Two women are on a roadtrip, blasting up the M1. They might be friends or acquaintances, colleagues or cousins – or all and none of those things at once. Laura’s heading back to her old childhood home. She left something buried beneath her bedroom floor. Her other half is tagging along.
Barrel Organ’s third show is a journey of self-discovery – or perhaps self-destruction. Written by Jack Perkins, it’s deliberately ambiguous, a play full of holes, but it drives at two things: disappearance and debt. Laura’s old home, now rotten with black mould, is the site of an unhealed childhood trauma. It’s where her dad walked out on her and her mum, as his financial troubles escalated and the bailiffs closed in. If that moment still plagues her, even defines her, this return journey brings her face-to-face with herself.
It’s a cryptic, ghostly, disarming thing – but it catches you off-guard by starting so casually. Onstage, Bryony Davies and Rosie Gray kill time as road-trippers do. They rule out I-spy, play Shag, Marry, Kill, then re-enact the ending of Thelma and Louise – that bit where the duo drive over the edge of a cliff and freeze in mid air forever; the ultimate ambiguous ending. Slowly, they slide into the story, then out the other side.
In that, the play’s built like a palindrome. One half is a mirror image of the other; its photonegative inverse. That form makes itself fully felt. A show that starts here and now – house lights up, actors playing themselves – slowly darkens as it drives into the heart of the tale. On the way out, it leavens again, returning us to the room. It’s like being dragged down underwater. The pressure rises, your chest constricts, you stop breathing – the same feelings that come with mounting debt or rising self-doubt.
Those things are hardwired into the whole. Both are, at their heart, hollow: debt’s a fiction, doubt’s a black hole. So’s Anyone’s Guess. Its centre is darkness –pitch black nothing – and, as with Thelma and Louise, any of us can find anything we want there.
Loose ends and an odd coda mean it doesn’t all work, but Perkins’ text is gripping and unsettling. It’s teeming with intricate images of absence: missing fingers, broken floorboards, gaps in the fence. Directors Dan Hutton and Joe Boylan turn the dial from fact to fiction with real restraint, helped by the glower of Lucy Adams’ lighting and the low hum of Kieran Lucas’ sound. An inventive and unnerving hour that counts the cost of debt.
Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here, Zoo Venues, until August 27, 12:45.