We’re welcomed into Rendez-vous by a violin serenade, pitched halfway between the quirky and the soulful. And that, I think, is the tone they’re aiming for throughout this experimental piece – performed for the most part by two male actors wearing masks that cast them as a man and a woman. An exploration of frustrated sexuality and, perhaps, hidden emotional abuse, it scores highly for ambition but fails somewhat in its execution.
As always, the masks deprive the actors of their primary tools – their faces – and in this case also muffle their speech, to the extent that I often found it quite hard to understand what was going on. A harsh-ticking clock does well to capture the stultifying feel of a relationship turned sour, but lines of dialogue such as “you’re a woman, clean the fucking house” don’t offer much in the way of original insight.
And then, summoned by a flourish of the violin bow, we’re on the move. The Fringe programme bills Club Church – a self-described cruising bar – as a place that “few people dare to enter”, and there is indeed a certain frisson about descending to the private rooms in its basement, complete with signs promoting safe sex and abundant supply of condoms. Once in those depths we find… well, I’m not sure exactly what we find. Perhaps it’s a manifestation of desire, or perhaps it’s a personification of threatening sexuality; in literal terms, it’s a man with a goldfish bowl on his head.
There’s something genuinely insightful about this grotesque, dehumanised figure, seemingly seeking emotional connection with his fellow beings but unable ever to achieve it. Unfortunately though, this segment degenerates too quickly into the pointlessly shocking – culminating in moments of “interactivity” which, in a non-theatrical context, would teeter on the borderline of sexual assault. Adding injury to insult, the aforementioned goldfish bowl is a pretty solid object to have shoved hard into your face. A little more consideration for the audience would be welcome here.
Later, we take a trip upstairs, where the masked couple have a really long conversation about changing the bedclothes. Is it a metaphor? I don’t honestly know. A final scene offers an unexpected twist, and some hope of redemption for our quarrelling couple, but it also featured some poorly-coordinated lip-synching from actors who were very clearly using crib sheets to remember their lines.
Rendez-vous does show sensitivity to its near-unique setting, and presents a few surprising images – including one, the most intriguing of all, which I’ve been careful not to spoil in this review. But like so much experimental theatre, it feels rather aimless, and lacks the focus needed to deliver a truly meaningful message. Some refinement, some tightening and a lot more character development would help promote it from the vaguely off-putting to the genuinely disturbing.