Art of the Eight Limbs

Art of the Eight Limbs is a play that exists in a purgatory-like dimension, with its three characters, White, Red and Blue. 'White' is a woman who has locked herself away from the world, and her past, which constantly intrudes in from the corners. 'Red' is a teenager who is struggling with her family life, and 'Blue' is a PUA-type who ultimately abhors the women he preys upon.

As these characters regale us with their stories, we see a greater story emerge: one which touches on the cyclical nature of time, the nature versus nurture debate, and the human potential for reform and redemption (or lack thereof). Unfortunately, the drama falls flat because the characters through which this feat is accomplished are ultimately quite one-dimensional.

We know Red is a teenager of the nineties, because Art of the Eight Limbs takes pains to imply as much. Leave aside the Docs, the leather jacket, the plaid shirt wrapped around her waist: she wears a Nirvana t-shirt and is played-on to "Silver". It's difficult to get more on-the-nose when it comes to scoring, and underscoring, the providence of a character.

She's an irascible teen who belongs to a particular time. We get it.

This would all be forgivable but for two things. Firstly, this play is billed as a 'black comedy', but the only comedy beats which even approach registration are snarks issued by Red. That aforementioned one-beat character who is 'suh annoyed' with her step-father. But the problem is the only way you can read her comments as funny is if you've already written her off as a vapid character, whose dramas are all petty, and I wasn't even close to taking that line.

I kept believing that she had the capacity to surprise me, but this script doesn't give her that opportunity.

Secondly, Blue is even more threadbare as a character. The hateful misogynist who dresses well, earns good money, and can get laid any time he wants, but struggles with his childhood trauma? We've been there before. In terms of characterisation, he's the equivalent of a lamb chop that's been thoroughly picked over: all bone and marrow, and only tatters of substance.

Which brings me to White, who I actually liked quite a lot. Mostly because the performance was fantastic, but also because she was a mysterious, complicated, timeless, and even quite a sweet character. I both wanted to learn more of her story, and spend more time with the character: it's a shame that she all but disappears for the finale.

Before the play started, the director came out to speak to us. He wanted us to know that this play is set in Canada, during December, and that it is therefore a Winter play. Thing is, I had so, so many more questions. Enough that which season the characters were being exposed to didn't even register for me. Art of the Eight Limbs spent so long teasing the connections between these characters that I just kept losing the thread, and I was honestly bemused more than anything when the curtains closed. Having thought on it a bit, I'm still lost.

There is a profound play hidden here, and I'm unworthy of unlocking its secrets. Or it's all under-baked nonsense, realised through flat dramaturgy and overly simplistic characterisation, and you should be happy it's already closed. Guess where I landed.

★½