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‘Every Word Was Once An Animal’ review

  • Theatre, Experimental
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Every Word Was Once An Animal, Ontroerend Goed, 2022
Photo by Mirjam Devriendt

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Ontroerend Goed’s mischievous latest whimsically deconstructs the very idea of putting on a show

‘Is it art or is it trolling’ is a question you could legitimately ask of all of Ontroerend Goed’s shows. But with their last couple of outings, the Belgian provocateurs seemed to have moved into an older, wiser phase of their career: ‘World without Us’ and ‘Are we not drawn onward to new erA’ were elegiac masterpieces that directed the puckish formal invention of their earlier shows towards conveying the immensity of climate change rather than just freaking us out for the yucks.

‘Every Word Was Once An Animal’ is definitely not as aggressively headfucky as older work like ‘Internal’, ‘Fight Night’ and ‘Audience’. But it is, nonetheless, a bit of a wind-up.

Essentially the hour-long piece is a deconstruction of the idea of what actually constitutes a show. It begins as a performer shuffles on apologetically and says the show will start with somebody coming out and talking to us like this, but it won’t actually be her. The same thing happens several times, with different performers. Some of them offer some very complicated and hard-to-follow descriptions of who they are, who the other performers are, and who they’re supposed to be playing, though clearly they’re lying about some of this (although what can they really do when it’s in the script?) There is a lot – like, a lot – of business with the venue’s curtains. A strand emerges about somebody called Emma, who saw the show as a child and wrote to the cast asking what it was about, but now it’s 15 years later (!) and we finally get to see the reply, which is about as cryptic as you’d expect. If the idea of watching a series of deadpan recordings of the windows of suburban living rooms appeals… then boy will you enjoy the last third!

If it sounds unbearable… well, you’d be about half right. A show about a show not happening is an idea that’s been done before. Yet there’s something winningly earnest and unselfsatisfied about ‘Every Word…’. It’s not just there to wind people up: it’s underpinned by serious consideration of what it is people actually want from performance, what will cross the line that will make it mean something, as opposed to nothing. Plus it’s got a winningly loopy, low-key sense of humour – it’s not asking you to laugh at its cleverness, but at weird gags about curtains.

Ultimately its biggest problem is that it’s a bit lightweight - it’s not nearly as obnoxious as it might sound, but it’s not really as penetrating in its questioning of the nature of art and performance as one might hope. So yes, it is trolling. But it’s thoughtful, wholesome trolling.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski


£16, £14 concs. Runs 1hr
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