Geoff Sobelle and Charlotte Ford in 'Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl'. All photos by Jacques-Jean Tiziou (www.jjtiziou.net).
Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl: a comedy about human extinction
21st January, 2011
Now showing as part of London's International Mime Festival, Flesh and Blood is about two office workers becoming feral. It's absurd yet its ecological messages are clear, says Matilda Lee
In this dark comedy, two office workers begin a seemingly typical day of paper-pushing and other depressing office gestures to pass the time. Anyone who has had suffered a boring day at the office will feel sympathy for them, as frustrated and pathetic as they are. 'Jerry' plays tic-tac-toe with post-it notes while 'Rhoda' privately indulges in a bag of crisps, weighing each one individually before carefully putting it in her mouth.
The power struggle between them - Rhoda is an administrative assistant (‘I am not a secretary,' she yells) Jerry, a power-hungry mid-manager culminates in an office tryst in a wheelie bin. And then strange things start to happen. Grass shoots through the filing cabinet, a badger appears on top of the shelves and Jerry announces, ‘Rhoda, there's a horse in the office' a ridiculous phrase in itself and it is clearly not a horse, but a big-horned sheep.
Jerry gets attacked by a bear, Rhoda is showered with foliage and they both are eventually swallowed up by nature, which seems, in an act of revenge, to have come back to reclaim the office space. The whole thing is absurd, but the ecological themes stand out. There are obvious parallels with human society's relationship with nature. In a larger sense, it's a comedy about human extinction.
The Ecologist had a quick chat with Geoff Sobelle, who, with partner Charlotte Ford, are Philadelphia-based theatre artists.
What do you want viewers to walk away with?
Geoff: We don't have a political or philosophical agenda for the show. At the outset, we are not scientists or ecologists, we are barely artists - we are clowns. For me, it's entertainment. I want people to have a good time. If there's a pause for thought or some kind of stutter in their daily life, that's great.
What was your inspiration?
Geoff: The initial inspiration was a philosophical inquiry into the concept of time. Living by the clock, obviously a human manifestation, as opposed to God time, or call it what you will. The human species functions on a different sense of time than, say, a mountain being formed or continents drifting or planets moving.
It's easy to get sucked into your own myopic narrow view of reality. That's the major schema and then you can keep breaking that down into the human ability to ignore anything that's not in our immediate periphery- call that another co-worker, state of the world, even your own health and well-being.
As we were working within that theme, eventually the office as a space and landscape, distinctly human landscape and we became aware of images that have come out of Cherynobl - these remarkable images of a space reclaimed, we were responding to the images of things like an abandoned office with a cup of coffee - the real ‘get out now' environment - with a tree growing in the middle of the office. These stories of bears and birds and cats reintroduced to the area and that showed no signs of radiation - which is not the case of human beings in neighbouring towns - it's not like all is well and good. You look at a sight like that and it's not hard to imagine a doomsday scenario of a possible extermination of mankind. That's everybody's worry, right?
What's interesting to me, is the notion that life goes on. Maybe not life as we know it, but it does go on.
So nature wins?
It's a hardy planet even though we think of it as a fragile ecosystem. That's the weird conundrum: things are both fragile and strong at the same time.
It's about a moment of transition between two landscapes - one thing dying off and another thing taking root and going.
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