Thursday, 20 November 2014

Hokes Bluff - Action Hero @ Shoreditch Town Hall

Where are the American accents?

For a show all about American sports and the American Dream, this absence is a strange choice.  It lends the show an air of polite Britishness that is at odds with the brash nature of America the cast are trying to replicate.  It’s one of many oversights that nags from start to finish.

In Hokes Bluff performance company Action Hero attempt to explore the conventions of American teen sports dramas, but seem to have left out the drama bit.  Instead of presenting a traditional narrative, they instead meditate on the troubles and pressures of an underdog sportsman.  This mostly takes the form of lengthy monologues, the action controlled by an onstage referee.  The monologues themselves consist of endless lists of words that sound convincing, but somewhat labour the point.  As motivational speeches, they lack that over the top nature that comes from America’s almost religious devotion to sport.  Instead, we’re lulled into the hypnotic, downbeat mindset of a generic sportsman that fails to excite: from the lack of visual interest, to the monotone delivery of lines.

The use of music is excellent in stirring atmosphere, whether accompanying a (supposedly) erotic changing scene with Major Lazer’s Get Free, blasting out a bit of Rihanna at full volume, or simply providing mood.  Yet Action Hero rely on the music to create emotion; the performances alone are flat and vacuous.  Not even dressing up as a tiger mascot can inject some urgency by comparison to the opening synths of We Found Love.

What’s more, what relevance does this have to a British audience?  Much of our understanding of these sports and American culture comes from cinema, but whilst Hokes Bluff strives to be cinematic, it fails to comment on the clichés these films employ.

There’s certainly some comedy in the piece.  Those endless lists are full of amusing place names and American stereotypes; the referee’s increasingly frenzied motions are particularly comical; and there’s some audience participation that finally adds some fun in a show that takes itself far too seriously.  Yet by full time, Hokes Bluff just doesn’t say very much.  How un-American.


Watch: Hokes Bluff runs at Shoreditch Town Hall until 29th November as part of a UK tour.