Writer: Scarabeus Aerial Theatre
Directors: Daniela Essart and Peter Glanville
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
The Quays Theatre has thrillingly been transformed like never before tonight for Depths of My Mind. It is part of Manchester Science Festival 2018 and has been created in conversation with young people between the ages of 12 and 25. This immersive performance gives the audience an opportunity to walk around, sit and lie down inside a teenager’s brain. It amalgamates aerial theatre and science together to create a performance which is informative, mesmeric, and personal. Bringing to the forefront, the latest developments in neuroimaging around the teenage brain.
Look up and you see moving transparent platforms. Kipat Kahumbu, Eric Mitchell, Rachel Ni Bhraonain, and Willow Vidal-Hall guide us into a world where nothing is concrete and everything is dynamic. The performance deconstructs mental health, how it feels to be growing up, changing, and finding a sense of belonging and identity. All of the performers have impressive technical abilities as aerialists, possessing strength and fluidity while utilising the silks, platforms, and the pole. Their performances are focused, owning emotion and vulnerability.
At the beginning, the platforms are at a lower level, gradually rising higher and higher throughout the 50-minute performance. To start with, four teenagers are lying down on the platforms, as if they are in bed and suffering from insomnia. The audience have complete free reign to walk anywhere they want in the space, letting each audience member have a unique experience of the performance.
When platforms are raised up or moved around, the audience are subtly warned by an usher or a member of the creative team to watch out. They are looked after, although more consideration could be given to the audience members who are unable to stand up for long periods of time. Having the chairs where they are, certain people are outside of the action in the space. There is a close up live video of the performance, occasionally projected onto the screen, to help with the situation, however it’s not always high-quality.
Choice of music is relevant to the themes in the performance and reminds you how people use music to shut out the world or supress their own personal troubles. Presented are a number of scenes examining various teenage life scenarios. Hardly any dialogue is used, the emphasis is on the movement. One scene shows a young couple, they play, tease, and flirt with one another. Meanwhile, someone else is high up on a platform: alone and isolated. Paul Need’s lighting design highlights where the audience need to look. The video and projection design by Mark Morreau is just gorgeous. There is a delicate balance between scientific and artistic imagery.
On another note, it’s very interesting to watch audience members react to the immersive performance. Some are quite shy and don’t want to interact too much and for others it’s their first time watching an unconventional piece like this. Everybody seems to copy one other: they sit down and stand up together.
The physical stamina and effort of the performers, made explicit during the performance, is symbolic of the mental fights and struggles young people face. The invisible is made visible here. That’s why the infrequent (could be deliberate) clunkiness of the choreography is so beautiful, because it reflects when the mind becomes emotionally overwhelmed. Other scenes explore the conflict you may have with your inner self or the clashes you may have with others. The autobiographical element is gently honest and poetic, however, it is ever so slightly lacking in impact because it is communicated virtually rather than live on stage.
As you engage with the performance, you look here, there, and everywhere. It’s superbly disorientating as the mind can often feel confused and worn out. In this production, there is a successful balance of scientific information and artistic interpretation. Depths of My Mind urgently needs to be seen by everyone, it has the potential to transform lives and lets people discern they are not alone.
Reviewed on: 19th October 2018. | Image: Mark Morreau