The Fastest Train To Anywhere
The Flanagan Collective @ Gluttony – Carry On Theatre
10:30pm, Mon 27 Feb 2012
Sure, it’s Monday night, but it’s absolutely dead at Gluttony. There’s a dearth of people around as Joe and Veronica from The Flanagan Collective peer into the emptiness for the crowd that their show richly deserves.
But there’s basically no-one there. More accurately, there’s three paying punters. We park ourselves in the front row of the Carry On (a wide space with a creaky stage) and wait… soon a man, carrying a small suitcase and wearing a well-worn suit, quietly walks down the central aisle of the venue.
His hesitance – reluctance? – almost appears to make Him stumble as he climbs up onto the stage; He searches the space with no real sense of direction, and no sense of what He’s looking for. He looks at us blankly, but suddenly His eyes sparkle with returning memories that He begins to relay to us.
He (who is never named) is an ordinary working man. One day, on a whim, He boards a random train at King’s Cross Station without knowing the destination; He tells the Conductor that He wants to go Somewhere, but is told in return that this is the Anywhere train; it’ll take three months to get to Somewhere, but He can disembark at Leeds and wait for tomorrow’s Somewhere train.
But He sleeps through Leeds.
The resultant journey feels timeless. The train stops in Wheat Fields, where He and the shifting collection of other passengers watch giants work and play as they harvest ever-yielding fields of wheat. He decides to stay on top of the train as it speeds through snow and Atlantis, to the funeral of a Queen at Stonehenge, to a battle between Heaven and Earth, to the South Pole, to ride alongside princes on horseback in Cornwall…
But the journey is occasionally interrupted by the acknowledgement of His mobile phone. He is haunted by the connections that His phone represents: should he ring work to let them know He won’t be in? What excuse will He use? As the journey goes on, those thoughts turn more toward Home, and his Partner; the first missed call thoroughly throws Him, and leaves Him stumbling around the stage. Further missed calls eat into Him, distract Him from the fantasy that surrounds the journey.
Eventually the train drops Him off Here (or is it Somewhere? or is it Anywhere?); He is clearly distressed. His phone starts ringing; He’s terrified. It rings again… and again. He answers it…
Look – let’s get one thing straight. I absolutely adored this show. I was so swept up in the completely surreal experience that I forgot about everything else; Joe Hufton is utterly engrossing in his unnamed role, and Alexander Wright’s whimsical script has an almost runaway-train-like quality to it as it picks up pace, whipping the audience through more and more fantastic locations and situations before a tense finale.
But the script also feels massively abstract – I get the feeling that He was avoiding His place in the world, but there’s no concreting of that idea. In fact, most of the time I didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on, and that only encouraged me to fire off a twenty-questions e-mail to the Flanagan Collective to try and figure out the tightness of the scripting, and whether there was any significance in the sole speaking passenger on the train.
…and also to apologise for the paltry audience, and offer them moral support.
But in hindsight, I feel utterly blessed to have seen this performance within a graveyard-like Gluttony that evening; the Carry On offers no noise insulation whatsoever, and when I saw the show again a few days later, the sound bleed from other Gluttonous shows (and even the Fringe Club) tempered the atmosphere somewhat.
But on this evening, though… it was magical.