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We Are Not Cakes
Camden People's Theatre
22nd August 2014


Publicity image for We Are Not Cakes

Photography provided by The Mist Theatre Company

It wasn't that long ago that we declared we'd found the edgiest show in the Camden Fringe with Le Jet de Sang. The trouble with making a statement like that is another show invariably comes along and blows it out of the water. The Mist Theatre Company's We Are Not Cakes is 60 minutes of Oberiu inspired performance - "avant-garde" does not begin to cover it.

Performers Lily Hannah Priggs, Vicky Hancock and Gavin Fowler have all devised this piece together, with Hancock responsible for the circus-style sad clown costumes. The trio take us through lots of folksy Russian short stories, spinning tales with spoken word, live music and even burlesque. With this being a rather anarchic style of theatre, what is presented to us is deliberately overwhelming and bizarre.

From pseudo-burlesque stripping to melancholy Slavic puppetry, the gamut of media covered is (probably deliberately) eclectic to say the least, although some devices make reappearances, such as the repeated attempted rolls of red-lit Russian roulette, and the daring anger in the faces of Priggs and Fowler, which straddle both sides of the line between "awkward" and "intimidating" whenever they glare out at the audience creating feelings of both fear and amusement.

The performers certainly aren't afraid to show off, either. Fowler provides various levels of musical accompaniment to various bits of singing from Priggs, and the leotards in the "Moustache Ballet" leave little to the imagination. If you want to join in with anything, you probably want to sit front and centre, but I must warn you: make sure you can unfasten a bra competently with plenty of people looking at you.

The message I took from this, after some thought, is that The Mist Theatre Company want to deliberately challenge the status quo of the emergent Russian/Soviet paradigm of machinistic control and uniformity. This message is chaotic, however, as although it successfully flies in the face of uniformity, there is no specific target - it just flies in the face of order and sense. Also, one might feel that the message is far less relevant in 2014, and without the context of Soviet Russia and all its cultural stranglehold on the population.

The Oberiu movement never managed to quite take off, partly due to the rate of change of Russian culture, but partly because other movements were growing up with the same aims, and doing it more successfully. The political imprisonment of artists did not help, and of course there was the fact that World War II claimed the lives of 25 million Russians, including the main perpetrators of Oberiu in the Siege of Leningrad. It could be argued the movement was a victim of circumstance, that never got a chance to thrive, but the art that it created is certainly an acquired taste.

Maybe I'm too mainstream to really appreciate We Are Not Cakes, but I can certainly vouch for the surrealism of the piece. If you like your theatre full of anarchy, you'll certainly find this your cup of tea, but if you're the more traditional type, just stay at home and have a cuppa: it's not for you.

We Are Not Cakes opened on 22nd August and runs until 24th August 2014 at Camden People's Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Warren Street (Northern, Victoria)

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