Monday, 1 September 2014

Gappad and Oceanallover

Two companies fly the flag for the physical - in radically different ways
Both Gappad and Oceanallover are billed as physical theatre, although their processes, intentions and products are radically different. Gappad’s As You Always Do is harsh, politically engaged and immediate, while Skin Piel is diffident and detailed. Where Gappad clarify and elucidate, Oceanallover retreat into an obscure, abstract universe.

As You Always Do is well performed, but takes physical theatre as an excuse to abandon traditional theatrical virtues. Plot is dropped for the recitation, in English and Polish, of various cases of abduction. The programme announces that their intention is to humanise the victims behind the headlines, and the series of sketches that make up the hour gradually move from the general to the specific. A rape is re-enacted, the performers rush into the audience and beseech them, multiple characters give evidence. 

Unfortunately, the narrative drags and the structure is very uneven. The promising introduction in darkness cedes to numbing repetition, the court scenes are unsubtle. The victim never emerges to tell their own story- the indignities that she suffers do evoke sympathy but not recognition.

Skin Piel seems to avoid a definitive, easily comprehensible meaning: it aims for an ecstatic mayhem, beginning in the street outside The Arches and dragging bystanders into its Butoh inspired vignettes. Main man Alex Rigg’s attention to detail- in costume, in movement, even in the sounds made as he strikes the floor- offers an intricate vision of an utterly alien world.

After a near arrest in the introduction - a local police van was not amused by the sudden appearance of a white-faced performer waving in the middle of the road - Rigg uses the bleak tunnels of The Arches to entomb his awkward movements and unusual music. A cellist wonders around, as if playing from a score inscribed on the walls: one woman crawls free from a mollusc shell-like dress and proceeds along a thin corridor of light.

Skin Piel does not say anything directly: it exposes the characters to extremes, and simply allows them to unwind. Evocative rather than explicit, it shifts moods and emotions, gradually fading to a disconcerting darkness. It is simultaneously beautiful and disturbing: almost the exact opposite of Gappad.

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