Theatre review: Maladaptation

by **


“Watch me live, watch me try to live, watch me.” We do, confronting though it is, in Tristan Watson’s original play whose title conjures the predicament in which man-kind finds themselves when adaptation, even if once thought astute, goes wrong.

The central character, heeding the bird that in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets said: Go, go, go, human kind/Cannot bear very much reality, slips back into his (day)-dream, like a bubble pistoned through a membrane. Only this adaptation, when we encounter it, that must for a time have been a reprieve from the physical world, has already gone bad.

He stumbles across the stage, as if in a trance, undertaking a series of routine movements, which are repeated for no obvious purpose. He slithers and he crawls, is poised then falls, and then in the grey, chilly space that is his parallel universe, Watson himself in the richly-created role works up a positive sweat, like ectoplasm, before being swallowed up by the man’s mind.

This is a fascinating and evocative, if rather loamy, meditation on coping mechanisms and excesses and reality, made all the more potent by Lyndon Chester’s textured soundscape, so extraordinary it seems to be the choreographer that informs the actor’s organic expression. The lighting too is effective, illuminating the wild eyes and the sinews and slapping frustrations.

But all these would be a scatter of unjoined dots without Watson’s exceptional performance. Compelling and empathetic, he forces us to acknowledge what it is really like when we wallow in things contrived to save us from apparent dissatisfaction, to recognise the delusional self-image we mould for ourselves in those scenarios, the way we become enslaved to new protocols, not least the violent desperation when we attempt and fail to get out — be it a dream, an unsustainable environment, or perhaps more pertinent today, our virtual persona(s).