The short, intense theatre show which is Void at Summerhall, based on J G Ballard’s Concrete Island, is a painful dance solo indistinguishable from a sound and lightscape in a theatre space that is a place inside our minds as well as just outside our awareness. It makes us reflect on just what exactly we have made of our world.
Another of the quality shows in the Made in Scotland series, the set is part grotty under-the-motorway corner, part Guantanamo Bay bleak, part metaphor for a closed place we cannot escape from in which we are tortured, mostly unnoticing, perhaps of our own making. Mele Broomes, performer and choreographer, is tossed \ catapulted into it like a body thrown from a car in the midst of a crash, or a prisoner pushed into a cell. We are that body, we can’t see the cameras, we are watching and being watched in our agony.
With three of the walls absent, this self-enforced prison, designed by MHz, is somewhere we simultaneously seek to escape from and voluntarily remain in. Despite there being only a back wall to the stage, it is as if we are seeing through into a four walled enclosure.
The soundtrack is either electronically produced or real noise sampled and manipulated. It mimics and creates the extreme din which we put up with on a day-to-day basis, which we have all conspired to create and with which we surround ourselves; that external tinnitus to our internal commotion and unease.
The set and lighting fulfil the same function of producing the theatrical environment. One of those fences whose wires create diamond shapes, is bordered by more metal to keep it taut and in place, with a grimy curtain behind and projections flittering across it. Otherwise there is a pale dance floor. That’s all. Except it isn’t because we readily furnish it with the detritus and mess we have come to expect at the end of the block, the space between buildings or littering wasteland.
Reminiscent of the end of the film reel when you can see the bits caught in the lightstream of the projector, or where the heat of the screen has attracted dust which messes up the white; the art work provides the next layer. It is a series of projections: fast-moving fluorescence of radiation made visual, X-ray intensity, complexity of colour and movement almost entirely unrepresentational. And yet it is suggestive of the natural surroundings which seem to be absent, for which there is no room – of moonlight between branches, sun spots at midday.
Really it is entirely urban and manmade – the lights of cars passing, of screens flickering, searchlights, floodlights, and interrogative illumination creating a setting where the human is captured and can never retire or halt.
The figure in the midst of all this is definitely a ‘she’. We know that after a while because of the lipstick, pencil skirt and stilettos, and sadly also because of the way she is pushed around. Ditto that she is black. Actually there is no-one else present in her immediate space to do the pushing, but she is ‘manhandled’ just the same. And we are just outside it, we watch it happen and don’t intercede. We would be the passers-by who balk at the smell, or nod disapproval, wonder what the world has come to and get away from as soon as we can.
Boy does she move! She seems at first to be dead but reaches into life, struggling, stretching, ankles disjointed, fingers clawing. Plastic, gymnastic, she cartwheels and backflips effortlessly, silently. She climbs the fence, raggedly, to escape, using her high heels to hook onto, and falls repeatedly. That elastic back of hers, arches. Broomes is elegant, stiff; undulating, and jagged. The face is shut off, is tense, is staring, is scared by turns.
Hers is intelligent choreography informed of its own history (Martha Graham’s renowned Lamentation for example) and devoid of pretentiousness or self-sonsciousness. Several times she is a lumpy, amorphous, androgynous heap of human, an inhuman. Three-dimensional in parka or bin liner with no identifiable body parts, she is unable to accept rest despite the exhaustion and desperation, almost always moving, moving.
Here we are, we have chosen to enter this theatre where we are forced to endure the racket we have produced ‘in the outside world’, the noise that is the result of the engines we have created to rush us from place to place, to do jobs for us so we can get more achieved. And more.
Here we are inside our imaginations, immersed, unable to avoid the imaginary place which is Void, full of din and empty of quiet. We wonder why we cannot settle our minds, sitting still in meditation, slipping away into nature for a moment. Here is our answer.
We are faced with the conundrum – did we manifest this state of things as a mirror to ourselves, the clamour in our heads, or is that internal uproar a result of what we have created around us?
This is the stuff of sci-fi you might say, except like all good work of this genre, it encapsulates our now. Never ever quiet, never ever dark for more than a millisecond, the constancy of our modern world’s busyness, the 24/7 of our machines at work are here. At one and the same time the rushing, pounding, white-noise inside our collective head; and the external racket, a result of the man-made motors with which we fill our world, assaults us in the theatre.
Thank goodness it is short. Not because we wouldn’t relish spending more time watching the dance or mesmerised by the projections, but it would simply be too much. It is just loud enough to jolt us into recognition of reality.
This is a piece which in its immediate simplicity allows us to absorb the multi-dimensional and metaphorical layers on which it comments.