The Manual Oracle review or 'I think I need a little head space.'

The Manual Oracle
The Yard Theatre, 29th May 2014
Written for Time Out 



Self-help books might seem like a recent fad but they’ve been knocking around for centuries. ‘The Manual Oracle’ is based on a seventeenth-century self-help book, which features chilling maxims such as: ‘Always act as if you are being watched.’ This packed show includes scenes with psychiatrists and mental patients, surreal fantasies, floating voices, trippy masks and a guest appearance from Margaret Thatcher. 

There’s a whiff of the dramatised PhD to Phoebe von Held’s production, which is running as part of the Anxiety Arts Festival 2014. There are just so many words in here! Earnest maxims are projected across Moi Tran’s blank white stage and bizarre monologues and paranoid musings pile in on top of each other. What begins as exhilarating becomes exhausting.

The least wordy scenes express the most. An anxious young couple is stopped at border control by two officers, who have giant cat-mask heads. A paranoid wife talks to her beautiful friend and, due to some nifty microphone work, her speech sounds magnificently warped. Three strung-out patients cycle endlessly on white bicycles, their words and actions leading nowhere. 

Other scenes are weighed down by too much jargon and competing ideas. The audience drifts off, despite some gutsy acting from Rosie Thompson and jaunty comedy from Ruth D’Silva. By the time we get round to the Margaret Thatcher skit, which hints at the dangerous disconnect between society and the self, we’re just too worn out to worry. 

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