Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Motor Show, Greenwich Pennisula

Review: Motor Show, Greenwich Pennisula

A patch of gravelly urban outland, ringed with wire-fencing, serves as a stage in Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg’s latest dance and soundscape piece. Cars become characters, peeping out from a graffitied wall of corrugated iron or turning reckless donut rings that send clouds of dust drifting in the wind. Motor Show is a Monster Truck spectacular with Nissan Multis for protagonists and David Lynch at the helm.

As in Electric Hotel, we watch at one remove – here distance rather than glass – with sounds fed through wireless headphones to collapse the distance. As a car pulls up, we hear its stereo blaring. We hear each window winding down and each key in the ignition. The experience remains disjointed, slightly out of sync but always close enough to pass. Volume and tone feels artifical and pristine, and the pre-recorded mode gives reality the slick post-production gloss of cinema.

Behind this disused car lot, silhouetted against a baby blue and streaky peach sunset, are the corporate towers of Canary Wharf. They are imposing and swish, conceited and conservative; a world away from this vaguely lawless, vaguely romantic dirt-track.

It exists outside of the clutches of compliant capitalism that rules the nearby city and it draws those who need its shadows to exist. More than the Electric Hotel before it, this is a non-space governed by anonymity. We know its workings because we’ve seen it in a thousand movies.

It’s the spot where you’re spat out of John Malkovich and the stretch of desert road where break downs are inevitable. It’s No Country for Old Men and the canal banks of A Clockwork Orange. It’s the Elephant Graveyard and Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island. It’s the ideal location for shallow graves. It’s a dogger’s paradise.

What Requardt and Rosenberg do so well is amplify the heartbeat of this site. Through a series of fuzzy and surreal vignettes, they draw out its menace and its own peculiar bliss. Here, where the usual social structures can’t get you, there’s both freedom and fear. You’re outside the reach of the law, but also outside its protection. The atmosphere created is extraordinary: it’s Americana on tap, but blended with the dystopian Londons of J.G. Ballard and Philip Ridley, which themselves nod towards Hollywood tropes.

Two teenage lovers, perfectly naïve, pull up in a car and pash, twisting over each other in the front seats and springing out of the windows. They’re followed by two identical cars and couples; echoes perhaps or an identikit generation? A gang screeches in and bundles out, hoodlums that take pipes to abandoned cars. A schoolgirl hops out of a boot – a latter day Red Riding Hood in her own little world – watched by a predatory suited loner. A limo, ambassadorial flags flickering on the bonnet, parades down, unfurling a fleet of feathered showgirl types. A deer carcass stands up and takes its revenge.

Over an hour, these costume characters and more pass each other by, occasionally entwining in one combination or another. It’s transfixing and hallucinogenic and ticklish, but the whole lacks a sense of progression or development. Its images suggest story, but steer clear of narrative. Hypnotic and humorous though it is, Motor Show struggles to sustain itself for an hour as anything more than a swirling screensaver. The refusal to ever confirm the relationships between its various fictions – that schoolgirl goes with deer seems happenstance before well-matched inevitability – isn’t so much frustrating as deflating. Eventually, the whole just loses its novelty.

Compared to Electric Hotel’s verticality, it suffers from its horizontal layout. Rather than towering over you, it stretches out before you and so shrinks into a model village. Again, that serves to elevate the cinematic, but it also dilutes the atmosphere. Nothing’s as romantic or troubling in miniature.

Yet, there’s real originality here too; not least formally. You can quite happily spend an hour lost in Requardt and Rosenberg’s world, as it twists into new combinations. You just emerge with very little to show for it beyond a vague sense of delight.

Photograph: Susanne Dietz

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