The fungi are taking over the asylum: ‘MUSH-ROOM’ (Grace Ellen Barkey & Needcompany)
‘What is the purpose of this gathering?’, one of the performers asked, at the beginning. Halfway through MUSH-ROOM, by Grace Ellen Barkey & Needcompany, I still hadn’t found a decent answer to that question. Sure: those giant, dangling mushrooms were wonderful to look at, and that music by American cult band The Residents gelled well with the weird, absurd and exuberant party I had been watching. But apart from that? MUSH-ROOM was dragging and the piece struggled to make it to the end.
MUSH-ROOM, by Grace Ellen Barkey, the self-proclaimed president of the movement against melancholia, starts off in a great way. As you’re taking your seat, you see strange objects, resembling giant cut-outs on stage, dangling from the ceiling. As the piece begins, the performers ‘open’ them up, one by one, and suddenly they look like giant paper lanterns. Mushrooms, of course. Up in the air they go, by means of a cunning system of pulleys. It’s an impressive view, and at several moments during the piece, those dancing mushrooms really prove to be amazing eye candy.
But a performance needs to be more than one great visual idea, more than an impressive decor. What was happening underneath those mushrooms, sort of disappointed me. Singing and dancing mushrooms (in black suits, wearing white caps) in a frenzy, trying to take over the world, and one guy (in a white suit) who in the end becomes a mushroom too? A wild, extravagant, irrational mushroomparty and a story taking silly turns? About the mushrooms forming a union with the trees, about the power of those growing and growing mushrooms, about their breath so potent that it can make the water of a lake evaporate.
‘We are fighting against everything’, Grace Ellen Barkey says in an interview. ‘Against narrow-mindedness, against weariness in this fucking world, and for art. What are we going to do if art is abolished? Then the world will be just one big ruin.’
‘I want to show that we can look at things differently and think differently. Theatre is a puppet show in which you can create a whole world that you don’t know yet. That is the emotion of this show.’
Right. But in my opinion, she could have translated that better into a performance. The case she is trying to make with MUSH-ROOM isn’t strong enough. Sure, at some moments this is a visual feast, but I couldn’t shed the feeling of watching a director struggling to come up with enough stuff to make hers a strong piece. ‘The show is about nothing at all’, Barkey states. ‘I try to be as illogical as possible and this time I was really stubborn about that.’ Sure. But you don’t get away with everything, by just saying: let’s be silly and weird. Or by relying on the fact that you’ve managed to convince a mysterious cult band to provide the soundtrack for your performance.