I have run along a beach, I have had waves wash over me, I have ridden roller coasters and I have had sex and I have even enjoyed some of these things. I did not enjoy Sleepwalk Collective’s Amusements.
The people I watched it with did enjoy it, though. Then, I spent a while looking at reviews from its previous performances, and it seems like a lot of other people really enjoyed it, too.
Amusements is a pretty girl in a very pretty dress speaking in a sultry voice into a microphone. The things she says are then tinkered with technologically and played through into headphones worn by audience members. She stands before the audience on a patch of fake grass under a lovely lighting design. I don’t remember very much of what she said because very little of it resonated with me, though I do remember that at one point they did some processing on her voice so she sounded like a man, and I remember fleeting descriptions of the things mentioned in the first paragraph.
Amusements plays with your senses. There are times when it is nearly pitch black, or the light is incredibly dim which makes your eyes constantly flicker to adjust, and other times when the audience is lit which pretty much always makes me uncomfortable. Then there’s the aforementioned headphones, through which we get a sound scape which is difficult to describe using words. It’s not really music, but it’s also sort of music. It’s quite tinny. I think.
In playing with your senses, Amusements is supposed to manipulate the way you feel throughout. I assume this because in the director’s notes posted on Facebook, it is described as ‘unapologetically manipulative’. It is also said to be ‘willfully elusive’. The elusiveness comes from the constant reminder that ‘none of this is real’. We are an audience watching some theatre and we all know that.
I found it so elusive that it failed to be manipulative, though. One of the people I watched it with said that he thought the text reeled off experiences, and though you don’t identify with all of them, a few will hit home and you’ll then allow the performer to have their way with your senses and you’ll run away with the emotions of the show. Returning to the fact I did not enjoy Amusements, this would mean that none of the experiences hit home and so I was left to sit and twiddle my thumbs for 45 minutes while everyone else went on an emotional journey. But I have had those experiences, so surely at least SOMETHING should have got me feeling something?
Maybe not. This could be because I have all the sensuality of cold spaghetti, so I lack the capacity to react appropriately. It could be that my attention span is a little worse for wear, and the pace of Amusements is not exactly riveting. In fact, this is probably my main issue with the show. It could be my disengagement, but the speed of the delivery felt GLACIAL, especially when I could sometimes tell what was going to happen. At one point our knickerless narrator begins ‘These… are… the… areas… most… sensitive… to… touch…’ and then gestures to her neck, the inside of her elbows and so on. As the owner of a human body, I KNO W she is going to touch her boobs and her crotch. Because this seemed obvious, it just frustrated me that she took such a long time to get round to it. I am sure if I had any semblance of sensuality I would find her pace emoted sexiness, but I don’t and so I didn’t. It just felt slow and boring and left me feeling as erotically charged as boiled cabbage.
Unlike those I was with (I think), I had seen a show with headphones before. Maybe I didn’t like Amusements because I didn’t use my headphones in a quest to save Christmas, or maybe it’s because it had the opposite effect that 59 Minutes had on me. 59 Minutes used headphones because it includes everyone equally in the action, regardless of closeness to the performers, and so creates a group that goes on a journey together. Amusements‘ use of headphones cuts everyone off from everyone else to the point of pure isolation (if you look at Dan Hutton’s blog you can get a much better description of this than I can offer). Even this isolation feels like my failing. Partly because because I enjoy the unity of theatre a little too much to be comfortable when it’s not present, and partly because I was unable to get over my previous experience of a part of the form to fully engage with a new piece. I was waiting to be told to run, to walk in an absurd manner or at least shout to assure Solano Arana that her knickers were actually lovely, because that’s what I expected when given headphones. An emotionally charged performance highlighting my own sensual inadequacy is just not the same thing. Although, I do feel a bit of the pre-show allowed me to indulge this run-around-jump-around-shout-around expectation: a card at my seat demonstrating the brace position and telling us to enjoy the ride. I assumed this was knowledge I would need but it wasn’t. I was a bit disappointed.
So, I have all these experiences that Amusements draws on but I just didn’t get on with it. I was a bit bored and a bit lost in previous productions. But I’ve decided that this is my problem because everyone else really liked it. If everyone else had disliked it I would’ve said I didn’t like it and blamed everything on Sleepwalk Collective. But everyone else did like it so I’ve blamed myself. It’s probably great and you’ll probably like it.