You can sense when you’ve got a hot ticket – there’s the kind of buzz and anticipation there was at The MAC upstairs just before choreographer Eileen McClory's brilliant GUTTER opened on a Sunday matinee, not the most arty time of day. This was a genuine Festival tour de force with Kevin Coquelard nailing McCloryr's complex piece of dance theatre as the universal TV presenter, Host, who’s told what to say and gives us what the bosses think we want. It’s all about manipulation and infotainment. From the start, our suited, nervous anchorman was compelling. He danced, literally, to the producer’s tune, smiling with his elbow, showing nerves, confidence, different laughs, the gamut of TV presenting from A to about Y or Z.
Our sympathy waxes and wanes with Mr TV who may be presenting the kind of US, celebrity obsessed and influenced news we’re growing used to. In fact, fake news – and we see and hear the context of this in the course of the show – has been around a while. The term was first used in the late nineteenth century, pre-Trump. As Host’s career progresses, he starts to believe his own publicity and one of the most entertaining sequences involved Coquelard virtually making love to himself via the camera. The details and acting were superb, believable as the screen gave us gushing hashtags about Host being the greatest and having total wisdom.
Then, inevitably, Host’s career, life, mental state speeded up and he reached meltdown. In an incredible scene, set to a favourite Loony Tune, Coquelard recites a list of foreign and home countries, everywhere you’ve ever heard of and can’t always find on the map. North America…Sweden, Denmark… He twists and turns in the spotlight, sweats, climbs on the table and moves inexcorably forward to engage, as always, us, the willing victims too, his audience.
There was a chastening section showing misogyny and the unfortunate, outdated attitudes of inter alia the great, late Michael Parkinson who famously quizzed Helen Mirren on whether her physical assets got in the way of the roles. She soon put him right, but this sense that the media barons are giving us what we what, even if half the population might not appreciate the emphasis, was salutary. Then Host’s popularity shifts, wanes, turns to calls for resignation eventually.
The ending is ambivalent or yet another piece of manipulation. There is a kind of death, an ending anyhow, then Host taunts us a little. He disappears, it’s over and a most sophisticated, European seeming and thought provoking entertainment is at an end. This show should travel, maybe to North America next year for the Presidential election where with maybe a tiny bit of additional material, it should be a genuine hit. As Walter Raleigh, even earlier than Donal Trump, put it, it isn’t truth that can travel without a passport, but opinion. The hit, of course, is on us.