Venue: C venues - C soco
21 August 2011 WOS Rating: Und is one woman, played superbly by Annette Chown, who is waiting for a visitor. Howard Barker's play explores the fragile state of the human mind; at times manic and at times terrifying. Almost every member of the audience will take away completely different things from this show, but for me it was about loneliness and desperation. (“We should be able to solve problems on our own; that’s nobility.”)
This is deeply expressionistic in style; and can sometimes feel more like performance art than a play. Although the text is very powerful, one finds oneself almost not listening, but soaking in the atmosphere and the sheer theatricality instead. The set is unconventional and constantly alters our perception of both the physical performance and the meaning of the words spoken. The text is poetic, elegant and has excellent progression in tone; there’s an urgency and confusion to the writing using repetition and contradictions to tightly control the rhythm. It’s certainly unnerving, yet also truly beautiful.
Chown’s performance is captivating, physical and psychotic. Her commitment and the dynamics of her performance make the piece the spectacle that it is. She effortlessly moves from erotic, sensual and feminine characterisations, to almost animalistic vocal sounds and movements. Sadly there are a couple of timing problems; it seems unclear whether she should be timing her vocals immediately to the moment of a sound, or whether she should be responding to a sound she hears.
The performance is generally very tight, but in this sort of style everything has to be completely controlled and specific. The soundscape is fascinating, but occasionally feels slightly pretentious and directionless. However, the intertwining live and recorded sound is spectacular.
We notice everything due to the immersive power of the piece, and unfortunately as a result the tech team are a constant distraction. In the performance I attended, they were passing around sweets and giggling, causing an otherwise professional production to lose its rhythm for key moments. This urgently needs addressing - perhaps the director should consider having the tech more as part of the ensemble that occasionally appear on stage, the nameless and costumed figures sombrely controlling the bizarre world that Und lives in.
One can’t help but have strong opinions on this show; it’s truly fascinating, and like so much of Barker's work, changes one's perceptions of the very nature of theatre.
- Chris Wheeler
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