THEATRE: Hamster alert

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The Independent Culture
The People Show 103 Arnolfini, Bristol

Did The People Show 103 really cause unwarranted psychological distress to a cute white hamster? When they attached the electrodes to the leaves of the potted palm trees and the sound system began to emit a series of electronic bleeps, were they really sampling their screams? Like almost everything else in the evening's entertainment, it was difficult to tell. As the performers left the stage and the pot plants continued to bleep, we were left sitting there like so many lemons. With no curtain calls and no opportunity for the mutual reassurance of applause, we had unwittingly become that classic stooge of Sixties alternative theatre or performance art: the insulted audience. As we gradually realised the show was over and began to file out, all that was left on stage was the video image of Mark Long relayed from the bar downstairs, where he was enthusiastically advising his newly arrived fellow performers to drink as much as they could.

Formed 31 years ago as probably the first performance art company in this country, the People Show has sometimes seemed to get by on the wing and a prayer of whimsical Surrealism conjured up from the slenderest of means. This at least has changed, and although the old standbys of saxophone doodlings from founder-member George Khan (who played beautifully) remain, as does the enigmatic presence (or absence) of Long, they've taken a leaf from Ravy Davey Gravy's book and are now kicking it large on a techno tip. The main thrust of this performance came courtesy of two DJs, one audio and one video, with the people in The People Show 103 playing a relatively small part. Most of the show was driven from the two darkened consoles where sound and pictures were mixed, often to quite stunning effect. A collage of increasingly bizarre dance-music samples provided an appropriately alienating soundtrack for the action.

This show makes much of video material generated especially for each venue, and panoramas of Bristol were followed by a feature for Khan's free-jazz sax, voiceovers about life in prison, and live projections of spontaneous video sculptures where a series of objects on a revolving turntable was filmed in close-up. When a cardboard container replaced the turntable and the screens showed the aforementioned hamster scurryingly madly while someone drilled holes in the box with a Black and Decker, it was slightly worrying, especially as this was the only moment when any kind of intellectual or moral response seemed possible. While the People Show is a national treasure and their new show a wonderful departure into state-of-the-art multimedia, whether it's worth even one second of discomfort to a hamster is debatable. An hour and a half's alienation for a paying audience, is of course, more than welcome.

'The People Show 103' visits The Maltings, Berwick on Tweed (01289 330999) on Fri; The Zap Club, Brighton (01273 709709) Fri 2, Sat 3 May; CCA, Glasgow (0141-332 0522) Fri 9, Sat 10 May

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