JOYCE MCMILLAN on WESTERN SOCIETY at the Arches Behaviour Festival, CCA, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 11.4.15. _____________________________________________________
4 stars ****
SOMEWHERE in California, on the far edge of the western world, a roomful of people gathered, a few years ago, to eat cake, sit around a karaoke machine, and celebrate something or other. They made a video of the event, so the story goes, and put it up on the internet, receiving the glorious total of five hits in several years; but that was before this wholly unremarkable fragment of our times was discovered by the Gob Squad, that anarchic and irrepressible bunch of international performance artists, currently based in Berlin and Nottingham.
The result is an extraordinary hour-and-three-quarters of wild cultural reflection, which begins with a prologue sketching the history of civilisation since one million years B.C. The four performers first appear as almost-naked Adam & Eve figures, and rapidly evolve, through a flirtation with the baroque, into figures from the video, given names that reflect their actions in the film; the look is glitzy and tatty, a kind of decadent pound-shop bling, all blonde wigs, rattling gold-plastic jewellery, and unwalkable shoes.
On a big screen, placed partly in front of the stage, the actors sculpt themselves into the same positions as the figures in the video; then they recruit seven audience members, and start inviting them to do the same. And meanwhile, the sound ripples on – fragments of conversation and reflection, and, on the karaoke, great interrupted songs, from California Dreaming through to a hugely ironic chorus of Michael Jackson’s Earth Song. If conclusions are what you seek, you’ll be disappointed in Western Society. But there’s a memorable and beautiful sense of companionship about this show, as it contemplates the strange, stranded moment in which we find ourselves; almost convinced that our comfortable western world is no longer sustainable, but still inhabiting it, in a mood captured with huge intelligence and compassion by the Gob Squad four – Damian Rebgetz, Tatiana Saphir, Sarah Thorn and Simon Will.
And in that sense, Western Society makes a near-perfect opening piece for this year’s month-long Arches Behaviour Festival, built around the theme of Futures, and taking place in venues across Glasgow. This weekend, for instance, you can still catch the Behaviour re-run of last year’s Fringe First award winner from Dublin, Lippy, at the Citizens’ Theatre; next weekend, there’s Ishbel McFarlane’s new reflection on the Scots language, O Is For Hoolet, at the Arches before a Traverse run the following week. The Festival offers a chance to see brand new work from Arches stars Peter McMaster and Nic Green (Green offers a pre-election reflection on Cock And Bull, on 6 May), and to catch up on two brilliant Edinburgh Fringe monologues of 2014, in Chris Thorpe’s mighty Confirmation, and Christopher Brett Bailey’s electrifying This Is How We Die. And Behaviour 15 ends with a two-day event based on the Wellcome Foundation’s current Sexology exhibition. Are our futures bleak, and our civilisation facing collapse? Then at least, before the end, we can do some walking and holding with Glasgow performance artist Rosana Cade; or join Lois Weaver’s Intergenerational Long Table, On The Weird And Wonderful World Of Sex.
Arches Behaviour Festival runs until 17 May; details <http://www.thearches.co.uk/events/arts/behaviour-festival-2015>