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REVIEW: Unrehearsed Beauty; Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.

Byline: David Adams

What is the difference between theatre and casual conversation? Taking on roles? Structure? A sense of purpose? The Quebecois group PME apparently would not agree. But then they wouldn't, because they are self-confessed anarchists (or so their publicity says). And, as this show proves, not everything is what it seems.

The UK premiere of Unrehearsed Beauty at Chapter was, on the surface, more like the first meeting of a student discussion group, some of whom had brought along musical instruments they couldn't really play.

Such faux naivety is, of course, fashionable in postmodernist performance circles: we live in the Age of the Floating Signifier, it's said (usually with the air of someone who is exasperated by the obviousness of it, by those who have boned up on their theory).

And to suggest we can communicate messages effectively is dishonest. What you see is what you get. Representation is not what it seems. Truth is elusive. Meaning is made by the audience, not the artists.

Such is the slippery slope to disaffectedness and apathy, which is what apparently motivates this Canadian collective. They are here, in this cabaret-style theatre space, to ``speak quietly about things that really matter'' (their words), to counter the drift towards the meaningless of life, the sense we have no control over events.

Actually, of course, this is all about irony.

After 95 minutes of rambling conversation, amateurish songs and an unsuccessful attempt to get the audience to la-la and clap along (``Once more with feeling'' they cry to the palpable lack of participation - the funniest joke of the night), we have all more or less proved the premise and got absolutely nowhere, heard nothing interesting or new, not been moved, discovered precisely zilch.

If you like the tongue-in-cheek cheek it may well be amusing.

I enjoyed the utter nonsense of their assertion that they hoped we'd use the open-mike facility to share our thoughts but we didn't have to: ``Silence is also vital,'' they said with a straight face, ``especially if one has nothing to say.''

They themselves talk mainly about the Iraq invasion, ``terrorism'' and complicity in a way that floats between the banal, the ingenuous and the obvious - scripted, I assume, because the point is, after all, to point up our inability to affect politics, our alienation from power, our comp

i c i t y.

Few audience members offered contributions, and those that did were mainly recognisable as professional performers - one of whom, Gerald Tyler, incongruously introduced a welcome element of drama to the proceedings with a monologue that could have come straight from an Earthfall show.

Like so much of Unrehearsed Beauty we were left wondering what was real and what was pretence.

At the time it all seemed quite silly and, for the 40-odd who had paid up to pounds 10 a ticket, a waste of time and money.

But retrospectively, once you see through the joke, it was rather clever, a successful attempt to use performance to question whether we as individuals can make a difference to anything.

And in case there is any doubt about the company's grasp on the exigencies of theatre production, they gave me well in advance the running time for a show that had all the appearance of an unstructured, impromptu open-ended event, accurate to within a minute or so.

Anarchy? What anarchy?
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 6, 2003
Previous Article:Preview: Funny charming and totally INSECURE; Dominic Holland Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, Thursday.
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