Mayfest Review: imitating the dog and Pete Brooks – Kellerman

kellerman image

Imitating The Dog & Pete Brooks

Bristol Old Vic Theatre Royal
11-13th May

3 Stars - Good

Reviewed by Michael David Jones for

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I am immediately put in mind of the work of theatre auteur Katie Mitchell during Kellerman, a new work by Imitating The Dog & Pete Brooks currently showing at the Bristol Old Vic. Mitchell employs cinematic live camera-work in her multimedia performances along with live sound which is created by the performers on stage using simple props to surprising effect; unlike Kellerman, which is totally pre-recorded.

The central theme of Kellerman is reminiscent of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 psychosis, exploring the mindset of madness through dreamlike imagery and cyclical repetition of key motif. The plot reminds me of any number of films (Memento, The Fall) where scenes are shown out of chronological order and the viewer gradually fed snippets of story to piece together.

As the play begins, lead male Harry is receiving psychiatric treatment in a hospital and believes he has both a wife and child, whom his psychiatrist is keen to point out do not exist. As the play shifts through various time periods, Harry’s lover Amy is a recurring character recognisable in each era by the unifying red colour of the outfits she wears. The psychiatrist also plays a key role, at times appearing as a devil upon Harry’s shoulder as well as his sympathetic shrink.

To its credit, Kellerman employs an impressive two story set, moving stage components and extensive use of complex projection. The story is mostly told through film and all vocal is pre-recorded, a massive flaw which leaves the actors as passive objects miming to the soundtrack. Lead character Harry drifts about the stage in sackcloth clothing, occasionally trudging towards the audience on an treadmill built into the set with an animated backdrop of cartoon corridors that would seem more at home in 1993 first person shooter “Doom”.

Harry is not particularly like-able as the lead role, probably due to the denial of all sense of liveness as he mimes to the overacted voice-over. On the subject of the vocal performances, an array of infuriating cockney accents can be sampled during the play; at times feeling that the director has invited Kate Nash and Lily Allen as guest performers.

I want to care for the storyline and I feel sorry for the underused actors, who have little to do than perform as puppets during the filmic elements. I wonder as to the wisdom of the elaborate staging might feel more engaged in a stripped back version of the play in which the actors are allowed to speak and engage with the text and perhaps the audience.

A scene with a bicycle and the clever alteration of perspective during a scene at a dinner table make good use of the complex staging, which often feels more distracting than useful to the plot. These moments do little to distract from the oddly processed film footage, the cartoonish graphic style of which only serves to muddy the footage and further disengage the audience from the action.

I am left with an unsatisfying piece of theatrical cinema, which appears to serve more the folly of the designer than the basic needs of an audience. Whilst the setting is neatly stylised it does not lend itself to engaging storytelling and is never used in a way which is particularly innovative nor beautiful.

I am hugely impressed with the company’s attempt to invigorate the theatrical experience using ambitious staging and am sadly disappointed that the result is less interesting than it should by rights be. The execution of the moving set design is very slick and should be applauded and further developed in future works, as an aid to storytelling rather than a story in itself.

Michael David Jones