Presented by Alice Marsh
Reviewed 4th March, 2020
Nothing is as it seems.
In the friendly Bowden ambiance of Rumpus, it all seems uncomplicated until Karen Burns whispers in the ear of each audience member before we enter the black-box theatre. She tells us individually that we are invited into a space which is alive. It’s a sentient space – a sensation mirror. We are told that, whatever we feel, The Space will also feel it. However, it is also a disordered Space.
There’s not much to look at on stage: a chair, a milk crate and a few closed cardboard boxes. A robotic voice begins the piece. It is The Space itself, welcoming us. Karen sits immobile on one side of the stage, while an usher (Lucia Van Sebille) sits, equally immobile, on the opposite side of the stage. We listen as The Space becomes more and more obsessed with correctness, rules and human expectations. In a quixotic aside, The Space wonders what it feels like to fall in love. As the voice of The Space becomes more insistent that boxes should not be opened, Karen Burns silently recruits audience members to help her disobey The Space.
Further into the piece, Burns begins a sustained movement segment. Its integrity, solemnity and beauty reveal her Japanese Butoh training. She makes arresting pictures, permitting us to see her in many ways. Meanwhile, the robotic voice of The Space has now been supplanted by the voice of The Artist. She’s bright, clear, and discursive. It’s her voice that forms the ostinato to Burns’ extraordinary movement work. OK, there’s the clatter of a bunch of videos on audience phones as well. (Audience members were asked to load an Instagram app of Alice Marsh videos prior to the show).
“Listen to your thoughts as you receive me”, says The Artist (aka Alice Marsh). Near the end of the show, Karen quietly mentions that Alice is currently in the UK. It is Alice who has written the show and voiced both The Space and The Artist, with their dialectical viewpoints. Her vocal work is lovely, both clear and strongly communicative. The text sometimes digresses further than is necessary, blunting the edge of the piece.
“By keeping our feelings in a box, we keep ourselves small”, is the take-home wisdom of this show. The Artist urges kindness, curiosity and acceptance as the antidote to emotional numbness in our society. What you make of the show is entirely up to you. There’s a teaspoon of Artaud and a dash of Tanztheater; I’m put in mind of experimental European theatre of the early 80’s. Warmed and sharpened by this run, the piece should evolve into tightly focussed experiential theatre, wholly lacking in self-pity and suffused with humanity.
Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson
Rating out of 5: 4 stars – Accepting, evolving
Venue: Rumpus, Bowden
Season: 4th – 8th March 2020
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: $20:00 / $15:00