Rough Trade
The Violent Romantics @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio
4:00pm, Sat 25 Feb 2012
I’d seen The Violent Romantics talk about their show at the Festival Fishbowl, and was left with conflicted expectations: the content of the show sounded really interesting, but the cast… they were so young. But the promise of staged ultra-violence – as well as a ticket already in hand – lured me into The Studio, to sit with a crowd of about twenty in front of a stage framed with cardboard boxes.
“Cool,” I thought to myself, “they must be there to cushion falls. This is going to be awesome.”
Four contestants – Stud, Tarry, Viktor, and new girl Dee – introduce themselves by holding up their “score cards”: names, level, and body count are all detailed in a perfunctory statistical layout. They’re all competing in an underground round-robin tournament that owes more than a little to Fight Club, goaded into battle by the manipulative Madam X, who films their bouts for an online audience… Tubs the cleaner adds levity to the experience.
As Madam X prods the emotional weak-spots of the contestants, accentuating conflict with fabrications – twisting Stud and Viktor’s relationship, for example, or allowing Tubs a chance to be “promoted” from cleaner to fighter (though why he would want to do so is beyond me). The fights themselves tend to appear almost as tightly choreographed dance pieces, with lifts and throws testing the performers; the rest of the performance is very shouty dialogue. The denouement – a noisy rabble of miscarriage and blood and hatred – is representative of the rest of the show…
…and I say that because it’s confused. Rough Trade can’t seem to decide whether it’s social commentary or fantasy narrative, theatrical fighting or dance; there’s all sorts of crippled characters on display, but the attempts to fill in their backstory – to create some sort of justification for why they’re at this Fight Club – feel flimsy and ill-considered. And there’s too many times when I found myself asking “why?”: the pregnant contestant. Tubs’ promotion. Madam X’s motivation. Stud’s… well, anything.
To be fair, the dancing is actually really quite dynamic and exciting – sure, it doesn’t create a realistic rendition of the violence that it represents, but nor is it supposed to. The problem is that these dances are simply too few and far between, and separated by periods of “why?” The idea of having characters softly chattering in the background needs re-visiting, too – it adds distraction, not ambience.
In all, Rough Trade reeks of an immature approach with both eyes on spectacle, with little regard for anything else… and I’m not sure that the spectacle itself is sufficient to warrant it.