Direction: Suzy Willson
Music: Paul Clark
Lighting: Hansjörg Schmidt
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
In 2016 as part of The Lowry’s inaugural Week 53 festival – which returns next year – Clod Ensemble repurposed the entire auditorium and stage of the huge Lyric Theatre for the strikingly-memorable An Anatomie in Four Quarters. Now it is the turn of the Quays Theatre to be transformed for the equally striking Under Glass.
Under Glass is a series of seven individual performances, all of which take place within a jar or container – behind, under or within glass. Steps, stage, seating removed, the Quays becomes a large dark, black-curtained museum of curiosities: almost unrecognisable. A guided promenade performance – the audience is relatively free to wander and sit as desired, with the assistance of ushers with torches, but mostly by the clever lighting (Hansjörg Schmidt) and sound design, which directs and focuses the audience where to go or look.
Part-museum, part-gallery, part-performance installation, Under Glass isolates a series of individuals from everyday life – it is not clear from the way they are dressed when they were collected –and frames them in solitude and explores how people live within their limits. Another way to consider this would be a series of speculations on the theme of ‘trappedness’, as all are constrained by behaviour, relationships, work, habits: situations as significant as the glass barrier that both metaphorically and actually constrains them.
Each performance fully exists within the 45-minute duration of the piece but lighting and sound picks them out at different times to create a meditative and unclear narrative for the audience to navigate. As each container differs, so does the nature of the constraint and the performance.
Elizabeth Schilling’s Spectator is theatrically Pina-esque in a high glass box and an evening dress. Maëva Berthelot’s walled-in Wallflower is more anxious-urban contemporary. Sam Coren’s Office uses physical theatre and comedic touches. Sarah Cameron’s gossipy, matronly Telephone, which uses text in the form of Alice Oswald’s specially-commissioned poem Village, is drama that recalls Dylan Thomas or Becket with its mesmerising evocative wordplay. Hayley Carmichael and Riccardo T’s Twins is especially intimate and moving.
Each vessel contains a fascinating and finely-observed performance. Few have the space to dance in any real sense but there is no question that you are watching ‘dance’, so finely-modulated and crafted each is.
First commissioned by Sadler’s Wells in 2008, this is the latest of many iterations and restagings. It is a wonderful opportunity to experience the theatre itself in a transformed state and Under Glass is a gently immersive, experiential adventure in the dark that leaves a strong impression. For all its use of obstruction, Under Glass removes all barriers of genre and the darkness creates an intimate connection between the audience and the specimens on display. This is an exhibition you don’t want to miss.
Runs until 25 November 2017 | Image: contributed