“For all its inventive stagecraft, I was left feeling baffled about the point of this enterprise. Why choose to shoehorn a novel, without adaptation, into an alien format? Because it’s there? Because you can?”
This sentiment from Ellie Court’s ArtsHub review summarises one of the key discussions I have had with fellow theatre-goers since seeing The Select (The Sun Also Rises) on Wednesday night. Indeed, her critique gives a fairly accurate overview of what the performance was like, but it doesn’t nail what the experience of being in the audience was like.
It was a really fun and funny show! Yes it was too long, but even non-Hemingway-readers such as myself could see that it was deliberately being faithful to the original text. It was by being irreverently faithful — in a very self-reflexive way — that the company, Elevator Repair Service, made this so much fun.
The typewriter sound effect continued after Jake walked away from his “desk”. Following a hen-pecking monologue from his domineering girlfriend, Cohn lifted his head from his hands to reveal that all his hair was standing on end. Fish flew across the top of the set during a river scene.
Silly little moments like this seemed to demonstrate that nobody on stage took all this as seriously as Ernest Hemingway himself probably did. And I wasn’t made to feel like an idiot for not being familiar with the novel, which was much appreciated.
The other very enjoyable thing about this performance was the way in which it evoked a sense of the time and place… without the use of elaborate costumes or setpieces. To indicate a wild night of partying, the cast danced sporadically to a sixties French pop song, interspersed with dialogue and drinking and yelling.
So to briefly answer the questions raised at top (ignoring the fact that the same questions could be asked of any theatre, and that is much too big a discussion for here): What is the point? The point is to expose audiences to classic, but perhaps forgotten or neglected, texts and even songs and moments in time.
But mostly I think the point is for fun. Do we need more reason than that?
So in that spirit, I dug out a youtube video of that 1967 French pop song to share, and in doing so I’ve discovered where the cast of The Select got their dance moves. It’s called “Les Petits Boudins,” sung by Dominique Walter, lyrics by Serge Gainsbourg! For translation notes, see here.
It’s very cool and catchy, I hope you like it as much as I do… You’ll be humming it all day.
The Select (The Sun Also Rises)
Based on the novel “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway
Created and performed by: Elevator Repair Service
Text: Ernest Hemingway
Direction: John Collins