A figure on a chair. The right hand belongs to the right knee. We’ll get there in stages. First place the elbow but then it slips off the knee. Try again. Elbow onto the knee. Wait. Will it hold? No. Again. Again. Again. This is ugly and disturbing to watch in a way that means you can’t quite look away. And fitting too, because the effect of war Glaswegian performer Al Seed concerns himself with in Oog is also ugly. It’s not just the troubling reiteration of movement at the beginning of the piece, it’s the look too that’s holds the same appeal of disgust. An overgrown fireman coat hides a shell-shocked man who is caught in a jittering and spluttering loop of having to reintroduce his limbs to their intended positions. When the twitching creature finally emerges from his muddy cocoon after several minutes, a messy Mohican marks him as a warrior. But this war machine is kaputt. He’s a man in overdrive, a taut grin stretching far into nightmare-land. The ragged look and fragmented moves are horrific but well-known tropes of apocalyptic storytelling and they have inscribed themselves onto the performer’s body.
The bare feet are a physical manifestation of the vulnerable and unhinged mind of a soldier suffering from PTSD, restless hands and limbs degenerated into murder weapons. These guns and knifes instead of hands – they’re a metamorphosis almost impossible to revert. Seed’s companion piece to his acclaimed war-critical piece The Factory spits out the human after the promise of glorious war. Pride and laddy evenings of comradeship remain hollow memories which can’t heal this broken man.
With his smeared and grungy makeup Seed might look like Heath Ledger’s Joker gone even more bad, but there’s little mischief or revelling in misery. He’s alone on stage so this abandoned bouffon has no other clowns at his side who can mock the system which squashes human soldiers like little insects. There’s no power left in him for mockery. And so the show remains incredibly drab and bleak throughout with little nuance. If Alberto Santos Bellido’s lighting hadn’t drowned the body into a fatiguing haze, the nuances of Seed’s physical performance would have been crisper and, despite their inherently repulsive mode, potentially more relatable.
An apocalyptic tale needs hope at its end, the audience needs it and so does the performer who walks through living hell for us. But here’s a paradox: the promise of a path out of this underground hell is more naive and simplistic than expected and so the suffering before becomes almost incoherent. When it’s pulled off with the astounding skills that Seed possesses, physical theatre does not have to rely on metaphors and offer a resolution. It’s the unique chance offered by mime performances to be in the same room as a disturbed body. A body which reveals the cogs which might fail at any time.