Wall of Death: A Way of Life ***

Peter Brook famously wrote that, in order for an act of theatre to happen, all one needed was for a person to watch someone else walk across a space.  Many may question whether or not Ken Fox and his troupe’s motorcycle performance counts as ‘theatre’, even if an audience don’t just merely watch them walk but also glide and spin about, but I think it does.

But that’s not the big question.  That question is whether or not the National Theatre of Scotland’s production is good?  The sad truth is that it’s a mixed bag.

And that’s a shame because there is no doubt how sincere everything is.  Artist Stephen Skrynka starts the production off with an impassioned speech about how inspired he was by a funfair attraction known as The Wall of Death: a circular wall that motorcyclists ride around while doing tricks and appearing to defy gravity.  The audience are then treated to a few pieces of art installation before encountering the wall, and its riders, itself.

The first half of the production feels like one large missed opportunity.  There is enough information to make one realise how interesting, and rich, the wall is in its history, and the use of art to enhance the overall experience is a great idea.  There may be some fun concepts, but nothing comes across as remarkable or overly interesting and the end result is a beginning that is, at best, flimsy.

However, that all changes halfway through when the audience comes face-to-face with the Ken Fox Troupe, all with bright lights, loud revving engines and armed with larger than life smiles and cheeky winks.  Their Q&A session not only proves to be enlightening and interesting but also allows the troupe to come across as passionate and warm.  It’s impossible not to like them, which makes the final part, watching the actual Wall of Death in action, all the more remarkable because one has been allowed to emotionally invest in the troupe.  We aren’t just amazed at what they do; we now personally care.

Skrynka has brought the Wall and the Ken Fox Troupe to an audience that would probably have usually passed on experiencing it, and for that I am glad.  I think what the Ken Fox Troupe do is pretty amazing, and going by the surprised gasps and dropped jaws, the vast majority of the audience seemed to think the same.  And though we the audience get to share in Skrynka’s awe of The Wall of Death, we aren’t allowed much of a glimpse of Skrynka’s personal interaction, which is a shame.  As a result, the great juxtaposition of performance and art that we have been promised does not materialise, and the loud screams from Fox’s motorcycles more than obliterate the almost feeble whisper of Skrynka’s attempts of hero worship.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

To see about performance dates and times, check the NTS website here.

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