Absurdist satirical student clowning – the description alone is enough to make some people run for the hills. But Consumers, by four performers from University Centre Weston / Bath Spa University calling themselves Tough Yolk, is impressive enough to make you stick around.
The motley crew catch the eye immediately, wandering out on stage pulling faces and fixating on the audience in the guise of French artistes. ‘Zis is ze prologue…’ says one, while puffing on an imagined Gauloise. No, wait, come back! It’s good, honest!
In the ‘play’ itself, they each have a persona. Jack is a gluttonous king figure (Game of Thrones fans – think Robert Baratheon). George, who as a running gag keeps getting miscalled Pablo, is a put-upon doormat who gets bossed around (GoT – think Reek). The other two – Mia, whose ideas Jack keeps nicking, and Sean – are at first enablers of Jack, before switching sides. There’s also a fifth character, Mark, a hand-drawn man lying dead on a slab.
Nectarines are the central, symbolic plot device. One is created by mating a plum and a peach in a funny, graphic slapstick scene. They’re then utilised throughout for their maximum mime potential – all that messy, noisy slurpiness and drippiness. Jack, or rather Mia, comes up with the idea to exploit them commercially, and that’s what the prosperity of his ‘kingdom’ is ultimately based on.
They’re a very good slapstick troupe who work well together. Even when the absurdity loses you, the performers don’t. Their movement and facial expressions keep you engaged and you’re happy to go with them to see what happens next.
It’s well-choreographed too. One routine involves them taking a last drag and stomping out a cigarette, which they do in perfect synch. Other routines involve them clambering out among the audience and conducting their arguments over our heads. This involves some audience participation – nothing too onerous – which brings us into their world, making us complicit.
And while this is only a minor detail, it’s noticeably well-lit. There’s not much you can do in a small Greenside Studio but they maximise that limited potential to heighten the impact of their physical humour.
Without ever getting too literal or obvious, there’s a message in Consumers about over consumption and abuses of power. It’s smartly done, via funny and engaging performances. You can’t help thinking that – with no disrespect to Bath Spa – if this had the name of an Oxbridge college slapped on the flyer, it would get more of the attention it deserves.