ABOVE ME THE WIDE BLUE SKY
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 27th February, 2013
The audience is invited to ‘explore the performance space’ up to an hour before the performance. People trickled into the studio space at Warwick Arts Centre, to find the seating set out in-the-round. The central area was paved with white, oblong stones, an uneven patio. Between the cracks, thin cylindrical lamps on spindly stands of different heights, fade on and off. Cine projectors on the paving stones project monochrome movies of water on stones standing on their edges. Around the walls, above our heads, huge screens display images of clouds in an ever-changing skyscape. There is a soundscape, atonal, some sounds from nature, some more musical or artificial in origin. People trickle in. Rather than take their seats, they walk around this ‘installation’ with the po-faced serious of poseurs in an art gallery. Rather than looking at it, they have to be seen to look at it. I begin to have misgivings: have I wandered into a pretentious pose-fest? If we had been told to “come and have a gander” perhaps the approach might have been different.
Thankfully, the worst poseurs are few in number. Most people just come in.
Ten minutes before show time, the actor/performer walks onto the paved area. With her is a fragile-looking whippet. They stand around. She puts the whippet to bed in a basket of animal skins. She goes from projector to projector, switching them off and laying the stones flat. She stands around for a bit more. She moves to an adjustable stool at the centre. It begins.
To my relief, it’s actually very engaging. The performer, Laura Cubitt, has a pleasant, confident voice. “A wide, blue, cloudless, perfect sky,” she says and then proceeds to list things you might see. “Sheep,” she says. “Pigeons.” “The smell of catshit in a sandpit.” There’s a this, she says. There’s a that. On and on, the list goes. Everything she mentions is instantly familiar and imaginable. Her words are captions for the pictures she puts in our heads. There is no plot. There are no characters. It is a list of things, some of them picturesque, some of them horrible (There’s a mouse with its nose caught in a trap; its back legs twitch as it tries to pull itself free…) but all of them within the realms of our imagination. I can’t help thinking she would be just as effective, perhaps more so, without the artsy-fartsy set and the atonal soundscape. Alone in a spotlight, she could evoke the same images just as well.
There is a break, a brief blackout. She begins again, framing the list in recollection of her childhood home in the countryside. Now instead of “There is” it is “There used to be…” We recognise the items listed from the first part, but the images are consigned to the past. She is cancelling the pictures out, one-by-one, as she recalls what there used to be. Eventually you think, with all of these things gone, what’s left?
It is at that point, the very end, that you appreciate the set. Nature has been elbowed out by man’s encroachment on the land.
Not my usual sort of theatrical fare, but I felt its impact just the same. Its effect is cumulative. Our loss of the countryside, our distancing from the natural world is a gradual process. The show uses the idea of memory to make its point. A worthwhile experience that got beyond my cynicism and my distaste for anything pretentious. I will look out for future work from Fevered Sleep.