Kaos Theatre have a reputation for productions that are loud, colourful and bawdy. What the slapstick can hide, though, is the intelligence that goes in to these productions. They aren’t just great physical theatre, they are witty, subversive, considered, highly-rehearsed and fun. And I’m puerile enough to dearly love hearing the word “cunt” used appropriately on stage.
My earliest memories of Kaos are of their rehearsals for “Caligula” in the Brewery Arts centre in Cirencester in the mid 1990s. I didn’t go to see the production, but anguished screams punctuated the life-drawing classes I was attending. They seemed serious and rather heavy, and I had enough seriousness and heaviness in my life at that time, and I don’t remember going to any of their productions. I was aware of them though, and I took a young Frenchman to see “The Importance of Being Ernest” five years or so ago and fell in love with the company then. I hadn’t seen camp like it. It’s indescribable, because anything I say will give you a watered down impression. Imagine a cross between Liberace and Pantomime played at racing speed, and you’ll get the general idea. It was very very funny, and very very clever. Then I took the one I go to the theatre with to see “Moll Flanders” and was delighted by the complexity and sophistication of thought underneath the rudeness and crudeness of the action. Oh and the cross-dressing was fab. Gender-ambiguity: bring it on.
So it’s no surprise that I’ve been looking forward to their “Midsummer Night’s Dream” ever since they announced it a year ago. The Dream is one of the most under-rated plays. It’s full of darkness and menace, but it’s either played as candy-floss or as commedia dell’arte. I’d like to see a gothic version please: I want to see a Tim Burton Dream, with Johnny Depp as Oberon and Helena Bonham-Carter or Christina Ricci as Titania, and Pete Postlethwaite as Bottom. Kaos is not afraid of darkness, and much of their work has no slapstick to it at all, but explores all sorts of violence. Their dream promises to be:
… a fantastically lurid vision of Shakespeare’s classic play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The KAOS DREAM plunges this famous story into a contemporary urban cabaret of strip-clubs, pimps and pole-dancers, subverting all convention in true KAOS style.
And now I discover that the Arts Council in it’s infinite wisdom have decided to throw away the decade the company have spent growing as a troupe and building a brand and an audience. More worryingly still, I hear that many of these decisions were taken based on inaccurate information about audience sizes and so on. If you are going to have criteria for ripping away someone’s livelihood and for destroying something that took a decade to create, at least apply those criteria fairly.
I have of course written to the appropriate Arts Council officers to register my protest. But this is more so that the Council cannot pretend that no-one minded and no-one objected than because I have any expectation that it’ll make a blind bit of difference.
Hey bloody ho.