Now more than ever identity seems to be influenced by numerous cultures and eras. From French chic to 80’s leg warmers, it seems that in today’s society, you can embody any period through music choices and dress sense. You might listen to 90’s house music on Monday wearing an oversized denim jacket but don a boho dress relaxing to Dylan on Tuesday. It’s cool to be eclectic, to wear vintage clothes, to listen to vinyl. Anybody who is really a product of the time we are currently living in is simply ‘uncool’. Why do people feel that to be a ‘2017-er’ is not good enough? Why are we so obsessed with the past? Is it the uncertainty of the future? Perhaps our current society is so unimaginative and unoriginal that we crave the seeming simplicity and trends of the past. If something was popular back then, does it make it popular now?
The Populars is Volcano’s third piece created specifically for the company’s home: the Bunker Theatre. In a building which was once part of Swansea’s Iceland store, four actors throw us a party, dancing wildly to an eclectic range of Pop, from Fleetwood Mac to Pulp, with a bit of Jazz thrown in for good measure.
The show is a contemporary exploration into the times we live in, and although the company is careful not to brand it as a ‘Brexit show’, there are undoubtedly a few heavy-handed references made about the referendum. In fact, the idea of ‘is it Popular because it’s good or good because it’s Popular?’ is far more engaging than the social commentary that sometimes slips in.
The piece relies heavily on improvisation, which, to the cast’s credit, is incredibly natural and well delivered. The cast are energetic to the very last, which is impressive considering the amount of dancing and costume changes. Collectively, they are faultless; they recount personal stories about their connection to certain bands, trying to find relevant meaning in song lyrics. The past seems certain, the future seems uncertain.
The space is perfect for this type of divisive piece; the concepts that stem from lyrics in songs are the most important thing so the empty space is not an issue. The audience move naturally to follow the actors, rarely having to be summoned to gather round. There are times when the performance dips due to the fragmented nature of the concepts and the fact that some parts rely on audience participation also impedes the pace. There are some choreographed dance numbers although most seem to be freestyle. Little snippets of dialogue can sometimes feel disjointed. Although the humour makes us laugh, the piece doesn’t really have a structure.
What The Populars does really well is make us question why days past are more interesting to us than the days to come. Does political change make us so fearful for the future that we almost digress back to a time where we know the future is certain? It’s an interesting concept conceived by Paul Davies, but it is one that’s difficult to pin down; perhaps the beauty of it is that one can take from it what they will and so its layers of interpretation are numerous. At the end of it all, The Populars is a fun devised piece which will definitely get you bobbing along to some classic hits. What you do with it is up to you.