock to 80s American synth pop, heavy metal to dissonant jazz, there's even some Bach for light relief and commentary. Yet if rhythms make for diversity, they’re not enough when unity sees the song remain the same. Not grief, but denying grief the unifying glue. Efforts to transform it from the personal to the communal really an attempt to escape it.
One Song’s blurb can sound like a tray of artistic tequila shots celebrating a communal new dawn where they’d like to teach the world to sing. Yet given that so much strenuous communal work yields so little by way of return, you might decide to fly solo and opt for poetry instead. In which case One Song might quote you some of its lyrics, “everyone around you smells your trouble.” You’re reply likely to be, “right back at ye.” That said, One Song is fun, interesting and innovative. Yet it’s homage to MTV High School Americana isn't as fun, interesting or innovative as it might have been. It’s not even the most fun, interesting and innovative production by Miet Wallop. Like a fine dining menu, One Song makes a little sound like quite a lot more than it actually is. Even so, it does have some wonderfully intense flavours.
One Song: Histoire(S) Du Théatre IV by Miet Warlop, presented by Miet Warlop |Irene Wool And Ntgent, run at The O’Reilly Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2023 until October 15
For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2023