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Celebration, Florida by Greg Wohead at Soho Theatre

Celebration, Florida - Photo Matt Cawrey
Celebration, Florida – Photo Matt Cawrey

Celebration, Florida sees two artists who have never met, perform a piece they know nothing about. The two performers put on headphones and, using audio, Greg Wohead, the creator, leads the performers through a rather normal, mundane, day in a hotel room as he lives it. Through them, he tells us details of where he is and what he might or might not do that evening. They are stand-ins – surrogates for Greg – and do their best to portray what he tells them to.

I am not sure this is all they are though. The programme suggests that the piece is “maybe an invitation to imagine and to try and access what has gone on in another place.Celebration Florida is a planned community in Osceola County, Florida. A “toy town” or impression of what an “ideal” American town might look like. The programme tells us it can seem inauthentic. Whilst the performers try to re-enact Wohead’s story as best as they can, alongside a projector screen which also narrates the story to us, we could perceive the whole experience as an inauthentic re-enactment of whatever Wohead is trying to show us.

However, the actor’s, McCormick and Macaulay are not inauthentic are they? They are live and present and being directed in real time. In front of us. So their reactions and attempts are genuine and funny. There are lovely moments where we see their hesitation before performing an instruction – slightly embarrassed before they show us a mimed lion’s roar, or becoming dizzy after spinning around and having to run to another marked out point on the stage; their growing confidence as they realise they are repeating a sequence they have already performed. There are moments of real connection between them, particularly when they clasp hands and spin together, and you see them connect and their obvious delight and a sudden playfulness within that moment. We are amused as they stutter and give delayed broken accounts of Wohead’s narrative as they try to keep up with the audio.

Yes, they are stand-ins, but they are competent performers and embrace the challenge and make the struggles a stand out feature of the piece that the audience enjoys. The performers tell us different versions of a possible encounter within the hotel with someone off a dating app. There is repetition of how the circumstance might unfold with slightly varied outcomes, such as what they might drink, or whether or not they will connect enough to have a sexual encounter. So is this a retelling or simply a display of what “might” be or have been?

There is also repetition of the song “Stand By Me”, in different languages and different speeds with both performers showing us a dance that Wohead is directing them through. At this point surely the artists weren’t telling a story at all? Just being manipulated by Wohead for our amusement.

I am not entirely sure what they are standing in for here, the narrative has gone. I am not sure if I am meant to know… the whole piece felt a bit like when you look at a piece of art. A painting. You know it is saying something, but you are not sure what, and yes you can try to interpret it but you are not sure you have interpreted it correctly. I was a bit confused as to what I was meant to be seeing and if I had read it “right” or had missed the point entirely. They were standing in as storytellers for Wohead, yes, but they weren’t telling his story I don’t think.

At the end, we are told to see the performers as stand-ins. That they are there to represent someone we used to know. The ever-present “Stand by Me” makes me sad. If these are stand-ins, and they are nothing more than a replacement for someone we have “lost” in one way or another, surely whoever we are picturing has not stood by us at all.

This is an experimental piece and I applaud the use of private audio and the risk involved in having unrehearsed performers. It is great to watch something challenging and outside of your comfort zone, and it is certainly thought-provoking. However, I do feel I have been cheated out of an answer somehow. I worry I may have missed the point and it is difficult to digest. Some parts were slow and the repetition seemed unnecessary, but if you want to see something different this is certainly worth a watch.

3 Star Review

Review by Freya Bardell

Veering between reality and simulation, Celebration, Florida orbits around ideas of surrogacy; a stand-in to replace a person you miss, a re-creation of an experience you can’t stop thinking about, nostalgia for a place that never existed.

For CelebrationFlorida, Greg uses two surrogates who are different for each show. Rebecca Biscuit of Sh*t Theatre, Ursula Martinez, George Heyworth from Bourgeois & Maurice and Lucy McCormick have all opted to take part alongside others. Via headphones, they repeat the words Greg speaks from a hotel room just outside the actual town of CelebrationFlorida created by the Walt Disney Company. The feeling is intimate: Greg drinks beer, exercises and thinks about a possible encounter, yet we never hear him speak.

Celebration, Florida by Greg Wohead
Soho Theatre
Tue 19 – Sat 23 Jun 2018

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