In critiques of Mess by Caroline Horton at The Traverse this year, one word seems to come up over and over again: metatheatre.
I was surprised to see this word used quite so obsessively, perhaps because I associate it with my own over-use of it in over-excited undergraduate essays about Renaissance drama. Look, it’s everywhere! Yes, because all Renaissance drama and indeed most theatre ever has an awareness that it is theatre. It’s modern day naturalism which is the exception.
Mess also comes from an old theatrical tradition: clown. The esprit de clown is joyously well executed but there’s very little that is new in the form of Mess. It’s a long-established genre which takes ‘metatheatricality’ as a given. The genius is not in the metatheatricality per se but in the unexpected hybrid of clown and the subject of anorexia. Yet the word ‘clown’ is relatively hard to find in critiques of the show and, where it is used, it feels as though it’s being tossed around rather loosely.
For what it’s worth, I loved the show. At times I wondered if it should have been darker, more searing. But as for Lyn Gardner’s criticism that it focuses too much on symptoms rather than causes, I thought that was the most refreshing aspect. The people I have known with anorexia were anxious children who became anxious teenagers who became anorexic teenagers. It seems to me that they were born anxious. It never occurred to me to ask, ‘What made you this way?’
Of course, we should be angry about the way a certain female body image is aggressively promoted and ask how culture, consumerism or pressures relating to things like school exams makes that anxiety worse. But I don’t mind that Mess wasn’t the place for that anger.
I enjoyed instead seeing Boris – a clown, like we all are – neither railing against the world nor analysing Josephine’s psyche, but looking for pragmatic ways to say and do the right thing to help his friend to eat something that day.
Posted by David Ralfe, Company Director
Click here for more information about Mess by Caroline Horton, Traverse Theatre, 2-26 August 2012