BLAST! is aptly named. It is like a firework, a rocket, exploding and illuminating for an instant, and then gone. For me, the success of this show is in the moment, rather than the whole.
As a piece, BLAST! is nothing if not fresh and vivid. It was devised by Iris Theatre and presented by First Draft Theatre, a company who specialise in pieces that have been rehearsed in three days and run for three nights. The result of this compressed creative process was fantastic given the time but lacked cohesion as a whole. It would be interesting to see what the company would come up with given a longer rehearsal period. The piece was non-narrative and perhaps had problems carrying the audience along with it at times. Several key images and episodes worked, but the whole was faintly unsatisfying. That said, what BLAST! lacks in coherence it makes up in vigour. It has an alive, vital quality that makes it intensely watchable.
Inspired by the Vorticist magazine of the same name, BLAST! embodied the intensity and absurdity of Wyndham Lewis’s work in equal measure. While a non-narrative structure was appropriate to the material, it was not really to my taste. The fragmented, frenetic quality that comes straight out of the magazine, was sometimes pleasurably disorientating, but more often struggled to fully engage the audience.
BLAST! has moments of wonder: a delicious crunch as an apple is forced into the mouth of a frozen actor, a fight underscored with live, expressive sounds. These moments of electricity justified the piece, giving it backbone and an element of substance. The performers were also very strong, and their movement was always slick and compelling, oscillating between the beautiful and the grotesque. They played well as an ensemble and brought the piece to life. It is hard to single anyone out of an excellent group, but Anna Tierney in particular was excellent – subtle and watchable.
The performers, and the moments they created, were the strongest part of BLAST!, and understandably the short preparation period caused problems. The first half is punctuated by well-used and well-constructed projections, but I was sad not to see more of the graphic design and typography that, for me, characterises the Vorticist movement and the magazine itself.
The setting also seemed somewhat out of time, and particularly towards the beginning, bizarrely ’90s. Pumping dance music that suffuses the piece feels viscerally effective but also oddly anachronistic. The cast had adapted the ‘curse’ section of the manifesto to include similarly anachronistic modern figures: Tim Henman, Nick Clegg, Vanessa Feltz. This was comic, but out of place, and the piece was too ready to re-iterate the same point again and again in its early textual sections.
That said, the overall impression given by BLAST! is positive. The actors’ physical performance was captivating: the piece was at its best when it was pure movement. Taking into account the rehearsal time, it was sharp, shiny and surprisingly well polished. I will be interested to see where director Dan Winder takes BLAST! next: with some development, this could be an excellent show.
The programme includes an advertisement taken verbatim from the magazine, and a line from it aptly sums up the piece: “full of fiery dust and sinewy energetic air, not sap”. If BLAST! aims to embody its material, it certainly succeeds.
Fore more information on First Draft Theatre, see its website here.