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Wilkie Branson’s TOM at the Lilian Baylis Studio

Wilkie Branson's TOMThe Lilian Baylis Studio, a kind of smaller, unruly sibling to Sadler’s Wells has an exciting range of interesting, experimental pieces on its programme. Shows that push the boundary of what constitutes theatre and dance, asking questions about the role of the performer, the space of performance. All interesting stuff. But Wilkie Branson’s TOM might just be pushing the boundary.

Personally, I love a progressive, provocative performance. But that’s the key: ‘performance’. TOM just, well, it isn’t a performance. It’s a film. Of the performance. Projected onto the screen. That’s it. Instead of watching a performance, we are shown a sketchy cartoon of a silent man, looking at sketchy cartoons of buildings. Branson tells us (in a post-show Q&A) that the drawings are supposed to be life-like and organic, but they really end up being more like a Minecraft world.

So far, so medium bending. But it’s just so plain. There is no speech, the music is screensaver simple. And the narrative is very unoriginal. The ‘white man feels alienated in the modern world’ is, in fact, probably one of the most common stories in western literature. If there was something slightly newer being said, the unconventional form might be interesting. But it isn’t.

Having travelled from his ‘Minecraft’ homeland, into the big city, the speechless man dances under some sort of bridge for a bit; gets in a lift with a naked version of himself; falls off the roof of a high building, and then travels home. Then again, and then again. It’s not clear if Branson wants to say something about the crisis of modernity, lonely masculinity, dystopian disconnection, or any of the other well-travelled themes of the male narrative. But if Branson does, we’re none the wiser.

This kind of ‘let’s talk about me’ stuff is egoistic enough for most, but more so, in my opinion, is to refuse to even appear onstage during the performance about yourself. In the post-show Q&A, Branson reveals that Tom is his middle name, confirming the sense that this a highly self-indulgent 45-minute piece about himself.

1 star

Review by Thomas Froy

Framed through Branson’s personal experiences, the work seeks to question what we shed of ourselves as we journey into adulthood, and whether the abandonment of these aspects creates a new identity. TOM aims to address what it is to struggle with a false sense of identity, and how we view this changing sense of self within our own minds.

Set in a hinterland between the civilised world and the wilderness, TOM is animated using a process called photogrammetry, where the set is created and scanned in. Uniquely, Branson has filmed himself dancing and moving dozens of times over, representing various possible identities. Beautifully animated and presented to the audience with three levels of screen depth, TOM is a 3D visual and audio experience immersing the audience in the layered world of its protagonist.

Listing information:
WORLD PREMIERE
Wilkie Branson
TOM
Lilian Baylis Studio, EC1R 4TN
Thursday 15 – Saturday 17 November 2018
https://www.sadlerswells.com/

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