at Warwick Arts Centre, Tuesday 4th October 2011
Written for www.StageWon.co.uk
For the last half a century, the automobile has become synonymous with modern living, and its significance can be measured by the number of events in our lives which have been played out within these hurtling tin cans. It’s not a prophetic statement to suggest there is something extraordinarily romantic yet horribly unethical about cars, but this is pretty much what Al Dix’s half-installation, half-performance My Last Car spends seventy minutes trying to convince us.
Chris Hannon and Olwen May are the two performers showing us the variety of “human stories” which can be told by a singular car. The piece begins and ends with a father and daughter saying goodbye to their family car, with tales of love, crashes and inspiration in between. There are monologues performed with intrigue, but they lack a genuine heart. The tumult of facts and figures does nothing to stir us.
For all its promise of exploring the car as an object, Sarah Woods’ script darts from one idea to another without allowing each to breathe and settle. The issue is not with the text itself, but the desire to cover everything that the car stands for symbolically. Rather than picking on a few strands, we’re thrown around like a dummy in a crash-test vehicle. The lack of any kind of unity (except the obvious theme of automobiles) means it’s incredibly difficult to become emotionally engaged, and we never really question our own beliefs and experiences.
Al Dix’ direction fills the small space well, with Steve Gumbley and Bryan Tweddle’s set, made up of a car split into three parts, taking up half of the room. Dix seems to want to get out as many ideas as possible, but some charming presentational devices (such as projecting live images of miniature cars onto a screen) don’t really have any grounding in the overarching theme. The performances given by Hannon and May are engaging enough, and they grapple their multiple roles well, but ad-libbed asides to audience feel forced.
Shanaz Gulzar’s projected designs are strikingly haunting, reminding us how far we travel in cars and how our society has become saturated with motors. But when the performance ends, one can’t help thinking a simpler approach would have been far more satisfying.
The installation aspect is by far more successful. In the hours preceding the evening’s event we are able to amble around the performance space, which houses a car taken apart and strewn around the room with a story or fact attached to each separate piece. This is the project at its best; we are given time to stop and think, without being forced to go places which don’t seem important. 509 Arts display some touching thoughts here, but the lack of any kind of argument means our consideration of the topic never follows us out of the auditorium.