Review: Architecting

Jill Frutkin and Libby King in 'Architecting'star
Traverse 2 (Venue 15)

After two-time Fringe First success – with 2006’s Particularly in the Heartland and 2005’s Give Up! Start Over! (In the darkest of times I look to Richard Nixon for hope) – New York-based company The TEAM (Theatre of Emerging American Moment) are back and have stepped up a gear in their first co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland. It’s an ambitious piece; in truth, perhaps overly ambitious.

A note from director Rachel Chavkin is telling. Architecting, she explains, started as a feminist piece, then it became about a new housing development built on a Gettysburg battlefield, then an exploration of racism and reconstruction via Gone With the Wind, then an examination of historian Henry Adams and his study of cathedrals. Part way through development, “it had begun exploding at the seams”. You can say that again.

Running at two hours (without an interval), Architecting is densely packed with ideas which are roughly divided into four chapters (very roughly – I only realised this afterwards on re-reading the press release). For me, the most interesting strand concerns Gone With the Wind, particularly having seen Trevor Nunn’s failed attempt to musicalise it in the West End and Ron Hutchinson’s more successful behind-the-scenes comedy about David O Selznick’s rewriting of the film script (Moonlight and Magnolias).

In Architecting, Jessica Almasy’s Margaret Mitchell tries to maintain authorial control of her characters (Scarlett O’Hara is more headstrong than ever) and preserve the story’s historic integrity (including the ‘N-word’) and central theme of survival in a modern Hollywood remake. Parallels drawn between Gone With the Wind’s mourning for a lost world and the reconstruction of the Deep South post-Civil War and the need to rebuild New Orleans – and the rest of America – after Hurricane Katrina and other 21st-century disasters also resonate.

However, a Scarlett O’Hara beauty pageant seems a step too far, and the storyline it arises from, the ballad of two Arkansas loners, while poignant, feels tacked on and unnecessary.

Wavering focus aside, Architecting is a beautifully elegiac piece, enhanced by balletic choreography, Davey Anderson’s evocative original music and assured performances from the multiple role-playing, corset-swapping six-strong ensemble. Not quite the sum of its considerable parts, but nearly.

- Terri Paddock

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