Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Home of the Wriggler, BAC Burst Festival

Review: Home of the Wriggler, BAC Burst Festival

Published on Culture Wars, 21.05.2009

Its component parts exploded and dissected like an Airfix diagram, an image of a machine – perhaps an engine – looms large at the back of the stage. Each cog or structure is numbered so as to correspond to the eighty-seven names that somehow serve as dislocated labels. There are three Tippers, two Siddhus and one Anthony ‘Tony’ Blair. Each stands alone yet remains interconnected: part of a whole reliant on each and every one.

Irregularly, these names pop up in stories, or rather fragments – no, smoother than fragments; nuggets – told by four performers. Akram is a smooth, over-gelled salesman shifting cars by the dozen; Mary works in a call centre, guiding road users through a series of onscreen prompts; Karl waits in his car on the motorway, longing for release through a collision that never comes. It is a web of humanity through which we are guided like a roving camera, repeatedly distracted by minor players that become momentary protagonists.

Home of the Wriggler breathes life into the embers of community. Inspired by the insolvency of MG Rover of 2005 and the subsequent dissolution of Longbridge car manufacturing plant in Birmingham, Stan’s Cafe mourn a past more honest, more human, before community was surpassed by communication. They paint a picture of Hovis advert England, jarringly scattered with cluttered items of modern, mobile technology. It is an industrial Under Milk Wood; Birmingham’s own cheery, cheeky Road.

Its neatness comes from using manually powered lighting, tidily tying form and content together. The whir of cycles and hand cranks forms a constant backdrop, as performers appear in the dim, flickering glow to rekindle a blackout spirit of togetherness. Simultaneously serving as a celebration of the worker bee, where the arm that turns the machine is as crucial as its very invention, the honesty of their effort is a lament at the ease of modern life, a reminder of the good that comes from getting out what you put in.

At times, however, Stan’s Cafe are guilty of the sepia sentimentality they seek to avoid, primarily due to a mode of performance that insists on demonstrating and signposting its apparent playfulness. The pretence of discovery is overly-evident, slapping forced faux-play on material better treated as matter of fact. Indeed, when Home of the Wriggler accepts and utilizes its own fixedness, particularly in the echoing gestures of individual routines such as the haulier’s daily steering-wheel salute, the words gain genuine life.

Though it may get over-excited and misty-eyed about its content, Home of the Wriggler is a fitting tribute to a fading England of industry and community.

Photograph: Stan’s Cafe

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