Review: More Soup and Tart at Barbican Theatre

Performance: 15 April 2011
Reviewed by Katerina Pantelides - Monday 18 April 2011

More Soup and Tart, Barbican Theatre. Frauke Requardt's 'Episode' and Holly Slingsby.

_*More Soup and Tart* _was curator Rosie Cooper’s ambitious attempt to recreate conceptual artist Jean Dupuy’s marathon of two-minute performances at The Kitchen, an interdisciplinary arts venue in Downtown New York on November 30, 1974. The event accompanied the Barbican’s current exhibition Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown and Gordon Matta-Clark, Pioneers of the Downtown scene, New York 1970s, which explores the work of practitioners who sought to revitalise downtrodden urban areas through their art.

Art Rite Magazine described the original Soup and Tart as having ‘the feel of a neighbourhood circus, or a court entertained by lively jesters’. That evening’s experimental medley, which challenged the boundaries between theatre, performance art and street revelry included the earliest additive compositions of Philip Glass, radical choreography by Charles Atlas and Yvonne Rainer, and Gordon Matta-Clark’s carving of a house from cake.

Cooper’s venture certainly resembled Dupuy’s in many ways: it took place at another interdisciplinary arts centre, the Barbican; it reproduced The Kitchen’s light fare of vegetable soup and apple tart and incorporated contributions from some of the most renowned contemporary choreographers, artists, film-makers and actors including choreographer Rosemary Butcher and Turner Prize winner Martin Creed. However, in the Barbican’s darkened theatre the circus-like impulsiveness and energy that characterised the 1974 marathon never materialised, as one seemingly lacklustre act followed another. Whimsical character acts including a guitar-playing lobster (Edwina Ashton), a china-smashing Minotaur in a cocktail dress (Holly Slingsby) and a nose-picking puppet (Tom Woolner) were juxtaposed with filmed and live witticisms on life, art and dreaming and dying in America. Yet despite this extensive thematic range, the majority of acts were characterised by a combination of cheap slapstick humour and blandness: Creed’s musings accompanied by guitar strumming and the projection of a naked breast in Pass Them On was a prime example of this.

Choreographically, the production was thin. In the first half Frauke Requardt’s_ Episode featuring high-kicking clowns in orange curly wigs seemed jaunty after a series of static acts, but a lack of sharpness rendered it superficial. Rosemary Butcher’s _One Island, where fragmentary body parts sailed onto projected screens, also felt like a curtain warmer, unsuited to the two-minute time-span which did not allow for the piece to develop. Only a brief filmed vignette of Michael Clark electrifying the stage in his 1984 performance of *The Lay of the Land* commanded the audience’s full attention – giving a glimpse of the vitality that was desperately lacking from the evening.

While a unique historical moment such as the original Soup and Tart performance marathon could be logistically recreated, replicating the spirit of the time in the Barbican’s black box auditorium proved near impossible: the acts, having the ad hoc quality of street performance without its capacity to inspire and delight, only procured an occasional guffaw from the audience. It was not until performance artist Tim Etchells’s _*And Counting* _towards the end of the evening where the audience had to think of a number between one and sixty and shout ‘now’ when they had counted up to it, that they became truly engaged.

Perhaps if the acts had been incorporated into the exhibition space where spectators could interact with them their leisure and experience them in the context of performance in urban space the evening may have been more successful. Indeed, a more authentic impression of 1970s Downtown action can be viewed at the exhibition itself, where a re-enactment of Trisha Brown’s extraordinary, gravity-defying Walking on the Wall (a dance originally performed on Manhattan fire escapes and flat roofs) is staged, alongside other daring performances.

*Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown and Gordon Matta-Clark, Pioneers of the Downtown scene, New York 1970s is on at the Barbican Centre in London EC2 until May 22, 2011. www.barbican.org.uk

Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s is on at the Barbican Gallery, London EC2 until May 22, 2011.

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