A metal frame in the shape of a cube greets the audience as they enter the studio space of Chapter Arts Centre. The cube has one wall at the back with a dark circle carved out in it. Looking at this ambiguous setting (set by Emma Bailey) while waiting for the show to begin, you may be trying to figure out what kind of surreal world is going to be at play.
Well it isn’t quite surreal but it isn’t ‘reality’ either … I think. According to their own website, Made In China Theatre’s ‘work is about little absurdities and big issues that come from living and looking out at the world from the waning west’. With this production they look at something so domestic, something so relatable – the mundane moments of a couple’s relationship. In this instance, the main performer uses these moments to fantasise about her partner Tim’s (Tim Cowbury) death.
A woman, Jess (Jessica Latowicki), walks on before the lights come up. A noise of a fan comes on and she begins to “dance”; well, that’s what she calls it. You may also call it frantic gesturing; or a fit of some kind – all the while her hair is blown awry by the fan (the light has revealed that the ambiguous dark circle is a fan). Whatever it is you may find it equally as hard to watch as it is to take your eyes off.
As you become more and more entranced several connotations are potentially evoked from her strange movements: from sexual encounter to someone possessed by supernatural forces. The gestural aesthetic is reminiscent of Jerzy Grotowski’s poor theatre experiments in his Laboratory Theatre, in Poland in 1960’s and 70’s (Youtube it and thank me later). The duration of this physical sequence is somewhat jarring and uncomfortable; a quality that continues as Jess begins to speak.
What is presented is a kind of weird power struggle between Jess on stage and Tim (her on and offstage boyfriend), who resides in the lighting box. There are all sorts of interesting things happening here that go far beyond the story. The narrative often breaks off into the meta-theatrical and questions the nature of performance. There is playfulness to the evening that is interrupted by fantastic moments of tension that from the stage, across the heads of the audience, and to Tim in the lighting box. This back and forth is inevitably turned on its head by the macabre.
Jessica Latowicki is excellent as a storyteller and her interactions with the audience are brilliantly woven into the narrative. She brings a ferocious energy that helps to create tensions that could have easily fallen flat. Tim Cowbury, too, is very funny in his brief but important deposits of dry humour.
The sound, particularly towards the end, had that Christopher Brett Bailey (Associate Dramaturg with Deborah Pearson) feel of being overwhelmed in an ocean of sound waves – it was typically jarring and brilliant.
This production is definitely worth a watch, even if you are not always sure what you are watching.