HOME Theatre, Manchester; Tuesday 9th April, 2019
In 2017 Barcelona-based theatre company Agrupación Señor Serrano bought their intriguing performance Birdie to HOME theatre in Manchester. Birdie was an astonishing work of art – an entire stage show crafted from the forensic deconstruction of a single photograph.
Kingdom seems to very much pick up where Birdie left off, specifically the creation of an incredible entertainment spectacle from the most unlikely and unexpected of sources – this time it’s a gloriously elaborate stage-based documentary about the world’s most popular fruit: bananas.
There is only one king of fruits, and bananas are it (unless you’re one of these out-of-touch idiots who is willing to accept the old FBI conspiracy theory that tomatoes are a fruit). And there is only one king of bananas: the loveable great ape known as King Kong.
Kingdom delves deep into the fascinating history of a fruit that we all take for granted. It turns out that it wasn’t too long ago that neither bananas nor Mr King Kong had even been heard of / invented. It was around the year 1890 to be precise, thanks to the efforts of an enterprising American industrialist, bananas went from being virtually unknown to being king (kong) of the supermarket in the space of just thirty years.
Initial impressions of the Kingdom performance space are deceptive: the stage is dominated by a giant projection screen on the back wall and several rows of neatly arranged tables which occupy most of the remaining area – so much so that there doesn’t appear to be any actual performance space left.
And the tables are full of very, very random stuff: a sailor’s hat, a bottle of Jack Daniels, some fruit, a potted plant – it all has the amusing appearance of an open-plan office from the early 2010s, in the days before any Lean Six Sigma Black Belts turned up and Marie-Kondo’d all our asses into clearing our desks in order to clear our minds.
But as has become the custom with Agrupación Señor Serrano performances, there is no need for a traditional performing space – this is a show which takes the imperceptibly small messiness on a table and literally live-streams a projection of it onto the big screen on the back wall – what emerges is a beautiful story-telling experience garnished with live music and plenty of recorded video footage.
The presentation method (magnify something small in order to expose a larger meaning) seems to tally nicely with both the subject matter and the way in which the story / documentary is unfolding: small facts and anecdotes connected to the history of bananas suddenly become wonderous revelations that inspire awe.
Essentially, Kingdom seems to be the presentation of a theory: an opinion on how the rapid expansion of the banana trade (another case of something small expanding into something much bigger) more than a century ago serves as a micro-model of capitalist society as a whole.
There is talk of what Agrupación Señor Serrano call an exaggerated catastrophism – the notion that once expansion has taken place we’re all left with nothing else to do, or enjoy.
I’m not sure I quite buy into that theory (or even fully understand it) but it really doesn’t matter in this case: the ins and outs of banana economics belong in a stuffy old lecture or perhaps a doctoral thesis. Thankfully, on stage, it’s only touched on lightly and serves to add an air of curious intrigue, the star of the show is definitely the performance spectacle rather than the hypothesis.
And talking of stars, the loveable rogue King Kong is used as a brilliant antidote to the hyper-intellectual forensic-clue analysis taking place throughout this show. Every now and again he appears on screen, beating his chest and ushering forth one of his ferocious roars.
Kong’s appearances are such a welcome relief, a chance to draw breath and contemplate, a chance to connect with an emotion that is uncomplicated and uncorrupted. His primal screams are so cathartic, they also seem to serve as a prescient warning: as a species we once swung from the very trees where bananas grow, but look at us now.
Kingdom is an outstanding piece of performance theatre. For something so heavily dependent on camera effects and distance perspective there is no way this could be satisfactorily delivered as a television show, it definitely is live theatre, and a top example of it at that. This is a delightful hour-long burst of escapist documentaryism – full of facts, figures, jokes and tragedy – yet another multimedia masterpiece from the King Kongs of insatiable curious intrigue.
Photography: Vicenç Viaplana
|Visual pleasure||Beautiful visual effects thanks to Agrupación Señor Serrano’s trademark technique of live streaming a walk-through of their miniaturised set. There is an intriguing conflict in the mind between the acted scenes being fabricated on stage and the near-perfect effects being presented on the screen – how can something so elegant and convincing be created so seemingly easily?||5|
|Auditory pleasure||Plenty of live electronic music, as well as instrumental accompaniment and singing / rapping. The combination of visuals and sound are almost too good, there’s a longing for this show to slow down and go on for longer so that it can all be appreciated properly.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||An extraordinary creation, studded with so much detail that the mind has no chance of following and absorbing it all. The constant switching of mental focus from small to big is brilliantly orchestrated and makes for a bewildering yet also thrilling experience.||5|
|Artistic delivery||Excellent performances, including those of the special dancing guests who appeared at the end in what was an extraordinary final scene. Didn’t always flow perfectly from one scene to another though, a couple of long pauses whilst personnel repositioned themselves softened the bubbling euphoric intrigue that was otherwise building beautifully.||4|
|Overall impact||An incredibly clever show, takes simple facts from the history books and crafts them into a beautifully presented audio and visual spectacle. A dizzying thrill ride which you just want to go on again and again.||5|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|