Judith Wright Centre
November 4 – 8 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
“Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over
the other organisms. It’s by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth!”
Inspired by Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground and combining the physical world of acrobatics and dance with an original live score from Ben Walsh which features the Theremin, amongst other interesting and unusual instruments. Sediment is Company 2’s new three hand theatre work, directed by David Carberry in Collaboration with Ben Walsh and Chelsea McGuffin; in which these three seasoned artists explore themes of truth, adversity, amity and affray.
It’s no surprise that a thing of unusual beauty and delicate strength, Sediment, comes to us from Chelsea McGuffin’s Company 2 (Scotch and Soda, She Would Walk the Sky, Cantina), and comes upon us like a summer storm in an attic. There is static – in the air and on an old television screen that periodically rolls out Dostoyevsky’s words – and rumbling thunder in the twitching, muscular beginning, all funny faces and the somewhat familiar struggle to sit comfortably on a wooden cabaret chair. Then there are lightning flashes – teases and surprises – pages that fly and flutter like Harry Potter’s letters, chairs that magically follow the performers onstage and off, an actual magic trick, and a glass bowl drum kit on a blanket. A steady downpour and gentle rain comes in the form of extended percussion sequences across an old fashioned office desk, a typewriter, and later, the array of glassware. Each musical piece is a delight, and thrilling in the most unexpected, unassuming way; a crumpled piece of paper becomes an entire soundtrack. The typewriter sequence is looped live, and the the glass bowl arrangement is set out like a picnic, a prelude to rain, as simple and gentle as a child’s quiet game set up on the grass in the back yard, the bowls forgotten, left to catch the drops of water as they fall from the sky. The final number, a soft shoe shuffle performed centrestage in a sprinkling of sand, which Carberry empties from his pockets whilst standing on his hands, is impressive but it leads to an anti-climactic (some will say thoughtful and thought provoking) end.
What is truth? Indeed.
Chelsea McGuffin and her partner in life and art, David Carberry, demonstrate the subtle, silent and increasingly forceful manipulation of one partner in a relationship. I’m not sure that this is exactly the story they will feel they intended to stage but for me it’s very clearly a tender, bitter battle. The most disturbing aspect of a beautifully passive aggressive pas de deux for instance, is that we recognise the efforts of both parties to come out on top while knowing, with that sudden chill one feels when one suspects a friend is in trouble, that only one can “win” in this situation. Is it the thrower or the one thrown? When McGuffin, after a fast, fraught sequence, turns her back on her partner and exits stage left in no particular hurry, I’m inclined to think it’s she.
We see the exquisite balance of the same intimate relationship put to the test by the individuals, on the trapeze and over glass. I love the sound the bottles make as they are rolled out into the space, across the floor from the wings. (Cue sound, then let us see its source). Danger and fragility pervade, as man and woman step gingerly across the tops of empty champagne bottles to meet in the middle and (almost, sort of) embrace. Even at their most intimate, there is distance between them. We’ve seen the trick before, but not like this. It’s a slow motion moment, vaguely reminiscent (but not really) of the famous Dirty Dancing sequence… (I love it so I’m embedding it!)
And probably only because of the bottles on stage (and okay, perhaps because of the delicacy of the relationship), I cast my mind back to the days and nights spent with actors in a tiny workers’ cottage in Paddington. Oh no, we weren’t working, we were studying and no one had any money for food, though there always seemed to be money for beer. Someone – probably Clayton – had started keeping the empty Hahn Ice bottles around the little concrete patio, serving as a garden border. Of course there was no garden, just the back patio and a Hills Hoist. Our impressive “empties” collection was all that grew in that place. The relationships developed awkwardly; everyone was there to serve their own agenda and their own beers unless someone asked someone to get them one. Years later, only recently in fact, Clayton and I stepped towards each other from opposite lives to spend time once again talking over a few beers, balancing for hours on our memories of past lives.
Sediment’s musical element is crucial; it sets up every act and provides intrigue, awe and wonder. It’s a fantastic showcase for Ben Walsh – he’s made it so – with a couple of highlights all his own. (The Theremin! And the drum bowls, seriously, will blow your mind and settle your soul; a kitchen meditation). His tendency to dramatise even the slightest sound is testament to his musical ability, timing & perfect confidence as a performer. I can imagine he might have been the distracting, disarming, amazing kid in the classroom whose spirit you would not want to crush! His is a bold, patient presence, befitting Company 2’s vibe. I think it’s worth noting that despite the different requirements, he brings his own easy style to these proceedings with a greater degree of sophistication and control than we saw in Scotch and Soda. I look forward to seeing more of this side of Walsh.
If you’ve seen their work you’ll recognise the Company 2 elements and appreciate the degree of difficulty in these performances, making Sediment an engrossing, entertaining and challenging show. It’s circus changing the face of circus and it’s worth your attention.