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Patrick Gaffey reviews the captivatingly distinctive play.

Last February saw the Scottish debut of the exciting comic play The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much at Greenock’s Beacon Arts Theatre. Performed by the Voloz Collective, a theatrical group trained in the style of Parisian practitioner Jacques Lecoq, it tells the story of Roger Clement, a French advertising agent in New York during the early 1960s. His life, tightly bound by tradition and routine, is torn apart by a series of violent crimes revolving around his workplace. Determined to solve the mystery and find the perpetrators, he sets off on an international cat-and-mouse chase, encountering cosmonauts, rodeos, and presidential assassins along the way.

The action unfolds in a dreamlike fashion, with each scene bursting into new and unexpected horizons. The actors rarely stay still, but leap about the stage in acrobatic fashion. They are accompanied by a vibrant piano soundtrack, and brilliant lights guiding and following the action. This is three-dimensional theatre in every sense of the word.

Despite only having five actors onstage, the play masterfully conveys a story with more than twenty characters. Except for Paul Lofferon, who stays in the role of Roger Clement throughout, the actors switch characters and personas every few minutes. They do not only apply their craft to human characters, but also embody animals, objects, and even locations. The original score is played by Frederick Waxman, a founder of the theatre company Ante Terminum. He deftly combines his musicianship with acting roles throughout the show. Music is never a mere accompaniment to the story, but an integral part of it, constantly interacting with the action.

The play’s extraordinary style is a credit to the Collective’s unconventional nature. In a desire to create non-hierarchical theatre, the troupe does not distinguish between actors, directors, writers, and musicians, but work together on all roles. The result is distinctive and unusual, an enlightening experiment for the audience to relish.

Much of the fast-paced action, as well as the spectacular lighting, is more typical of cinema than theatre. The work shows the clear influence of classic Hollywood movies, combining the slapstick comedy of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton with the thrilling mystery of Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. In a recent interview, Collective member Sam Rayner explained, “As we move, we try to recreate what it feels like watching a film.”

The play was only in the Clydeside for one night, before moving north to the Aberdeen Arts Centre. Check out more of the Collective’s work here


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