Friday, 12 November 2010

Without Warning, Trinity Laban College

This original performance piece, devised and executed by Trinity Laban alumni, Without Warning was a rather daring, abstracted affair. The seed idea for this heavily workshopped but essentially improvised work was An Evil Cradling, Brian Keenan's account of years spent in captivity in Beirut. It was performed in the backstage area of Trinity Laban's Bonny Bird theatre, an appropriate space for its bare, industrial appearance and stark lighting. We (the audience) found ourselves moving around like flocking starlings, either crowding to see performers on the floor or stepping back to let them through.

I'm unfamiliar with the content of An Evil Cradling, although I'd imagine it covers the pain and paranoia of brutalised captivity as well as the unique friendship that Keenan struck up with Brian McCarthy, his fellow cell-mate. Consequently, there was a great deal of interaction - largely dance - in pairs. Often strained, even mutedly aggressive, the movement was occasionally accompanied by music generated both diegetically (if you like) by the performers, or electronically by a sound designer in the flies. Much of this seemed pertinent to the basic idea of Keenan's incarceration.

More interestingly - and, dare I say it, importantly - is how the piece worked on its own terms. For me this meant the experience of being inamongst the performers. This isn't a situation I enjoy as there's the ever-present threat of 'audience participation'. It became apparent though that this was simply a conceit to encourage the sense of claustrophobia that is an important component of the drama.

Particularly intriguing about the experience was the proximity of the performers at given moments. There are some speedy and even violent manoeuvres at times and, given the clear sense of improvising, there's always the potential for collision, if not with the performers then with fellow audience members when trying to move out of the performers' way. My own experience was very instructive. I quickly found that I didn't want to move. I felt that I wanted to trust the performers to move around me if necessary and that I didn't want to move in the way of other audience members.

Above all, I felt a peculiar belligerence about being in 'the audience'. I felt that, in view of a lack of clear instruction of how I should be moving and the flexibility of the performers, that I would simply stay where I was and let the performers find their own way around me. I found this strangely empowering (especially on one occasion in which a flying toe tapped my chin) but this drew me towards the tension of the drama. It's as if I were no longer simply observing but adopting a role - not a premeditated role in the sense of 'oh, I must be one of the captors then' but a role defined by my own physical sensation in being in close proximity to the physicality of the performers in conjunction with the particular emotional content of that physicality.

Other thoughts revolved around the use of instruments in the performance. I didn't connect with the idea of An Evil Cradling until I read more about it after the show. Instead, I found that I was making connections with the idea of Tamino struggling with one of the trials of The Magic Flute or Orpheus attempting to rescue Eurydice. The music was entirely integrated into the performance though. Laura Moody's uncompromising approach to her cello and extended vocal technique was frighteningly unhinged; Peter Willcock's flute playing and humming (not to mention deeply expressive face) seemed rather more compos mentis, though consequently pitiable. As I suggest Lizzi Kew-Ross' choreography incorporated all of this, making it impossible to isolate, let alone commend individual performances of this intense, unusual and eventually rewarding project.

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