Jem Rolls travels a lot, Jem Rolls talks a lot, and Jem Rolls gets lost a lot – and all of these aspects of his dynamic nature come into focus both hilarious and profound throughout this show. By drawing cards that determine the course that the show is to take, rather than following a purely scripted path, Rolls pushes both himself and the audience closer to the brink of the unknown, while riveting us together on the journey.
This device works for Rolls on a number of levels. First, without a traditional plot structure to rely on, the audience is left without a “map” of where the show is going. This works well, because it forces them to pay closer attention to the text for clues than they otherwise might. Next, it reflects the point the show is trying to make, that the experience you’re looking for happens when you are unsure of exactly where you stand and where you’re going. This is true both of the audience’s and Rolls’ own experience of delivering it to us; he’s not sure what’s coming next, and it forces him to be present in a highly vulnerable way.
Finally, it simultaneously allows and forces the show’s point to develop in a revelatory manner, as in a vista unfolding from between trees as we climb a hill, or we stumble upon some small thing that we realize we’d always been looking for. This a really nice way to experience a show, because no matter when you become conscious of the message, it merely continues to take on nuance and develop as the show progresses without indulging that nagging and unpleasant “I know what’s going to happen” sensation.
Jem Rolls knows that the experiences we are looking for rely on a little bit of pure unknown, and gives us a taste of this complete with all the power of performance that he always brings to the stage. It might be worth considering, however, whether he and the audience are ever faced with that moment he talks about, where we truly decide to get off the bus, the map, or the path, and actually get lost. Rolls guides us on a journey where the landmarks come in an predictable order, but we’re all always confident that he knows what each landmark is when it pops up. I wonder what would happen with a bit of pure unknown in this show.