Zoo Southside is based in a large church which looks oddly 2D and cardboard-like from the street outside. Inside, the Zoo’s “cabaret bar” is forced to suffer the indignity of sharing its seating with a “community café” which opens for three hours a day and serves baked potatoes to pensioners and the generally clapped out. The cabaret bar looks as unhappy as a teenager who is forced to go shopping with his grandma. Yet only pensioners are around at this time of the day anyway. It is 1130am, most of the Fringe has not woken up yet, and I am here to see “Plastic Beach,” a new show from Exeter University’s Theatre with Teeth.
I had assumed that “Plastic Beach” was theatre, but it turns out to be “devised” “physical theatre” – mime with the odd word thrown in – a curiously sterile affair which does not so much involve acting or storytelling as simply organisation. There is a lot of hauling things about; the troupe of six are scrabbling everywhere at once, building scenes out of garbage and then tidying them up again immediately afterwards. It is a novelty to watch, but I suspect that if you saw too many of these “devised” shows your body would start to shut down, sinking into a protective coma.
The cast are wholly blank, as if they have each hollowed out their individuality for this greater purpose. None of them can dance, but even their listless unemotional dancing – which they all might have been taught at the same former polytechnic – is strangely standardised and uniform.
Actually, it is rather cute. They should really arrive in a tiny car and turn out one by one to silly wonky music. They henpeck one another about the details of their performance, as if they were building a play that they had purchased in Ikea. If a thought ever strikes them, it probably strikes all of them at exactly the same time. If one of them bangs their shin, they probably all feel the pain together. One imagines that they presently live in the same hotel room, tucked up together in the same big bed at night and brushing their teeth every morning in unison. Perhaps they are wedded, in some weird sort of civil partnership. A civil theatrical multiplicity.
They wheel about a gigantic piece of psychic apparatus and plug their skulls into a row of yellow caps which dangle from a washing line, no doubt to channel the spirit of an Indian chieftain or whatever it is that is behind this play. But there is a rag of a storyline. “Plastic Beach” is set in the 1990s – not at any point in the 90s, just the 90s indiscriminately. We are played Cornershop’s “Brim Full of Asha” and news reports from the Bosnian war. A ship has spilled its cargo of yellow bath ducks into the sea and a lonely beachcomber grows steadily demoralised as they all wash up on his beach. Countless bath ducks are spilled everywhere and then tidied up again. The cast probably regard these completely identical creatures with inexpressible envy.