Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Deborah Pearson's Wonder Striker at Norwich Arts Centre

This was the first of two Live Art performances at Norwich Arts Centre by British-Canadian theatre producer and playwright Deborah Pearson, scheduled as part of this year's Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Whilst I am scheduled to work the Box Office on Thursday's second performance, and may have still had a chance to see part of the show, the offer of a free ticket for Tuesday's performance was simply too good an opportunity to let pass. The Festival Communications Team had released a limited number of complimentary tickets for Volunteers, and I had arrived in good time to guarantee my place.

The Festival programme, and the posters for tonight's performance do not give much away about the nature of the show, 'The Wonder Striker'. It is described, in brackets, as 'A Work in Progress', but is this to be taken literally? As well as a writer and producer, and co-founder of Edinburgh's award winning Forest Fringe, Pearson is also a performance artist, possibly best known known for her £1 'Advice Booth' which originated in Brick Lane, but also appeared at Latitude five years ago. 

So, who knows what tonight might bring? I have a pound coin ready, just in case.

The show starts with the opening credits to an old black and white movie. It is a foreign film. I recognise the word Magyar, and realise that it is Hungarian. Whilst the film continues, Pearson sits at a desk to the right of stage, monitoring a laptop screen and speaking via a microphone. She begins to translate some of the dialogue into English, even though there is already some sub-titling. 

Gradually it becomes clear that she is actually re-enacting a conversation had with a friend who had been watching the film alongside her, a friend who does not speak Hungarian. From snippets of the conversation we learn that one of the actors was her grandfather. The film is a 1950's comedy farce, so Pearson comments on the appearance of the cast, as well as the absurdity of the plot, and continues to translate as much as her Hungarian allows.

The story is set in the fictitious country of Futbolia. Following the recent football humiliation at the hands of a neighbouring country it is decided to buy the Hungarian wonder striker Ferenc Puskàs in order to bolster the national team. However, instead of purchasing Puskàs, a mix-up during negotiations in a hotel results in them buying instead a petty con-man and pen salesman (played by Pearson's grandfather). 

Just as we begin to wonder if this monologue is how the entire performance is going to pan out, Pearson moves from her desk and sits instead directly in front of the screen facing her audience. The film continues, but now the dialogue and plot become less important. Instead, Pearson is now having a present day conversation with the original Hungarian scriptwriter who, it transpires, fell out of favour with the authorities around the time of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. Whereas her grandfather was deemed to be a 'non-political' man, and managed to escape retribution, the scriptwriter had been viewed as a political subversive. Although the film was completed, and released in Hungary after the uprising, no writing credits were assigned, and entire scenes featuring the real Ferenc Puskàs had to be reshot using a doppelganger.

And so the whole idea behind 'The Wonder Striker' becomes clear. This is a performance of two halves, initially a personal journey of discovery about her grandfather, the film star, and a commentary of the film plot. It then becomes a commentary on the stifling of creativity and freedom of speech and movement during the aftermath of an unsuccessful revolution against communism and Soviet Russia. 

A totally thought-provoking and idiosyncratic performance that leads you to your own conclusion. Pearson's softly spoken delivery lulls you into a relaxed state before hitting you, with devastating precision, with laser-sharpened confidences and revelations. Whilst it is, Pearson stresses, still very much still a work in progress, this is very much a personal journey that may still have further to go.  

And if she gives me a £1 coin, I'd be more than happy to give her some more of my thoughts and advice. 

For the full Norfolk & Norwich Festival programme, and to book tickets, go to

To learn more about Deborah Pearson, or to provide feedback, go to

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