The Pilots

‘This isn’t the first time this has happened. We’ve done this before. Many times. We’re professionals. I know what I’m doing and he knows what he’s doing. And what we’re supposed to be doing isn’t this and what we promised you in the publicity or in the brochures or whatever isn’t what we’re doing now.’ (Reckless Sleepers 2008)

These are the first words of The Pilots (2008) by Reckless Sleepers. I was the dramaturg for the piece, a job described to me as an ‘inside/outside eye’. It is a problematic and predictive text. By this I mean a text that predicts, that tells the future, that writes itself.

The performers have lost their place. In the world and on the page. They tell you what will happen next. Mole Wetherell predicts that later on he will use a fire extinguisher. What he wants to do is spray Tim Ingram with foam so he looks like a cloud, but he was advised that you should only spray someone with a fire extinguisher if they are actually on fire. So he doesn’t. But there is a point where the fire extinguisher is used but not discharged. The seed of its intention has been sown into the audience’s mind so they complete the action of spraying. They colour in the cloud. A cloud that passes over us. A puzzle that wants to be solved but not straight away. Again it is up to us to make connections between disparate points on the map.

The Pilots (2008) oozes its own process and that process of story production is part of the work. There are times when moments of accident, chance encounters, are folded into the narrative. The piece started off as a sparse text on an empty stage but as it was developed in three different venues the off-stage furniture of those venues made it onstage. They have two ladders, two lanterns, two tables, two microphones, a fire extinguisher, a heater and a fan. As Mole says, ‘We’re just using what we’ve got. At the moment we have got ladders for mountains, a heater as a power station, a fire extinguisher for clouds and a microphone as a gun’ (Reckless Sleepers 2008.)

Later on, Tim is on the floor after being sprayed with the fire extinguisher (or not sprayed). He is talking into the microphone about clouds and asks Mole, ‘What’s my motivation here?’ Mole replies, ‘Your motivation is this gun I’ve got pointed at your head’ (Reckless Sleeprs 2008). Tim headbutts the microphone and the bang, the gun shot, results in him playing dead. It is another moment of predictive text, where objects have a specific history, often linked to the venue or functionality, but are given new fictive futures and identities. They are objects arranged on a stage, waiting to weave their way into the text.

Perhaps the most important object is the text itself – which is read from and swapped and lost and constantly refers to where it’s come from and where it is going. Mole says, ‘I drank too much coffee when I wrote this.’ Early on Tim says, ‘We’re still stuck in the future of the script’ (Reckless Sleepers 2008). This is the hinge of the show. Around which the piece fails to go anywhere. The other night an audience member asked: ‘What is the relationship between failure and getting lost?’ And Mole replied that the relationship is not one he is looking for. But it is there. If Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1953) is a play where Vivien Mercier said, ‘nothing happens, twice’ (Graver 2004: 54), then in The Pilots (2008), nothing happens once. But they’ve done it before, many times. And we know that nothing happens because it says so in the script.

Before the performance Mole and Tim wait in the foyer, the departure lounge, a ‘non-place’ (Auge 1996: 15), between beginning and ending a journey. They enter the theatre with the audience and sit on the front row. The piece begins when they walk onstage describing how they see the beginning. The piece ends with Mole and Tim dressed as pilots saying: ‘We’re brilliant. Brilliant at doing nothing. What are we doing? Nothing’ (Reckless Sleepers 2008). The final image of is the first image of the show. The get in is the get out. The get out is the get in. There is a provenance to the piece. A sense that there was a journey taking place throughout the process and the destination was the performance. The audience, like the performers, arrive at their destination. The video for Club Tropicana plays. The performers leave the stage. The End.

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