“Bemused” is probably the best way to describe how I felt in Carnesky’s Tarot Drome – Marisa Carnesky’s new performance art extravaganza is as quirky, magical and peculiar as you might expect from the world renowned ‘theatrical artiste’, but riveting or engaging it really isn’t. At the Old Vic Tunnels.
I suppose it’s unsurprising that the Old Vic Tunnels should play host to this kind of event – it’s made a name for itself as the place to go for oddball performance-art/theatre parties, and this very clearly falls into that camp. With the potential to deliver a more cohesive and engaging plot and characters, it’s a shame that this descended very quickly into a side-show of curiosities with plenty of space to lounge and drink. I now know that there was more to the show after this point, but it wasn’t at all clear – so I left and missed a whole section, which seems to have involved half-naked roller derby girls! Shame.
It’s not that I don’t like the more esoteric end of performance art – give me a programme, a seat, dim the lights and show me something, dammit! – but I’m happy to give it a go, and have been pleasantly surprised by the experiences in the past. But this had all of the hallmarks of the kind of work that just makes me cringe – and it can be boiled down to the point that I’m simply not that enthralled by people in silly costumes spouting post-theatrical gobbledygook. I would argue that most audiences need a story, a concept, something to sink their teeth into that will leave them musing, and Carnesky’s Tarot Drome didn’t deliver.
From what I saw, there were nice moments – an acrobat (representing Temperance) balancing on and moving through a tank of water was full of gorgeous images, and Death slowly breaking herself out of a plaster mould while contorting rather impressively, but a lot of the other stands felt a little trite and obvious – the Magican doing a (rather good, to be fair) magic trick is hardly novel, for example.
It’s just such a shame to see something squandered – the Tarot major arcana (the picture cards with titles like The Tower and The Devil) famously follows a story-line, with a Fool learning to understand the universe and his position within it. There were vague allusions to this, but it was all for show and not in action – and having one man traverse the obstacle course, especially with some of the excellent character portrayals, would have been really quite involving. However, apparently there was something of that ilk after I left, but that just speaks to my point above – I didn’t know there was more, and wasn’t engaged enough to stay.
I suppose the main critique here is production management-related – it wasn’t clear what was going on. There wasn’t an obvious ‘show’ happening. And I’m not happy to sit around for hours sipping expensive drinks waiting for things to happen, when there’s no indication whether there’s more to see or not. I’ve seen too many of these shows where a collection of talented artists set up a collection of rooms where they can ‘do their thing’ and assume that’s enough. There’s nothing wrong with performance art – but don’t assume that everyone’s there for the party. Bloody well engage me!