Centrefold: Full Marx for trying: Volcano Theatre's homage to Communism

Clare Bayley
Monday 13 June 1994 23:02
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How would you transform the collected writings of Marx and Engels into a piece of physical theatre? It's hard to imagine the dream ballet sequence from Das Kapital, or a pas-de-deux representing the Marxist dialectic. Volcano Theatre has never shrunk from wrestling with unlikely sources: Medea: Sexwar, for example, was inspired by the SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto and a reworking of the Medea story by Tony Harrison, and the basis for their new show, Manifesto, is The Communist Manifesto.

But apart from the question of how, is the question why? Paul Davies, compiler of Manifesto and an 'old William Morris type of Communist', explains. 'After Medea:Sexwar we felt we wanted to open the agenda on which our work was set beyond the terrain of sexual politics. Communism was the last grand narrative to cover all the questions - metaphysical, sexual and political. I think the whole experience of Communism is going to bypass us in this country - all we'll be left with is Churchill's Iron Curtain idea. But you can't ditch 70 years of human history.'

Davies' homage to a great ideological system is by no means a dry or turgid thing, and he sees no contradiction in the physical approach. 'The failure of the revolution was not a failure to produce the hamburger, it was a failure of ideology. People in Britain still think you can get to the political process purely with words. But history isn't necessarily a rational process. What I'm after in this show is capturing the spirit of revolution, a time when people didn't believe that Communism equalled steel production, but remaking society and individuals, a spritual and social revolution. With physical theatre we try to seduce an audience as well as engaging in a purely rational way'.

Volcano is not so simplistic as to be offering a 'for or against' critique of Communism, and nor do they expect audiences to identify the mixture of philosophers (Marx and Engels), poets (Mayakovsky), writers (Koestler) and economists (Von Mises and Kolakowski) cited during the show. 'Socialism is about levelling up, not down, and that applies to our work,' says Davies. 'Tony Harrison's view is that people pick things up subliminally from rhyming verse, and it's the same with this. We expect everything from our audience.'

BAC, Lavender Hill, SW11 (071-223 2223) Tue-Sat 8pm, Sun 6pm until 3 July

(Photograph omitted)

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