The Beginner’s Guide to Navigation is about maps. It’s also about cheese jamborees. And anarchy, and relationships, and Eurocentrism. The Beginner’s Guide to Navigation is about a lot of things but most of all it’s about the poignant message hidden amongst a stream of hilarious far-fetched nonsense.
Having been led grossly astray by an outdated copy of a 1997 A-Z map, Catherine, played by Madeleine Allardice, declares war on maps. Supported by her admirably patient boyfriend, Tom, Catherine starts a misfit militia group made up of tea-sipping OAPs, the aimless unemployed and a silent girl in a cat mask. All logic is suspended as Megan Luke, playing the map in question, leads the audience through the delightful absurdity of the show.
Luke is sultry, witty and self-aware. Her narration does what any good map should do; it grants the show a degree of direction, stopping the audience from getting lost amid the barrage of cheese, dancing and cartographic revolution.
It is Allardice who drives the narrative. Her unwavering belief in the cause allows the audience to buy into her rebel movement. “Is she right?”, we wonder. “Perhaps all maps should be banned”. This, combined with Dylan Frankland’s sympathetic and ever-tolerant portrayal of Tom, prevents the show from becoming too silly. The cast’s professionalism means that a piece which could easily descend into a year 7 drama class, where the performers are the only ones finding it funny, remains genuinely humorous throughout.
The piece’s use of tech is ambitious and creative. Projected video conferences, radio shows and musical outbursts keep the show’s technician, Lewis Plumb, rushed off his feet yet he manages the challenge well. Any hiccups are dealt with seamlessly by the cast and the result is a relentlessly entertaining performance.
In the show’s more thoughtful moments, when the cast have stopped throwing Cheerios across the room and the audience have taken a break from munching on cheese and crackers, its message is given space to shine through. Map makers create the world. They place the UK in the centre of the map. Greenland appears the same size as Africa, when in actual fact Africa is over fourteen times larger. Maps are Eurocentric, they are made up of arbitrary borders which carve up the world into “us” and “them”, they are not innocent. And neither are we.
“We left Occupy after twenty minutes because it was cold”, Allardice confesses. “We think we have a choice but we don’t”. The political message is unusual. Rather than inciting dismay at the injustices of the world, The Beginner’s Guide exposes the apathy which plagues Western society. When we find a cause, our enthusiasm for it rarely lasts long and cannot withstand the slightest inconvenience. While Allardice’s desperation to be jailed for trespassing seems to be another farcical episode, her persistence reminds us that in order for change to happen one must commit wholeheartedly to the cause.
All photo credit – Matt Austin