In the creation of every piece of art there comes the moment at which one must convert an idea into a tangible creation. The initial problem can be self-evident: if the idea is not good, then no good can come of it. If the idea is good, then it is possible to create a good work of art. What the Bristol Playwright’s Collective (BPC) managed on Wednesday night at The Old Fish Market was to create a really rather bad piece of art from a really rather good idea.
The Industrial Theatre was conceived by the BPC some months before on the premise that five writers would write in five scenes set in a universe in which ‘The Corporation’ rules. From the outset the group attempted to create a sense of living inside a machine; the opening sequence involved all members of the cast ostensibly acting as different parts of a construction line, and the first scene had the characters sitting on stools and turning to face different directions every few minutes as if they were cogs.
The frustration arising from this sense of meaningless utility was one of the only things the production achieved. In most other respects it was severely lacking: there was little to no sense of plot, even within the individual scenes; the characters, though sometimes absorbing as in the case of Felix Kelly’s loudly self-conscious woman, were angry but hugely underdeveloped; motifs such as the distorted sense of time were not satisfactorily explored or explained; the piece varied greatly in pace and overall was far too slow. The one thing that The Industrial Theatre needed more than anything else was exposition: had a character taken time to address the pervasive but invisible corporation, then this play might have gone from vague and uncharacterful musing of anger to a well-directed and poignant socio-political commentary, which as far as the audience could tell it was intended to be – or if it was not intended to be, then it should have been. There were flashes of topical criticism, as in the astute but slow ‘Making Time’ scene, but the exploration of meaning came at the sacrifice of plot. It should be mentioned, however, that the acting was largely of a very high standard.
This production had the potential to be an insightful and topical presentation of Post-Modern life in the post-industrial age, but because of its failure to explain itself it lost out and was slow, meaningless and frustrating.