dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Rich and poor collide, mix, mingle and separate
It's always sensible to expect the unexpected from Birmingham-based Stan's Cafe and The Capital is no exception. Inspired by studies of inequality in today's society, the production aims to show how rich and poor share a single space, crossing over, mixing and mingling, crisscrossing, coming together and pulling apart in a busy city like our capital.
In order to create this sense of the city's relentless pace, The Capital, which premiered at Birmingham Repertory Theatre's Studio, takes place on two travelators which move at different speeds at different times and travel in different directions. This constant movement reminds us how we are all on a never-ending hamster wheel, taking us forwards, or sometimes backwards, changing pace but swiping us past our life experiences rather than giving us time to live them.
The cast of five (Gerard Bell, Luanda Holness, Hema Mangoo, Craig Stephens and Amy Ann Haigh) create a host of characters and vignettes within the show. Some are single scenes and some we return to again and again. There are no words and yet the messages are spoken through movement and props.
Directed by Stan's Cafe artistic director James Yarker, there are some lovely moments where the disparity between people is clear even when they are in the same space. In t,he supermarket a couple pop bottle after bottle of bubbly into their shopping basket while a woman alone counts her money then puts back her jar of coffee and picks up a smaller one. A couple expecting a baby seem to have it all but when he is injured and unable to work, their life rapidly changes. Where initially we saw their bulging Waitrose shopping bags now they turn to Lidl to keep them going.
The music, designed by Nina West, also creates atmosphere as its pulsing rhythms underscore the constant movement of those on the travelators.
But at 90 minutes, The Capital is way too long and feels padded. While some of the scenes have a real poignancy, others are simply repeating ideas and themes or have little link to any other part of the show. While it could be argued that is part of the random nature of living in the capital, when we're watching a show there do need to be connections between what's happening before us.
Some scenes are simply baffling. Opening a production with around five minutes of empty chairs moving along a travelator may seem important to the company but it's pretty tedious when you are in the audience. Surely whatever the empty chairs are supposed to say has been portrayed after one or even two minutes? It's asking a lot of an audience to capture their imagination with chair after chair.
Condensed in length and with some of the extraneous or overly symbolic scenes pared down, The Capital could be a provocative and thought-provoking piece of performance. It's breaking boundaries, creating a new type of production and posing questions but it could do so much more tightly and effectively.
The Capital plays The Rep until 27 October with an after-show discussion on Friday 26 October. See www.stanscafe.co.uk for tour details.