Presented by Word of Warning, STUN + Z-arts.
30 September 2017.
‘Emergency’, Word of Warning’s annual “day for the curious”, features various performances, installations and experiences all in the space of 11 hours. This year there were 27 shows to choose from and it was more or less non-stop from the off. What’s so likeable about ‘Emergency’ is that it is so open and inclusive – it’s not an event put on solely for the theatre sector nor is it a cliquey showcase for a small cohort of programmers. Anyone can go along and pick and mix what they want to see from the wide selection on offer. Word of Warning’s team are friendly and helpful but shy away from recommending anything specific – it’s for you to choose.
The following is not a comprehensive overview of ‘Emergency’ as I can’t claim to have seen everything, and nor is it an attempt to comment on everything that I did see. It’s just some random thoughts on the day and some of the performances. For those who are counting, I saw eighteen pieces of work throughout the day. I also managed to miss two shows which were both highly recommended – TukaWach’s ‘How the Hares are Dying‘ (because I was at HOME seeing another show) and Eliza Soroga’s ‘The Oppression of Intimacy‘ (because I foolishly misread the start time…).
Emma Geraghty‘s ‘Fat Girl Singing‘ got the best audience reaction and deservedly so. Over 20 minutes she uses the structure of an EP (4 tracks and an outro) to explore how she has fought against the pressures placed on her as a woman to conform to an ideal shape. A simple enough concept – a woman, a mic and her guitar. It’s Geraghty’s raw honesty that gives it bite. Journeying from a place of shame and self-loathing, Geraghty focuses on how music acts as both a comfort and a way to shift other people’s perceptions of her. There is humour and the odd self-deprecating wisecrack (“if music be the food of self-love play on, but also give me food”) but there are also some very moving accounts of how suffocating it can be on the receiving end of other people’s assumptions, judgement and abuse. The show’s direction of travel is towards positivity and an unapologetic defiance. When Geraghty pulls apart an Ed Sheeran song and rewrites it to suit her ideal world view, it is a smartly subversive act. Her performance of that song becomes a feel good moment of personal triumph shared with an audience cheering her on.
Other shows were less direct in approach. There were a few that sought inspiration in the absurd or the downright silly, others pieces looked back to childhood or out in to the wider universe. Several performers asked direct questions of their audience.
Matrafisc Dance offered the opportunity to “see your story journey through a stranger’s body”. This depended on you feeling brave enough to share a meaningful story with them. Performers Antonello Apicella and Ina Colizza repay that trust with a short piece of dance for your eyes only that manages to feel very personal. Some of the stories they have collected and the movements they inspired will go on to become part of a full performance ‘Soul’s Path‘ later this month.
In the larger main theatre, there was lot to like in the destructive hedonism of Ben Mills and Lydia Cottrell‘s ‘Atomic‘ as it assaulted the senses with retina-scorching backlighting and the sweet smell of smashed watermelon.
Katy Dye and Craig Manson took things in a challenging and unexpected direction with ‘The Cat’s Mother‘ – a show that started out cute and ended up raging against entitlement. It managed to say a lot of pertinent stuff about empathy, the media, injustice and prejudice in a very short space of time. Dye’s closing rant delivered in a child-like voice was chilling.
The two performances I enjoyed most were movement-based. ‘HandsON’ from Briggsy and Hawk Dance Theatre was a dance performance with an element of intimacy and an immersive layer via audio transmitted through headphones. Three male dancers explore the crushing pressures placed on men to behave in a certain way. They move around, through, behind and in front of the audience members who are stood randomly within the performance space. Movements are frantic, furtive and at times exhausting. The performers often appear restricted, bent forward under the weight of some invisible burden. Their interactions with each other are (horse)playful, competitive and occasionally aggressive. The conclusion offers a hopeful alternative manifesto – creating a place of calm and connectedness. It’s a thoughtful energetic performance that pulls you in and tugs at your gaze. You can sense a genuine deeply held commitment to the subject matter in the way the three men approach the show. Having seen HandsON before outdoors, it was interesting to see it in an indoor space that offered the opportunity for an added layer of interaction with some audience members gazing down from the upper level of the Zion’s atrium. The performers also seemed more adept at clearing a space amongst the audience this time and, with additional room to breathe, the show felt more powerful and coherent.
‘Va Adaxo che Amannaman ti Càzzi — Go Slowly or you Might Fall’, from Virginia Scudeletti & Nicholas Figgis, was the first show I saw. I wish I’d seen it in its entirety but I only managed to see a couple of large chunks of the 2 hour durational performance. What I did see was hugely accomplished, telling endlessly evolving stories imaginatively through movement. There are sections where vast rolls of brown paper are crumpled and manipulated to create characters, summon up images or stage tableaux. That same brown paper is also rolled out to create defined routes for the two performers to move along as they share collections of memories. A lot of the time, one performer is placing and positioning the other. There are allusions to ceding control of your body to external forces – one section references an elderly woman reluctantly accepting her doctor’s decisions on medical treatment. A striking sequence of movements riffs on the idea of falling – physically, emotionally and spiritually. At one point Figgis is marching vigorously along the brown paper route expansively showboating while Scudeletti perches on his shoulders her movements contrastingly careful and intense with emotion. The whole piece is rich with detail and held together with skill and precision. As I left, I backed out of the space to squeeze in a few last moments of it all. It was ambitious, subtle, inventive and at times downright beautiful.