In fact, I didn’t even make it to the gig, which is really an added extra to two ‘main’ programmes (which you can watch over two nights, or – in one instance – a whole day).
It’s worth catching all of it. The works by the American screenwriter, playwright, actor, buddy of Bob Dylan and one-time lover of Patti Smith are so intriguing and varied they more than warrant Presence Theatre’s holistic approach. Seeing all the pieces demonstrates how diversely Shepard deals with recurring themes. Father-and-son issues crop up again and again, as does the fallacy of the Great American Dream and the ghosts that haunt the US’s vast deserts.
The ensemble, made up of three actors and one musician (Ben Kritikos of band ‘Herons!’) are versatile, and in their competent hands Shepard’s often obscure dialogue achieves real depth.
John Chancer is great as a desperate, mad father in the best of the two plays, ‘The Holy Ghostly’. Its narrative completely confounds our expectations, beginning as a father-and-son trip into the desert, and becoming a riff on death, trauma and those we leave behind, following the appearance of fire, guns, a bazooka and a mad shaman spirit.
It runs alongside the other programme’s ‘The War in Heaven’, co-written by Shepard and his mentor and collaborator Chaikin, which is too static, hard to grasp and ultimately the most disappointing of the pieces.
The additional section starts with intense, poignant film ‘Savage/Love’ performed by Chaikin. Prose-poetry mix ‘The Animal (You)’ follows, which is beautifully compiled by actor Jack Tarlton and director Simon Usher. Shepard’s fragmented rhythms are transporting; listening to it, and to this roadshow as a whole, you’re faced with a surreal yet romantic vision of a troubled America." Daisy Bowie-Sell
All credit to designer Carmen Mueck for giving us a column of smoke which lasted throughout the first play, The Holy Ghostly, and was all but the star of the show, and that's not forgetting either the corpse or the ghost of a Navajo demon.
Directed by Simon Usher, and presented by Presence Theatre and the Actors Touring Company in association with the Belgrade Theatre, in entirety this Sam Shepard Roadshow is made up of three plays, two films and one gig, but we were treated to the shortened version of two plays, one film.
Think of Jack Kerouac's On The Road and of any road movie you have ever seen, of deserted Amercan badlands, of motels and lonely, freewheeling men, and you will come close to knowing what the works of playwright, poet and actor Sam Shepard are all about.
In The Holy Ghostly a father and son, while doing nothing more innocent than toasting marshmallows around a camp fire deep in the Mojave Desert, ripped one another apart using a mix of love and hate.
In the film Savage/Love, made in the 1980s by Academy Award-winning director Shirley Clarke, actor Joseph Chaikin came up with an absorbing solo performance, while in The Animal (You), the most powerful piece of the evening, we hit the road with Shepard's prose and poetry as passengers, accompanied by the rock'n'roll music made by American guitarist and songwriter Ben Kritikos of the band Herons!
All praise to the cast – John Chancer, Valerie Gogan and Jack Tarlton plus Ben Kritikos – for making this challenging and exhausting drive through the mythic and mysterious, tough and testing, world of Sam Shepard, so believable and bewitching." Frank Ruhrmund
There's bump n' grind bar-room blues playing, and, in front of a back-lit big-screen, some drifter in a sleeping bag remains comatose throughout the screening of Shirley Clarke's 1981 video of Savage/Love, Shepard's dramatic collaboration with actor/director Joseph Chaikin.
As the title suggests, Shepard and Chaikin's 25 minute masterpiece, performed to the camera by Chaikin himself with jazz duo accompaniment, is a relentless incantation on the highs and lows of obsessive amour. On video, it becomes both an impressionistic interpretation by Clarke and an essential document of Shepard and Chaikin's fertile collaboration, which also sired Tongues and The War in Heaven, both seen as part of the second day of Chorale alongside Shepard's 1970 play, The Holy Ghostly.
There's a distinct whiff of patchouli oil for The Animal (You), a compendium of Shepard's prose fragments knitted together by director Simon Usher and actor Jack Tarlton, who performs alongside John Chancer, Valerie Gogan and musician Ben Kritikos like some pan-generational art-rock poetry troupe. From behind microphones, the three men declaim Shepard's retrospective meditations on fathers, sons and barefoot girls on trains who look like Tuesday Weld. Inbetween, explosive litanies on the visceral power of rock music leap out with abandon. All this converges as a rolling interior monologue with the irresistible pull of the road at its heart in a piece of beguilingly poetic rock and roll theatre." Neil Cooper
“A tour de force … unmissable.”
Jane Howard, Behind the Arras