The Radiohole show I saw last night was a royal, sticky mess. That’s what I loved about it.
Let’s just get this part out of the way. Radiohole’s Whatever, Heaven Allows uses the 1955 romance film All that Heaven Allows as a loose organizing framework. The original film was a criticism of 1950’s domestic life trapped inside a melodrama, and it has been the inspiration for a number of other films. It helps to know the basic plot elements, but since I haven’t seen the film, I’ll just parrot what I read online. An affluent widow, moving in country club circles, falls in love with her free-spirited gardener. She is intrigued by his romantic and fun-loving life, but their relationship is looked down upon by her friends and her nearly-grown children. She must choose between love and convention.
The Radiohole bunch take that original idea and just go haywire with it. They use an amplified, media-heavy approach with lots of beer and jello shots. In fact, sit up close and maybe you can snag a beer too, like the fellow I saw in the front row. It’s clever, funny, endlessly creative and without the self-important attitude that you so often get with this kind of show.
But a show like this can be a bewildering experience. Afterwards, I sat listening a group of college guys who had no idea what to make of it. So here’s my take on how to approach this kind of work. Just roll with it. Take five minutes and read about the film on Wikipedia, and you’ll be just fine. Don’t expect to understand plot or feel moved by character. Instead, just enjoy the chaos. Here and there the bones of the story will poke through, but that’s only part of the fun. If you know Jazz, think Charlie Parker. He would start with a famous melody and just riff on it until the original tune was unrecognizable. The point is to enjoy the riffing – how far into left field will they go, and then how will they get back? Look for the formal qualities of the work. How do they handle timing, pacing, and elements of surprise? Watch for the way they create patterns and then break them. See if you can catch how they present the obvious plot points in unexpected ways.
My favorite moments, in no particular order:
- A kissing scene, in which the rules for a proper stage kiss are described as the actors misbehave.
- An in-your-face cocktail party, toe-to-toe with the front row, that leaves everyone wet and filthy.
- The sticky sound of the actors’ boots on drying beer, and the giant squeegee used to wipe it up.
- A old-school sound effects record player on stage, operated by the actors themselves.
- Wrist-mounted wireless remote controls to change the stage environment.
- A wonderfully elegant hand-operated snow maker.
The show is short on things like “meaning” and can seem a bit random, but I found it full of surprises, playful, technically tight and never dull. See it if there are any tickets left.