Experiencing Radiohole’s Whatever, Heaven Allows was a riot on the senses. In my opinion the show was a writhing, churning, unholy mess of words, images, sound, jello, cheap beer, bad singing and bad acting. This was literally a sensory stampede whose actions and images had some lose association with the 1955 Douglas Sirk melodrama All That Heaven Allows. It was also a kitsch, campy critique of 1950’s America and its obsession with conformity.
Now some contemporary critics will argue that Sirk’s movie is itself a subtle critique of American conformity and not an endorsement but an exposure of the conservative cultural values critiqued by Radiohole. So you could view the performance as a totally blatant, clumsy, irreverent, critical deconstruction of a film that critiques American conformity and the show is, itself really a contemporary critique of theatrical conformity or conformity of representation.
Or maybe not, maybe we should just leave well alone and say it’s pointless to go into this discussion. Maybe its just best to follow the advice of Philip Bither the Walker’s Senior Performance Curator who advises audience members in the program to: ‘relax, go with the flow, not try too hard to understand everything [and] look for layers..’
And boy oh boy are there layers in this show!! Lots of ’em – gooey layers upon layers of stuff, to wade through. Like the Maori welcome dance (who saw that coming?) or the jello dump on Maggie Hoffman and the orbiting baseball-like slide entrances made by Eric Dyer. Junk literally on stage and in the performance for no real reason other than, I guess, someone in the cast wanted it in the show. So much junk that this show is…is …hard to encompass in any kind of description. In fact trying to articulate or say anything intelligent about the ravings of the Radiohole lunatics is, I think, a futile task. Which brings me to my only point here. That I think the group’s intent is to defy all meaning and choose to assault the audience with their ‘trash aesthetic’ – I’ve also heard their work called ‘punk aesthetic’.
This attitude and this work reminds me of accounts of the performances made by Dada artists such as Tristan Tzara at the celebrated Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in the early 20th century . The over the top use of meaningless, stream-of-consciousness flowery language (so reminiscent of Tzara’s 1921 play, ‘The Gas Heart’), the scatological sophomoric, humor; the-in-your-face sarcasm, violence and anger…shall I go on? In fact the peeing at the end of WHA?! could, I thought, be a direct reference to Oscar Kokoska’s famous peeing onstage in a Cabaret Voltaire show – which caused a riot. Also the Radiohole rejection of any kind of dramaturgy. The dramatic mayhem and defiant refusal to serve up any kind of dramatic structure that would provide comfort or support for an audience was supported by Maggie Hoffman proclaiming at one point that Radiohole are determined to resist making any meaning on stage. It all seemed like Dada art to me, with a splash of the contemporary generations’ love of media and gadgets. That’s my take on the whole sticky mess. Why subject us to this?
The Dada artists were revolting against social and artistic conformity in a world gone mad with the first world war. It was a response to time and place. The turn of the century saw an acceleration of technology along with a lot of death in the Great War, followed by the Spanish flu epidemic. Also, great empires were falling and dissolving: the Ottoman, the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian. In fact Russia was embroiled in revolution prior to the WWI carnage. All in all, it seemed like an appropriate response to social chaos and death on a massive scale. The Dada gesture was to meet chaos with chaos and declare art meaningless.
Are the Radiohole people saying something similar about the times we live in with their work ? Well this is a blog, and its getting late, tell me what you think?