Christopher Chen‘s new play, Caught, presented as part of the Arcola‘s VOLTA International Festival is a thick, false-bottomed guillotine of a play, that betrays its audience again and again, sweeping legs out from underneath everyone at every turn.
From the outset, there is something very strange about this piece. What are we watching? Is this a lecture? Is it performance art? What is the author trying to get from the audience? It becomes clear, very quickly, that we may never quite know the answer to these questions. Chen must realise that this makes the piece quite difficult to critique and experience as an onlooker, indeed at times he writes specifically for that effect. At points the style and tone of the piece is brusque and alienating – but it isn’t until about halfway through that I am able to begin to understand just how many times Chen is willing to break down and mess with your expectations.
The design leaves a little to be desired, I would like the interaction with the art to be more obvious before the piece, as references to the experience in the latter half of the play leave me thinking I have missed something. That said, assured performances are given all round, particularly from Kathryn O’Reilly, who rolls with the punch of Chen’s writing, at one moment a cartoonish American reporter, the next running a Gervais and Merchant worthy interview with ‘the artist’. Elizabeth Chan is as comfortable in American and Chinese-American accents as she is in English, so much so, I’m not sure if I am ever certain which is her natural accent. Cressida Brown‘s direction is subtle and heavy-handed at all the right moments – in itself a game on the way we engage with a piece of drama or dialogue.
That’s the sort of play this is, constantly getting you to argue with yourself, constantly asking you to question your assumptions or ideas. At points it is written like academic criticism, at others like B-Movie schmaltz, all of course, intended. This play treads an incredibly fine line between reality and fiction, between absurd and naturalistic, and at points I’m not sure if it succeeds – but it will leave you questioning, justifying and engaging with your individual experience. 4/5
Review written by Samuel Clay.
Caught is currently showing at the Arcola Theatre as part of this year’s VOLTA International Festival until Saturday 19th September. For more information on the production, visit here…