I’m one of those people who constantly finds pop songs going through my head, which seem to comment on the situations in which I find myself. Most of the way through “Told By The Wind”, that song was Elvis Costello’s version of Charlie Rich’s country classic “Sitting And Thinking”. There’s a lot of sitting and thinking in “Told By The Wind.”
This is, of course, pretty much what we are told in the advance publicity for the show. Arts Scene In Wales readers will be aware that the piece, first performed in 2009, and having played internationally in the interim, is informed by Japanese “noh” theatre, and by the aesthetic of “quietude”, with the performers’ stillness challenging audiences to become active participants in the construction of meaning.
Thus, we are presented with a sparse set. A man sits at his writing-desk in the far corner of the performance area, staring out of the window. A woman sits diagonally opposite, nearest the audience, in front of a wooden box, also lost in thought. They are separated by a deep-pile rug which, as it turns out, is also a repository of secrets.
Eventually, there is movement, and text, and sound. The two people who seem to share the physical space never directly interact, however.
The man, played by Phillip Zarrilli, breaks off from his silent reflection to indulge in tai chi-style exercise, using his pen to write on the air. He occasionally speaks elegant verse which reflects on nature, on his first experience of death, on a woman from his past.
The woman, played by Jo Shapland, remains largely silent. She carefully studies tree-branches, pondering their beauty. She moves fluidly, balletically through the space, her movements sometime reflecting the man’s, sometimes not.
The simplistic interpretation which came to my mind is of a middle-aged widower, lost in contemplation of the wife whose loss is profoundly felt, but who remained a mystery throughout their long relationship, and one which he only now has the time and the incentive to explore. Alternatively, they might be an extant couple, alternately intimate and distant, simultaneously in tune and at odds.
There is certainly a traditional division of labour, with the man apparently working, and the more vocal, and the woman distractedly engaging with domesticity. One of the most striking and virtuosic moments comes when Shapland’s movements become jerkily, frenziedly spasmodic as she apparently struggles to make herself heard; possibly symbolic of frustration with her lot.
Aside from the occasional intrusion of birdsong, the piece is primarily without a soundtrack (perhaps unwisely, in the middle of coughing season). Thus Ace McCarron’s lighting takes the dominant role in terms of setting the mood; most strikingly during a climactic moment during which Shapland’s troubled frame is made to cast a shadow which calls to mind a crucifixion.
As the performance reaches its conclusion, the couple seem to move in harmony, suggesting that some form of resolution has been attained. Could this be harmony? The acceptance of loss?
At fifty minutes, “Told By The Wind”, almost despite itself, commands the attention throughout. I can’t claim to have loved the piece, but it certainly intrigues, and much of the skilfully presented imagery lingers in the mind.
SMALL WORLD THEATRE (Cardigan)
Date & Time: Sunday 09 October, 3pm
Telephone: 01239 615952
Tickets: £6 (preview)
CHAPTER ARTS CENTRE (Cardiff)
Dates & Times: Wed & Thurs 12th -13th October, 7:30pm
Telephone: 0290 20304400
EXETER NORTHCOTT THEATRE
Date and Time: Monday 17 October, 7:30pm
Telephone: 01392 726363
Age guidance: 15+