“'Oh my god I can’t believe I am actually watching this’ - This is what theatre should make you feel like.”
I thought yeah he's right, this is how I've felt whenever I've been knocked over by how good a show was.
Little did I know I'd feel this way that very evening, watching Boris Charmatz's enfant at Sadler's Wells. Here are 3 things about it that made me go 'I can't believe I just saw that happen in front of my eyes!'
1. The set.
The stage is bare, with no wing curtains. At the beginning, some kind of crane with a motor (placed front stage right) is pulling pieces of rope that have been taped around the stage and along the wall. Two people are at the end said ropes, and end up being lifted and hanging what must be 5 to 8 meters about the stage floor. They look lifeless, just hanging there. The man is held by one foot, the woman is folded at the waist. The machine brings them up, down, deposes them on the floor only to bring them back up. What is going on?
2. Lifeless children being moved about by adults all around the stage.
They are like rag dolls being played with, made to dance, to sit, to chat. The children are what, aged 5 to 8? For half an hour they stay limp, eyes closed, while the adults move them about, dance around them and go about some crazy business. The sight of those children was funny at first, but turned disturbing for me. A few weeks ago I was sadly in A&E, and witnessed the death of a 3-month-old in the bay opposite mine. I only saw him being carried in by the ambulance people, then the curtain was drawn and I could just hear them trying to save him. Minutes later, a wail from the distraught parents. Their son was dead. Seeing the show reminded me of them, and how maybe in the madness of their grief they may have tried to will their baby back to life. I would have, I think...
3. After the children start singing, they start running around. There are incredible moments where one or two try to run off stage but get caught up by an adult. To them, it may be a game but there was a certain shock/violence that made me gasp. Then it's the turn of the adults to go lifeless while the kids move them around (5 kids needed to move one man, at one point). A bagpipe player (!!!!) then appears and guides all the children and adults around the stage in some kind of crazy celebration/parade. You can tell it's very improvised. There are mad marching steps, screams, rolls on the floor. You can see some kids looking around a little confused, but they soon remember some steps they know they can fall back on (one is scrubbing your eyes, as though you are waking up, or miming crying). I'm watching and I'm like 'What the fuck!?'. It is completely mad, I don't know where it's going but I am in awe of the performers and the vision of the choreographer. Here is the bagpiper being lifted by the crane.
Leaving the theatre, I was completely buzzing. It's hard to explain why, apart from complete surprise at seeing something so different, and so beautiful for it.
If I see another show this year that has the same impact on me, I'll consider myself very lucky.