"No-one is who they are. They are talking to someone miles away."
Gob Squad have been devising, directing and performing together since 1994 working where theatre meets art, media and real life. Their latest show, Western Society was performed at Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery as part of neat14. Their company, as a whole group, includes Simon Will, Sarah Thom and Sharon Smith, now professional performers and former graduates Nottingham Trent University Creative Arts BA Hons degree. The brilliant video and technical work is by another former graduate from the same degree course - Miles Chalcraft. Sound design was by Jeff McGrory with technical co-ordination and lighting design by Chris Umney.
For 'Western Society' Gob Squad take a short and potentially boring Youtube video of a family house party where the guests are filmed tightly clustered around a settee in particular modes and through this genesis expand the concept of personalities and their relationships and their deepest desires and fears. The four players arrive in a state of nudity, dress up in bling and glittery outfits, speak directly to the audience and to each other using their real names and take the audience on a journey where seven lucky members can actually participate with them on stage. They may be asked (through headphones) to dance like the Granny character, to eat cake, to change the music and therefore the tone of the piece, pretend to drink beer from a bottle or to kiss a member of the cast. And as the piece turns from fun to personal intensity they may even be asked to be Mum and Dad to one of the characters as she is asked deeply personal questions. None of this done to humiliate the participatory or non participatory audience members but to empower them and take them beyond their normal role as a passive spectator. The packed audience at Nottingham Contemporary loved it and clearly Gob Squad have built up a fantastic reputation for inter-active and semi improvised work.
The piece includes characters based on 'given' names for the unknown figures that people the original video and they are 'next to remote', 'remote control man', 'granny', 'karaoke man', 'he dances with granny', 'cake lady', 'white cap boy' and 'girl with phone'. The four actors in this production for neat14 are Simon Will, Damian Rebgetz , Sarah Thom and Tatiana Saphir. All have an easy and funny repartee with the audience and a brave approach to devising and performance. Coming away from the production many of the audience chatted with the cast and the words 'clever and funny' were predominant in the conversations. Clever indeed.
For twenty years Gob Squad have been searching for new ways to combine media and performance and the use of audio and video technology plays a prominent role in their work with the result that alienated forms of intimacy have become a central theme.