Lobsters. Image uncredited
Since Darwinism, we often get defined in terms of our shared characteristics with animals. Not that we weren't anthropomorphic to begin with, projecting human qualities onto our furry friends. Such as calling them furry friends. A selective process to lend dubious legitimacy to whatever we're selling, saying, or sanctifying. We share 99% DNA with chimpanzees. So what? We share 50% DNA with bananas. When either produces a play worth seeing the comparison might have more going for it. Lobsters are monogamous. So what? They get boiled alive and pair well with a good chardonnay. Boiled alive proving a fitting metaphor for Nyree Yergainharshian's Lobsters, a comedic take on relationships under COVID which drowns in its own hot ambitions.
The name playfully references how we project monogamy onto lobsters. Except Yergainharshian wants to project something else onto lobsters. Something that speaks to the modern experience of love under lockdown, searching for a new metaphor while recycling old tropes. In Yergainharshian's first venture into theatre film, co-directed with Jocelyn Clarke, relationships, theatre, and film are self-consciously meta, with a lot of deliberately wonky camera work to enhance the overall sense of wonkiness. Reading anecdotes from hand held pages directly to camera from onstage, Yergainharshian, Brian Bennett, and Peter Newington find the pains of technology writ playfully large. Courtesy of some mildly amusing visual gags as it all goes haywire. Looking like a low budget version of The Play That Goes Wrong, only with far less cleverness or hilarity.
Nyree Yergainharsian. Image uncredited
Slipping into something like Friends hosting an afternoon chat show during a blackout, relationships, dating apps, lockdown and haircuts provide thin verbal filler between thinner visual fodder, being predicable and fun without ever really being funny. Even the relationship cake predictably ends up where you expect it to end up. Flipping into a series of serious interviews near the end, cute as they are, looks like shoehorning as Lobsters tries to recover what it never got to grips with in the first place.
For all its good intentions, Lobsters doesn't do what it says on the tin. Talking of striding confidently into a new world of theatre film and exploring relationships as they relate to today, what emerges is thematically old wine in theatrically, and cinematically, older wineskins. As the laughs come soft and slow, it begins to look like an extended blooper reel. But some things it does well. There's a charm to it, a fun factor, a playful chemistry between its three strong cast and a most endearing love of theatre. Whose relationship with its audience has become strained these past twelve months. 'We miss you, it feels lonely here without you,' Lobsters says to camera. Well, we miss you too. The poignancy is keenly felt. But as one interviewee observes, aptly describing dating online, 'nothing is real till you get into the room.' The same might be said for Lobsters.
Lobsters by Nyree Yergainharshian, presented by Project Arts Centre and Mermaid Arts Centre, is available online till May 29.