Bad Jazz

Written by Robert Farquhar, Directed by Gordon Anderson
Drum Theatre Plymouth and Actors Touring Company
Unity Theatre (3rd-5th April 2007)

Reviewed by Hana Leaper

Bad Jazz could be about the search for meaning in art and purpose in life, the individual's creation of their map and their story; or maybe about emotional voyeurism, the manipulation of other's hopes, dreams, fears; perhaps about the psychology of artistry – the abnegation of identity, moral standards and physical comforts subsumed to the cause of capital A art. It shows buttons being pushed and pushes viewers’ buttons; big questions are suggested, which cannot help but echo on. However, in terms of audience management, not stopping for an interval is a good move. Given the opportunity, I admit, I'd have legged it. Not through a fear of confronting any resident demons, but because this seems a rather sad, farcical way to face them. These themes are better explored in works containing some idea of redemption - that's not necessarily to say works with a happy ending, but works in which the characters appear to have souls. Bad Jazz is purposefully, sordid, melodramatic and messy without hope or dignity or even evil.

Based around the staging of a play in which a pretentious, morally dubious, formerly big-time director whose personal life is in crisis, 'nurtures' an annoyingly eager-to-please, wannabe actress whose personal life is in crisis; a distressingly dense wannabe actor, whose life is in crisis; and a first-time, unstable writer, whose life is in crisis. This meta-play doesn't worry about subtlety. We're subjected to relationship failure, fellatio, drug taking, prostitution (female and male), suicide, murder, vomit, spit, violence etc. It's like EastEnders, except, at some point the writer, possibly acknowledging it's meant for theatre not soap opera has decided to turn the gore into some kind of self-referential process of questioning the values of staging theatre. So, it’s relevant, but not edifying. Full of shortcuts. But do we need theatre to be enlightening, or is it all the better for reflecting our own state of indecision, of dis-clarity? I know what I prefer, but the question there is, is that simply because I don't want to face the reality that my own existence is petty, messy, violent? Do I seek big concepts that I'm able to cleanly analyse to save myself contemplating the frustrating insignificance of my own existence? Although this is undoubtedly the least enjoyable piece of theatre I've seen as well as the worst, perhaps it was the most successful and worthwhile seeing because it makes no case for the possibility of personal growth; depicting humanity, as it would for the most part, seem.

The name, Bad Jazz, by the way, is taken from the soundtrack of disjointed, schizophrenic jazz playing in rehearsals to the main male character's psychotic breakdown. It is always cued up wrong and plays through the culmination of the on-stage violence, externalising, I suppose, all our chaotic, attention-seeking, squalling demons in sound form.

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Comment left by Barry Davies on 16th April, 2007 at 21:42
What on earth is this review? Did they see the same show I did? Did they not realise it was a comedy? I thought Bad Jazz was an extremely clever, and savage satire about modern theatre. And weirdly moving as well at the end. I have had to read this several times to try and elicit what this person means.

Comment left by Susan Leopold on 19th April, 2007 at 10:32
My feeling is that the reviewer is in trouble personally, and this stopped her seeing the same piece of theatre as the rest of the audience. the night i saw it people understood the play, enjoying it,laughing, and we spent hours afterwards talking about it. One friend who had become disillusioned about theatre said he would go more if all plays were as fantastic as bad jazz.

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