Two West Country lads speed through the night as both cheerful teenagers and disillusioned twenty-somethings. They wear cheap fancy dress masks; one is Batman and the other small and indistinct – Robin, maybe?. Movement, voice and lighting states dictate time and place, with most of the action taking place in and around a car as they tear through the small town where they’ve spent their whole lives in this frenetic and occasionally unclear performance piece with a nod to performance art. Seeking to be a commentary on austerity and social responsibility, Poll Function comes across more as a general coming of age story where, though the protagonists are academically unmotivated, they struggle to come to terms with the realities of adulthood not even closely resembling the aspirations of their youth – a problem many millennials face. Though the intended message doesn’t particularly come across, the physical performances in Poll Function are excellent and the strongest feature of this work.
Greg Shewring and Jon Pascoe play these two unnamed young people. Pascoe is the leader, always behind the wheel, controlling where they go and how fast. He’s not the brightest bulb though, laddish “banter” sets the tone from the start. As the character ages and there’s an unfortunate encounter between a badger and the bumper of his car, the profundity of his language abruptly moves beyond, ‘Mate. Shut up. Slaaaags!’ and even includes frequent use of metaphor. Whilst his sentiment is lovely and captures the character’s inner frustration, it’s a dubious linguistic leap in Shewring’s script. Shewring as the quieter sidekick is the more dynamic and interesting character, and just as ably performed as his louder, dumber counterpart. Both Shewring and Pascoe show well-developed sense of physical performance, which could do with being further used in this non-linear piece.
As the car is completely mimed complete with vocal effects, it takes some time to work out if the boys are in an actual car, playing a game, or, what with the short, sharp scenes jumping back and forth through time, if the whole thing is more abstract than that. The lack of clear exposition is effective, but disarmingly unexpected and takes some time to settle into its own rhythm. Not that it’s a bad thing to wonder what’s actually happening for the first quarter of a performance, but it has the potential to be off-putting. Poll Function (a title that only tenuously comes through in the message) wouldn’t be entirely out of place in an experimental theatre venue or festival; the work reminds me a bit of Action Hero in tone and theme.
Poll Function is certainly an interesting work from new Bristol-based collective The Project, particularly as it’s their first production. Though it has some flaws, thy company are certainly off to a flying start.