Bootworks Theatre presents Now Listen To Me Very Carefully, HOME; June 7 2016.
Now Listen To Me Very Carefully charts Bootworks Theatre Artistic Director Andy Robert’s self-diagnosed obsession with James Cameron’s 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgement Day. According to Robert’s stage persona, he has seen the film 238 times, and upon entering the theatre he repeats Sarah Connor’s line “get out of the way john,” over and over again whilst behind a booth, James Baker, dressed as the T1000, keeps count until 238. During this opening gambit Roberts instructs the audience, who are spread in a circle, to repeat the line after him. The effect is to invite and make the audience complicit with the obsessional structures of the fantasy being investigated. This sets the tone for roughly half the show, wherein Robert asks audience members to help recreate the scenes from the film whilst he plays the role of the director. What these scenes achieve is a double effect of elaborate childhood fantasies and obsessional neurotic structures. The desire to return to childhood is achieved with Nerf guns, remote control cars and bickering arguments with Baker about the merits of Terminator 2 over all other films. One particular highlight is the use of his parents to speak the lines of the Terminator and Sarah Conor. Here we see how the family triangle of the film mediates Robert’s own relationship with his parents.
After each scene is recreated, Robert pauses to discuss the nature and cause of his obsession. He begins with his childhood and his first encounter with the film and discusses the role of his father’s fantasies and his own perceived inadequacies to his father. The relation to the film is described as a retreat into fantasy in the face of the difficulty in coming to terms with both his own desire, in the case of his childhood crush, but also the desire of his parents. Baker’s role switches from boyhood compatriot to interlocutor and therapist, all the while still dressed as the villain from the film. The dialogue between the two in these scenes is far more amusing than the childhood bickering. Indeed these were the best parts of the play because they contained genuine insight into the nature of the structures of his fantasy and the reasons for his investment. The problem was that this insight was not sustained and relapsed back into the safe ground of recreating the scenes from the film. This was disappointing, since when these insights were offered they were not only interesting parts of the production, but the most amusing. A particular highlight here was an attempted discussion with the father: the father that responded could only do so in an impression of Schwarzenegger and quote from the film, and so the result was a father that mocked his son. The degree to which Robert’s obsessional fantasy is impeding his relationships with others is well displayed here.
For all this insight into obsession, the piece’s continued falling back upon the childhood games – the return to the fantasy rather than its traversal – left me disappointed. The final scene in which Robert comes to an epiphany about his obsession, a desire to take the control which lead to the creation of the show, felt rushed and lacked the insight of previous scenes. Those who took part in the recreation scenes did genuinely appear to thoroughly enjoy the experience, but making the audience complicit with Roberts own enjoyment distracts from a more interesting, and in the end more amusing, insight into the nature of fantasy and the way in which cinema creates these conditions. As charming as the show was I didn’t feel that I had learnt anything about Terminator 2 or why exactly that film and not any other had formed the core of Robert’s obsession. The brief success of the self-analysis left me with the belief that even better could have been achieved.