A review by Laura Anderson for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Axis Art Centre, Exeter Phoenix and Oval House Theatre present:

Something or Nothing


Written and performed by Guy Dartnell

Directed by Sinéad Rushe

Oval House Theatre

22 February- 26 February 2011



A mixed media one man show about “the notion of there being no self” is a description that could deter many casual theatre goers looking for a light escape from the humdrum of everyday life. However Guy Dartnell’s self-aware humour and likeability makes it a delight to follow his musings on meditation and the difference between our public and private selves.

This idea of “no self” has been explored by varied individuals including David Hume, and is a central idea in Buddhism (called Anatta). In Buddhism the general idea seems to be that when you believe in “self”, this self identification leads you cling to suffering and stress. Dartnell himself says that the chronic back pain that began when he was in his twenties is a manifestation of the anger and sadness he has felt in his life.

These are complicated and highly theoretical concepts, but Dartnell manages to convey them without lecturing like a professor of philosophy. One way this is done is by the creative use of lighting, designed by Katharine Williams. At the start of the show Dartnell explains the two spotlights that will sporadically appear. When he is inside the one with a rosy pink glow he will express his “private” thoughts and self, which the audience is told to ignore. There’s also the white light of religion that shines down, which he states he will skirt around but not dive directly into. He uses voiceovers to quote extracts from The Bodhicaryāvatāra and from an interview with Krishnamurti – whose book inspired Dartnell to explore the concepts of self and no self. Hearing the thoughts of these philosophers adds legitimacy to the production.
Dartnell manages to keep it relatable with his self aware humour and quips like, “I realise it’s an egotistical thing to do a show about having no ego”. We hear stories from different times in his life, and how, in many ways, he has questioned the idea of identity. His practice of breaking off an anecdote half way through and resuming it sometime later keeps your attention, but you may feel frustrated when it seems he is really getting to what he wants to say, and then seguesinto a different story.

We’re presented with a relatively bare stage, with a blackboard/screen on wheels being the only thing to rest your eyes on except Dartnell himself. Luckily he does plenty to keep your attention, from exercise stretches to acting out his anecdotes. However his improvised dancing - kind of like an awkward dad dancing at a wedding – seems a bit out of place and unnecessary.

Camcorder and projector screen are used extremely cleverly in Dartnell’s examination of Douglas Harding’s pointing experiment. He involves you into this experiment, designed to explore the idea of self by examining how others see you and how you see yourself. By raising the lights and turning the camera onto the audience, suddenly you become the subject, and you are forced to engage and really think about private and public selves. The way he uses the projector, chalk board and hypnotic Indian style music to portray how he feels when he is meditating is beautiful and almost mesmerising.

What you are left with is not the black and white feeling that you are something, or that you are nothing. There are no conclusions given or assertions made, and somehow it’s not really made clear why we should get rid of the idea of self.  Nevertheless you are prompted to think about these theories and are left pondering the journey you have witnessed and the journey you have taken long after the blackboard has been cleaned and you leave the theatre. And surely this is what the creator (Guy Dartnell) and director (Sinéad Rushe) were aiming for.



0207 5827680

Oval House

52-54 Kennington Oval, London SE11 5SW

£14.00/Concessions £7

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