'Shield' is a reference to a (poignantly explored) historical legend about an Aboriginal Bark Shield brought from Australia to England by Captain Cook in 1770. As the layers of history which surround this symbolic object are unravelled we see that history is both subjective and multi-layered.
Tobias Sturmer's work involves merging world music and contemporary art sound, and this fusion of contrasting elements runs throughout the piece; abstract movement is performed alongside realistic speech; similar situations are experienced by characters worlds apart.
The piece is about three journeys of discovery; the first, a historical legend detailing the origin of the Bark Shield; the second an autobiographical soliloquy about Raheem's experience of National Sorry Day in Australia; the third a psychological experiment instructing participants on ‘how to fall in love'.
The stories are often told through the medium of physical theatre. The rhythms created by Sturmer's unconventional instruments run through the performers' bodies like a current, almost possessing them, as they respond instinctively. The use of shadow produced by Justyna Janiszewska's lighting in these movement sequences is striking.
In Raheem's National Sorry Day soliloquy she recounts being mistaken for an Aboriginal during a memorial service marking the annual Australian event which commemorates the colonial injustices faced by the indigenous population. One of Shield's themes is common experience running through different generations and civilizations, and the topic of postcolonial remorse is indeed relevant in Britain at the moment following the recent news that Mau Mau torture victims will receive compensation for their suffering. Raheem, deviser alongside Hamish MacPherson and Seke Chimutengwende, demonstrates her gift for comedy in this thought-provoking soliloquy which asks important questions about national identity.
Another stand-out segment is a video montage which repeatedly slaps the audience in the face with bleak images of offices, playgrounds, newspaper stands, CCTV footage, the cloudy sky, train stations, celebrities, tower blocks, traffic lights, multi-storey car parks, authority, poverty, consumerism, building to a climax of chaotic drumming from Sturmer. The performers, ducking and dodging each other, merge into footage of dozens of anonymous, fast-paced feet trying to find their way in the city.
Sometimes there is nothing linking the ideas together. The psychological explanation of ‘how to fall in love', while intriguing and funny, could be cut - and the structure of three sections is not always clear; the video montage described above, for example, appears not to belong to any section in particular.
What is clear is the celebration of diversity in Shield, for which it was awarded the major commission by Ovalhouse. A journey spanning across Colombo, Melbourne and London, expressed through varied performance mediums, the show encourages us to explore our own ideas about identity, language and culture.
- Leone Richmond