Futureproof @ The Traverse
Futureproof is a visual feast. The set is lush and full, as one would expect from a production designed by Colin Richmond. The centre piece is a full-sized replica of a circus cart, which is implied to be one of many by its various transformations into an office, a bedroom and a storage container.
Rather than announcing the play has begun, the characters simply walk onto the set and unpack the contents of Riley’s Odditorium; a travelling freakshow that has fallen on hard times. These characters speaking amongst themselves and getting on with their respective tasks has the effect of drawing us into the world. It also mirrors the voyeuristic act of the freakshow’s audience, which will be developed as one of the play’s main themes.
In addition to the set, there are a number of visual tricks used to show the transformations the cast of characters undergo as part of Riley’s plans to save their failing enterprise. The bearded lady is shaved on stage, the world’s fattest man miraculously loses the majority of his body weight and in a terrifying dream sequence the conjoined twins are the victims of a sawing the woman in half routine. Furthermore, the costumes are excellent. Tiny, the world’s fattest man, looks genuinely gargantuan in his fat suit, the conjoined twins are convincingly stuck together inside the dress they share and the hermaphrodite George/Georgina, whose image has dominated the Traverse’s press coverage this year, looks striking in vertically halved male/female attire.
Director Dominic Hill, in his swansong production for The Traverse, excels in having multiple characters on the stage, often displaying the oddities of their conditions in a way that feels busy and alive. Even though freakshow acts like the one in the play predate it, there is something of the vaudeville tradition in the choices Hill makes to render the vibrancy of this strange, familial troupe.
Ultimately though, it is Futureproof’s visuals which compensate for a story that touches on themes of gender, voyeurism and society but fails to resonate beyond the confines of its setting. The narrative is overly ambitious in scope and in trying to encompass the various physical and psychological transformations of its ensemble loses its way. The ending of the play feels arbitrary. It is as if the writer Lynda Radley has made a choice to focus on one of several themes, although this hierarchical ordering is difficult to fathom. That said, there is plenty here to hold your interest and simply as a spectacle it is worth the price of admission.
Traverse Theatre Company & Dundee Rep Ensemble, 6-28 Aug, various timeshttp://www.traverse.co.uk/