Hoke’s Bluff at Shoreditch Town Hall
Ever noticed how similar sports movies are, even the ones “based on a true story”? Devised by Action Hero (Gemma Paintin & James Stenhouse), Hoke’s Bluff looks to explore why – and why (or if) these movies still matter.
Through poetry and mood changes, Action Hero create a sense of hopelessness and futility lurking beneath the veneer of the coach’s catchphrases and rhetoric. This is backed up by a slick performance with smooth scene transitions that give a sense of the days melding into one. Everything is building up to the big game day and everything but the game is peripheral.
This is obviously a show that works best when the audience gets involved. It is reliant on the crowd accepting the premise and going along for the ride. There is a level of absurdism embraced to achieve this that never feels out of place. Perhaps with deference to Brecht, the audience is allowed to sink into the poetry of any given scene, before being yanked out again and reminded they are watching theatre. The characters are fluidly interchanged between the two actors and the audience. There is not an American accent to be heard, despite the setting being unmistakably American, and it never becomes clear whether the story is about ice-hockey or American football or baseball or basketball. This of course, is the point – the sport doesn’t matter; the humanity does.
The audience is pulled in through Action Hero’s sheer energy. The performances are all compelling. The group has a great chemistry, throwing the stage presence between them to great effect, and conjuring tension from nowhere when needed. There are moments when the show gestures towards an indictment of American excess, seeming to suggest there’s a level of violence inherent in sports-culture that should make us uncomfortable. It would have made sense to develop the show further in this direction – more could have been done to make the message explicit.
While the poetic style of theatre might not be to everyone’s taste, Hoke’s Bluff is undoubtedly an incredibly well executed show that leaves the audience deep in thought.
Hoke’s Bluff is on at Shoreditch Town Hall until 29th November 2014, for further information or to book visit here.