Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Review: Food Court – Back To Back Theatre
Text, Direction and Set Design by Bruce Gladwin
Music by The Necks
First and foremost, Food Court was an aural experience. A gradually cresting wave of sound made by the performers incredible voices which, true to the program, “circumnavigate the universe, dissecting heaven and hell, good and evil” and the unclassifiable work of The Necks. The sound of the piece breathes with you, often jarring or unfathomable but always interesting.
Back To Back Theatre predominantly works with an ensemble of actors with intellectual disabilities. The piece is based on their own experiences of control and guilt. At first we see a highly theatrical realism, all the workings of the stage are laid bare as two gold gym suit clad performers accuse a girl (Sarah Mainwaring) of being fat. From the gap in the pros ach curtain chairs are brought out for them to sit on, the mics are held in place for them so they can be heard. Then as the accusations increase in volume and intensity we descend from the workings of theatre and into a harrowing fantasy. The curtain parts and we see everything behind a screen, the performers are just shadows and colours, smudges in a forest of incredible animation (Rhian Hinkley). The degradation doesn’t stop there however, in this darkly beautiful landscape everything gets worse. After the girl is made to strip and dance a crowd of people emerge, pointing at her while more insults are thrown. Then as they leave, in a moment I in the audience so desperately wished would be tender, a boy takes a mic and begins to speak to her. He’s not had much experience sexually, he wants to touch her face, he wants someone to love him. The only reply she gives as he holds the mic in front of her is her breath. This moment is not tender, nor does it give any respite from blame and guilt, it is free from morality, innocent and very very threatening. Finally, as The Necks build in intensity and waves of sound patterns shake the stage, she struggles alone as she speaks an excerpt from The Tempest being projected onto the front screen, Caliban: The isle is full of noises… At first trying to catch up with the scrambling letters, then overtaking them and making them her own. It is an extraordinary and cathartic finish, despite a major screen fuck up at the end on the night that I attended.
It is tragic in structure, Bruce Gladwin describes it in the program as a Geelong tragedy. Coming from a company whose work is mostly produced outside a traditional ‘theatre’ context, Food Court reinvents within the classical western canon and absorbs it into Back to Back’s own practice. It is an aesthetically sophisticated and harrowing work but it is the sound of it that gets to you, the sound of it that awakes in you fear and horror, the gradual build to a climax of sound that creates the tragedy. The Necks are fucking awesome.
It is this that I took away for my own work. The quality of music and sound that dictates emotion and even the body’s physical reaction is an incredibly powerful tool in the creation of theatre. It reminded me of this passage in Artaud’s No More Masterpieces
“Snakes do not react to music because of the metal ideas it produces in them, but because they are long, they lie coiled on the ground and their bodies are in contact with ground along almost their entire length. And the musical vibrations communicated to the ground affect them as a very subtle, very long massage. Well I propose to treat the audience just like those charmed snakes and to bring them back to the subtlest ideas through their bodies.”
For this, and the experience itself, Food Court is a show I am not likely to forget.