Bristol Old Vic’s Made In Bristol scheme is a terrific outreach project that sees a group of 18-25 year olds come together every year to train and form a company under the guidance of the theatre, culminating in a valedictory show that springs the company out fully formed into the world. It has already created impressive results, the Wardrobe Ensemble were the very first company to come out of the scheme and Hotel Echo are also developing buzz. Unfortunately, Propolis Theatre’s Spill suggests a company still trying to find its own sense of self; it has gobbled up ideas and influence from a range of impressive names, but at this moment in time there is little sense of their own identity.
It may have something to do with its subject matter. Spill is a verbatim work about sex; a verbatim piece that collects a collage of voices talking about their first time, their sexual identity and, well, that’s about it. Perhaps it’s the age range, the company too young to tackle the full-on complexities of the subject. It influences what they see as important, half the show is devoted to talking about virginity. For anyone whose virginity has long since passed (sorry Mum and Dad, no more talk about my own sexual history!), it’s a subject that can’t hold the interest for long. As the author David Nicholls has said “Other people’s sex lives are a little like other people’s holidays: you’re glad that they had fun, but you weren’t there and don’t necessarily want to see the photos.” The second half of the show finds more interesting ground as the company delve into sexual identity in all its multi-faceted shades, but even at 70 minutes it feels like there’s not enough material to sustain it. Perhaps they’re making theatre more suited to people their own age, but for someone who was born in the mid-eighties, nothing here is new or particularly revelatory. No one expects sex to be “clean, quiet, careful, hairless, monogamous, young, skinny, heterosexual” as stated in the publicity material in the second decade of the 21st century. Do they?
The whole thing is performed with energy and vim by the young cast in its last preview and there is fun to be had in ticking off some of the companies and work that has inspired the work. So there are shades of London Road in the everyday conversation set to music (though lacking Alecky Blythe’s genius with the mundane) and movement sections from the Sally Cookson book of tricks. There are some inventive moments in there: a section where one performer creates a lover using just a jacket is a spellbinding moment and later a lift turns into an awkward representation of first rutting. It feels as though they’d like to bring a more anarchic style to play, a sprinkle of Red Dash mixed with Belgian provocateurs Ontroerend Goed, but there’s a safety in the work, summed up by casting actors close to type, that makes it all feel a bit too clean cut, wholesome and dare one say “English”.
The year has been a good breeding ground for the company but if we’re to hear more from Propolis, they will need to develop more of their own vocabulary and aesthetic. The piece is a bit like your first time, over before you know it and not fully satisfactory!
Runs until Saturday 4th July 2015 | Photo: Paul Blakemore