John Moran And His Neighbour Saori @ Soho Theatre, London

Some things are easier to categorise than others. They can be slid into neat little boxes. They do the work for you. Other things refuse to be tamed in this way. John Moran’s show is one of those things. It is theatre, music, memoir, dance. It is all these things and yet it is also something else entirely.

It initially seems like something of a shambles. Moran stumbles on, seemingly indifferent to his audience, sits on the floor, totters off again. His neighbour Saori Tsukada arrives and greets everyone with an appealing smile, but seems equally distracted. You wince inside: what is this? What have I agreed to sit through? Not everything needs to be polished and perfect to be worth seeing, true, but this seems to be pushing it a little too far.

Then there’s some business with Saori drawing ducks on a blackboard and Moran spends a while describing his youthful dabbling with a Jungian cult and then, as you attempt to process all this, it clicks. You realise that there is little in this piece that is left to chance, that everything is impeccably cued and choreographed.

Moran works with loops of recorded dialogue, complex ‘time portraits’, to which he and Saori both lip synch. A protg of Philip Glass, who has created operas that have featured Iggy Pop and Uma Thurman, he clearly knows his stuff (as he says, he quit school so he could spend more time listening to Purcell). Everything we see is measured out in beats per minute, each individual element of audio recorded separately. The complexity takes a while to sink but when it does it is revelatory. Even so, people seemed unsure how to respond. The crowd were quiet on the night I saw it. This, said Moran, is often a result of the fact that their work is both super casual and super formalised. The performance doesn’t fit into a designated box and the audience were uncertain where to applaud, or indeed, if to applaud though Moran assured us they were lapping it up the night before. A fair few people walked out midway through the performance, but that’s their own loss there is nothing else quite like this around.

The show meanders along in this way for just over an hour. As well as the technical complexity, what also leaves a strong impression is Moran’s affection for Saori. If this show is about anything at all, it is about friendship and what it means to be an artist, to live for your art.

I have done away with the star rating in this instance. I dislike them anyway, they make things too easy, too neat, and to reduce someone’s work to a series of stars seems rather anti-art. And anyway it seems particularly redundant in this case. It should simply suffice to say that if you enjoy work that can’t easily be tagged and labelled, that demands a bit of independent thinking and touches on the avant-garde, then you may well enjoy this.

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