Review: The Book of Loco, Adelaide Fringe Festival

Rational madness. What is it and why should we care? Alirio Zavarce’s performance, The Book of Loco attempts to outline his ideas on rational madness and why we should take note. In its simplest form, rational madness is the everyday around us. From the mundane to the quirky, we accept what society and the authorities tell us is acceptable, is normal. Yet looking at these ideas from a different perspective, through the lens of Zavarce’s Book of Loco, the everyday becomes skewed. Take a plate of fresh poo, as Zavarce uses as an example. We do not value this because in our eyes a plate of poo is not appealing, it is disgusting. What if someone buys it for $20? The value of that plate is now $20, and we as an audience have to accept that the plate now has a value. Regardless of our initial ideas of the value of the plate, a financial transaction has taken place, and we must accept its value because of this. This is the madness that Zavarce attempts to reveal – what society and authority do to us.

I’m always wary of one person shows: they rest so heavily upon a lone performer who not only has to deliver a show but also find a way to get the audience to relate to them, to appreciate them. Zavarce does this with ease by making the audience acutely aware that we are sitting in a theatre and that we’re watching him, and that everything that happens is connected between us. For a one person show, The Book of Loco is as imaginative as it is engaging. We’re not allowed to sink into the performance, we’re told to expect the unexpected. Surrounded by cardboard boxes (1,800 of them the programme tells us), Zavarce encases his audience in a fragile and destructive performance world. Boxes cascade around us, Zavarce punches holes into the cardboard box walls, projections appear on the box canvases and objects are concealed within them. The whole performance shifts and collides, like atoms swirling with intensity before colliding with a great force.

Yet for all the madness (if we’re to call it that) within the performance, The Book of Loco is rooted within set ideas and concerns. We’re told to be aware of our emergency exits. Within the theatre this is easy to do, but what about the emergency exits in life? As we’re going about our business in New York in 2001 and a plane hits the World Trade Centre, where is our exit then? At what point do we take control of our life and our circumstances? This is what I take from The Book of Loco, but ask a sample of the audience and you’ll be sure to get different answers, such is the spiralling and colliding messages that are contained within Zavarce’s work.

This is all very well, to hear of the thematic devices at place, but what of the performance itself? Does it work, does it make us question things and engage us? Unbelievably. The Book of Loco might be full of questions and equations that we can’t figure out, and even days after the performance they’re still hammering inside my head. It gives a cracking display of theatricality and performance. Zavarce is engrossing as a performer. At times it feels like we’re in a zoo, watching a species unknown to us, but we see the vague similarities. We’re engrossed in the noises, the movements of this species – of Zavarce’s performance itself. A magician, almost, conjuring and enchanting us, making us realise the magic of theatre, whilst hitting us with the power of the messages that lie within the work.

The Book of Loco is mesmerising, engaging, powerful, complicated and deliciously entertaining. It’s unlike any madness I’ve witnessed in theatre before, because it challenges us from the word go. It makes us uneasy and it forces us to press our noses against the fourth wall and to push it over. Down with the theatre, down with the ideas and society and authority, and every idea we’ve ever conceived in our mind. It’s all madness when viewed in the manner of The Book of Loco, but it is also so revealing and truthful. Challenging and engaging, theatre as it should be.

 Originally published on A Younger Theatre.