I was promised physical theatre. I was promised circus skills. I was promised an unusual fondness for books (!) and a curious triangular courtship (!!) I might just have well have been promised roly-poly pudding because what I got was two performing Ladder-Straddlers atop a brace of pretend-precarious a-frame steps playing very poor riff-lifting rock guitar (same instrument together) whilst intermittently chucking books on the floor (fondness?). A third performer, Floor-Hugger, picked up and threw around books, steadied said ladders and raised a quizzical eyebrow as required. The musical dum-te-dums soon morphed into general tedium as ever more books were strewn, additional ladder-steadying was undertaken and increasing realisation dawned that people were being asked to pay to watch this. But I suppose the Government has just back-tracked on banning legal highs.
“These Books Are Made For Walking” is a mishmash of ideas: let’s chuck lots of books about! Let’s have ladders! Let’s do things that might look dangerous! Let’s have long silent sequences in which the odd facial expression will make everyone laugh! Let’s show the audience…. hang on, who said there was going to be an audience? It’s going to want to be entertained, presumably. In that case Let There Be Audience Participation!
The first guy selected was obviously a plant. He was sitting on his own in an easily accessible seat and was quite unconcerned to be “chosen”. No doubt either he or someone in the company will tweet that he was, actually, a bona fide audience member: that’s de rigueur in such cases. But I maintain that if he walks like a plant, talks like a plant, is dressed like a plant, and acts like a plant then he’s a plant. And once on stage he has to do quasi-dangerous ladder-steadying stuff.
The second guy selected was obviously a plant. He came into the auditorium half-way through the show, five minutes before his “unexpected” appearance and left the auditorium two minutes after he’d sat down again. In any case, I say if he walks like a plant… On stage he had to do even more quasi-dangerous ladder-steadying stuff. The kind of stuff that neither the company, Bikes and Rabbits, or the promoter Crying Out Loud or even Jacksons Lane, the wonderful venue, could allow an ordinary punter to do once they’d checked the small print on their public liability insurance.
The third guy didn’t appear to be a plant. Floor-Hugger made a meal out of the audience selection process this time and briefly caught my eye but I fixed him with my best show-me-your-risk-assessment stare and he moved on to the big, bald bruiser who would look suitably silly in a book-page constructed crown whilst sitting out of the way on stage doing absolutely no quasi-dangerous ladder-steadying stuff at all. He stayed on to the end of the show and the company made him take a bow. Bless.
“Why are you spending so much time on audience participation?!” I hear you cry. Well, frankly, there ain’t much else. Floor-Hugger spends an interminable time gaffering a pair of shears to a broom handle. This is meant to be funny, I think. It’s not. He then attempts to cut things high above his head. What things I can’t help you with as they were right over my head too. And I’ve seen children’s entertainers that are a cut above his antics. Then we have a sequence where he dons a head torch and Ladder-Straddler 1 (female) shines an angle-poise lamp on (parts of) the action with no other light. So we have an innovative books’n’balancing sequence that we can’t really see. Small mercies. During this Ladder-Straddler 2 (Musician) fiddles with his … something-or-other; but it’s dark, so who knows what. And who cares.
We do have a couple of balancing acts that defy … not very much, frankly. Floor-Hugger (Fabrice Dominici) balances his extended shears on his chin for about five excruciating minutes. Excruciating not because of the tense will-he-drop-them? excitement but excruciating because we’re never going to get those five minutes back again. And Ladder-Straddler 1 (Alice Allart) finally de-elevates on to a a slack-rope and cavorts a little. Not very steadily it has to be said. We’re not that worried if she falls off two feet to the floor because the show might come to a premature end.
And all the while Ladder-Straddler 2 (Patrice Colet) fiddles on with guitar, with amplifier and with no idea how he came to be up a ladder wearing a tartan miniskirt (Keith Clan – NOT a kilt). Almost as if he’d accidentally wandered in whilst in a Hendrix-like trance and thought he’d found failed rock-star heaven.
Both those circus skills are reasonably impressive in the right context but you can see better and more innovative stuff for free most Saturday afternoons in Covent Garden. The idea that you can base a piece of theatre around them is bonkers (though apparently that’s one of Jacksons Lanes’s selling points) but it’s the kind of bonkers that gets bonkers a bad name. Someone, no doubt, will intone wisely that it is Drama of the Absurd. Yes. But the point about Absurd Drama is that it reflects, and is a comment on, real life. If – and it’s a stretch – this play is about how books are disappearing because of online and electronic convenience then consider this: if you lose your audience, you lose your point. Maybe I’m reading (sorry) too much into it. But one feels obliged to attempt to read at least something into it, however flimsy.
I have to say that I never really expected that one of these days these books would walk all over me but then again I never expected either that a pseudo Jimmy Page would attempt, unsuccessfully, to lead me up a Stairway to Heaven. I think this is one for “back to the drawing-board” and that elusive but essential tome, How To Engage An Audience.
Review by Peter Yates
In a deserted and old-fashioned library two people with an unusual fondness for books meet and embark upon a playful journey.
Plunging themselves deep into the richness and depth of books, the two characters play with fiction. Books are reconstructed to become headdresses and slippers, paper planes fly through the air; books are consumed, and piled high to become a precarious landscape.
These Books Are Made For Walking is a delightfully inventive piece of physical theatre created by Bikes and Rabbits, who mix circus skills and theatre to create daring and highly original work.
Suitable for all ages from 6+
Presented by Crying Out Loud and Bikes & Rabbits
Bikes and Rabbits
These Books Are Made For Walking
22nd – 23rd March 2016