“I’m here, you’re there. What does that make me?”
There are many boundaries in life, real and imagined. There are personal boundaries, relationship boundaries, divides between the genders, the mind and body, between maker and viewer. The arts love to play with these boundaries, to test them, to cross them, to highlight them, to create and eliminate them, because artists intuitively understand that there is reward in moving through them.
As reviewers, we slip between the boundary of viewer and maker, ferrymen between worlds, our passage, story, our trade, ink. But there are moments in productions when we lose our place, when the performances are so powerful and sublimely believable that we don't want to cross over. Elbow Room's There was one of those productions for me. It has stayed with me (or perhaps I have stayed with it) as a striking piece of original work.
The stage is set with minimal distractions: a blackened room, a simple black plinth, elemental and ceremonial, a tiny strip of stage that separates the performers from the audience. Emily Tomlins and Angus Grant begin their performance in torchlight, with spotlighted hands that wander and explore, discover and withdraw, fluttering like primal organisms gaining consciousness. We sense the vulnerability - theirs and ours - as they migrate the plinth, themselves, each other, the stage, with only their hands and the hope to communicate.
What begins through silent movement, sensitive expression and primal sound explodes into fervent speech as Tomlins channels Agamemnon's Watchman as he waits for the fall of Troy. Grant responds by spruiking a store sale. It seems speech may not move the divide between their characters any closer, and it provides for intense, humorous and often touching interaction that is completely convincing; it annihilates, not just suspends, any disbelief.
Director Marcel Dorney's There is funny, poignant, moving, challenging and totally engaging, even if not completely accessible. Sound, music and lighting is used sparingly, but what is used amplifies the strength in Tomlins' and Grant's visceral performance, which is contained but passionate; there is a palpable physicality to it, despite this being a two-person no-prop abstract show.
There plays with boundaries: between audience and performer; between implicit and explicit storytelling; between expectation and experience. It does this in such an experimental and experiential way that it might be easy for an audience to say, "I didn't get it". They will, just not in a way they could have anticipated - and this is, of course, when they encounter the real power of the arts.
Forget going to see There. Go to experience it. It is the jewel in the Junction 2011 crown.