Sunday, May 22, 2016

Life out of the box

Mayfest - ten days when Bristol claims 'the city is our stage' with drama in 20 venues for this celebration of 'work that pushes hard at what theatre can be - from artists who are being brave and brilliant and doing that with skill, style, power and wit.'  It's a terrific-looking programme and I'd like to have seen everything but, as always, there's so much happening ~ in Frome this week we had two artist's talks, a council consultation meeting with local performers, and a wicked Grain Bar Session from fantastic Captain Cactus and the Screaming Harlots.
So it wasn't until Friday (sadly clashing with Party in the City, Bath's biggest night of free music) I arrived at Bristol Old Vic having chosen Opening Skinner's Box from Improbable'a whistle-stop tour of the scientific quest to make sense of what we are and who we are.'   As my recent TV viewing was mostly BBC4's The Brain and E4's Big Bang Theory, this looked like one for me. Directors Phelim McDermott & Lee Simpson took their 'compendium of cautionary tales' from the same-name book by popular psychologist Lauren Slater and some reviewers felt they didn't take it far enough. True, it's not so much a show as a lecture: the five actors though charming are interchangeable voices, and if you don't mind missing mimes of monkeys you don’t need to look at the stage at all. But I found it gripping drama, and totally fascinating. Much of the psychological research is familiar territory ~ those terrible tests to prove babies can't thrive without touch, and to show that compliance to authority will turn people into torturers ~ but there's something profound and poignant about our obsession with that bit of pinky-grey flesh called the hypocampus where emotion and memory lurk. How do we select our memories anyway, or do we live our hypothetical lives imagining everything?  Like I said, fascinating...

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