Celebration, Florida, The Albany

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by guest critic Tom Brocklehurst

Shows incorporating technology have become more and more common recently. This experimental show, Celebration, Florida, features two unrehearsed performers wearing headphones. Greg Wohead, the creator of the show gives them instructions, dictates to them what to say and where to stand, and what accent to speak in. Most of the time they are speaking as him – they have to imitate his American accent (badly) and ask us to picture them as him, standing in his hotel room in his pants, thinking up ideas for this show.

So he’s the puppeteer of this piece – but for the first part he mostly just prevaricates, talking about his day in the hotel room. We are in thrall to these controlled performers – they don’t know what they will say next – and he is giving us banalities. At one point, he fantasises about going on a dating app and bringing somebody back to his hotel room. Here the levels of gender politics become interesting as a woman repeats a man’s seduction fantasy.

The vulnerability of the performers gives this show an edgy and entertaining aspect. We are rooting for them, urging them to succeed at whatever challenges this invisible puppeteer will throw at them. At one point, they take their headphones off and each tell a very personal break-up story to the audience. With the headphones off, they are suddenly naked. This is the real performer – in their own accent – divulging something intimate.

During the final scenes, the performers repeat a series of actions: running in slow motion, spinning each other around, and screaming at each other, whilst different cover versions of the Ben E King song ‘Stand By Me’ are played. This is suddenly a show about relationships, about human endeavour to love and love again, and these scenes impressively depict the anguish and joy and repetition of a life’s relationships. By the fifth version of the song we are all sick of it, but I think that’s the point.

So what of Celebration, Florida, a town built and developed by the Walt Disney Company just outside Walt Disney World in the 90s? We are shown an old promotional video for potential homeowners or investors. The town was built by Disney in the 90s to be the epitome of small-town America, with architecture in a range of styles referencing different “classic” American periods.

How does this tie in with the show?

Maybe it’s about grand levels of artifice – apparently in Celebration, they have paper confetti of brown leaves in Autumn, as in California they don’t have a proper “New England Fall”. Maybe it’s about the self-delusion involved in some relationships. Maybe he’s pointing out all those people keen to live in an artificial town to feel better – whilst we sit here in a theatre and picture an imaginary Greg Wohead sitting in his pants in a hotel room to feel…what?

Celebration, Florida runs through 3 March.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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