Friday, May 7, 2004

Gone Missing

by Sam Marlowe

In our hectic modern world there are many ways to lose things, and many things to lose: the will to live, the plot, a war. These and others are explored in this slick cabaret piece, the UK debut of the acclaimed New York company The Civilians, which combines verbatim text from interviews conducted by the cast with fiction and song.

Gone Missing, by Steven Cosson, Peter Morris and company members, with songs by Michael Friedman, was created in the wake of 9/11. Its approach to the terrorist attack is oblique, but the shadow of the twin towers — themselves now a memory — falls across even the most apparently trivial or amusing anecdote, lending it a darker poignancy.

On Takeshi Kata's blue box set the cast of six, in city-slicker suits, weave tales of the misplaced ranging from the mundane to the mysterious. An everyday story of a man who loses his mobile phone and tries obsessively to track it down shows not only how much of ourselves we invest in our possessions, but also how much of our lives we wasted acquiring and attempting to retain them. At the other extreme, a comically grisly account by a streetwise cop of finding a decomposing corpse missing various body parts is a jolting reminder that even our physical selves are ultimately only objects, capable of drifting into oblivion.

The show tangentially connects such ideas with the philosophy of Freud and Plato, and the myths of Atlantis and the Sargasso Sea, reinforcing the metaphor intermittently with gurgling sound effects and slo-mo choreography by Jim Augustine, so that the cast sometimes appears to be performing under water.

This witty treatment of weighty themes extends to Friedman's stylish songs, performed to piano accompaniment by Duncan Wisbey and occasional acoustic guitar. With their wry comedy and sense of yearning, these are sometimes reminiscent of US songsmiths Maltby and Shire. And in their evocation of the unreliability of memory, they recall the haunting Remember? from Sondheim's A Little Night Music.

Then there's Hide and Seek, a wistful Suzanne Vega-type song about lost opportunity, which includes a lovely lyric in which the singer recalls "when I knocked my mothers perfume off the shelf and smelled for weeks like I was going somewhere".

Elsewhere, there are power ballads, jazz-inflected cool, even German lieder and a steamy Latin number — something for everyone, in fact. A show about the stuff of life, and the life of stuff, this is a thing of beauty. Go and see it.