Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Lauder!, Teatr Hotel Malabar

Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a phenomenal piece of writing. Following the journey of Oscar as he attempts to track down the lock which a specific key fits leads to an epic journey across New York. Next to Oscar’s journey is that of his grandmother’s, and her love for and loss of her husband, who turns up years later as a mute, inhabiting non-places in the hope of finding a place to be someone. It’s a novel of such power and intent that it’s not surprising Teatr Hotel Malabar has adapted the story for the stage. It’s just a shame that in doing so it has bastardised the text, stripping out any intelligent reading of the novel and replacing it with grotesque imagery and silliness.

Lauder! starts well enough. A large chalk map of lower Manhattan dominates the floor, a map that will becomes Oscar’s searching ground for the lock to his key. There’s a whole host of puppets and objects that are manipulated to represent characters throughout, these are kept at the back of the stage, in sight, to be used when required. Then there’s a whole armoury of technical devices such as webcams, projections and screen-sharing to add a layer of digital offering to the work. The performers share the various roles and, donning large sun-glasses, they monologue their way through the text which has been cut and amended to fit within an hour.

For all the visual images that are created, and the blurring of theatrical form, I can’t help but miss the narrative of Foer’s novel. That is the intended story of Lauder!, but it is never fully realised. The piece becomes more of an exercise in the dismantling and rehashing of work through puppetry and visual images. Any sense of emotional or real narrative structure is replaced with bizarre use of puppetry to convey the story, offering us little than bemusement. I’m sure there is a point to Teatr Hotel Malabar’s visual expressions but I wish that in experimenting when them on this story it hadn’t forgotten the role of the audience as spectators and receivers of the work. By doing so the work falls flat in front of us, the minutes ticking by with relentless nullity.

Originally published on A Younger Theatre.