mon 27/06/2022

Architecting, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Architecting, Barbican

Architecting, Barbican

Highly talented experimental company TEAM explore the American psyche

There’s always a danger that when one raves about a play at the Edinburgh Fringe, seeing it a year later in another theatre and with a slightly different staging can be a disappointment. But that’s not the case with Architecting, a devised piece by New York-based ensemble the TEAM in a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland. I still think it’s overlong and there’s too much going on in a complicated melding of several story strands in different time frames, but again it thrills as a committed, energetic piece of intelligent theatre.

The TEAM (Theatre of the Emerging American Moment) are a young experimental theatre group of writers and actors under the direction of Rachel Chavkin. They first performed at the 2005 Fringe with Particularly in the Heartland, whose starting point was The Wizard of Oz (1939); similarly Architecting is at least in part inspired by Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. As interpreters of the American psyche, then, the highly talented TEAM know that to understand the present we need to examine the past, and that in today’s western world the lines between fact and fiction are increasingly blurred.

It was while the TEAM were in Edinburgh in 2005 that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. A kernel of an idea became a scratch piece at the Battersea Arts Centre in London the following year and a fully formed (and award-winning) play at the Traverse at the 2008 Fringe. Architecting explores the parallels between the physical reconstruction of a city after a cataclysmic act of Nature and the emotional reconstruction of a country after human conflict (the American Civil War) - and, more pertinently, the continuing failure of both endeavours.

The Pit stage is made up like a New Orleans bar, where the owner, Melly (Jill Frutkin), is struggling to stay open in the aftermath of Katrina. Also in the bar are historian Henry Adams (of the presidential line, played with great warmth by Jake Margolin), painstakingly making a paper reconstruction of Chartres Cathedral, and Margaret Mitchell (played with likeable wit by Lana Lesley), who says with languid sarcasm at one point, “I didn't know the South lost the war until I was 10 years old.”

In comes New York architect Carrie (the excellent Libby King), attired in a sharp business suit and carrying an eviction notice so that her company can start building a private estate in an ersatz Southern style that enrages Mitchell, as the “mansion-plexes” incorrectly have columns. But Carrie is less interested in historical accuracy than turning a fast buck; not for the first time, we learn there’s money in destruction.

Other stories concern a young woman (Kristen Sieh), who meets her Rhett Butler (Frank Boyd) on her way to a Scarlett O’Hara pageant, and a hilariously wrong-headed, cynical remake of Gone With the Wind (the original 1939 film itself being an sanitised version of the book, which used the “n” word without embarrassment); they are interwoven with music, video inserts and wonderfully balletic physical theatre. The audience have to be on their toes too, as the action is quickfire and the cast of six all play more than one role. And, although it has added to the play’s length (nearly three hours), this production benefits from a development of Carrie’s character. She now forms the moral heart of the play as we see her begin to discover a conscience.

Architecting is by turns funny and serious, elegiac and romantic, touching and tough, and if it made its points less repetitively and more succinctly, it would be even more stunning as a piece of highly original theatre.

  • Architecting continues at the Barbican, London until 14 November, Book here. Then at Culturgest, Lisbon 23-25 November. Information

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