Co-Writer and Director: Suri Krishnamma
Single-shot or no-takes filming has dominated film conversations in 2020 thanks to Sam Mendes’ multi-award winning and technically extraordinary movie 1917. But following soldiers across the battlefields is not the only way to tell a story, and if you’ve been missing the quirkier side of fringe theatre then Suri Krishnamma’s atmospheric single-shot wander around the warren of rooms within Battersea Arts Centre could be for you.
A silent young woman runs into what appears to be a dark and abandoned building to escape the rain and whatever else may be pursuing her. Inside she is immediately accosted by the mysterious philosophising Guide who leads her through a series of performance rooms where different art forms express the importance of self-knowledge and belief. As the Outsider becomes swept-up in music, will she ever find the exit.
This strange 42-minute film is essentially a series of cabaret snippets from a number of UK artists including musicians from different genres, dancers and acrobats each allotted a brief showcase of their skills on the interloper’s journey through the rooms of the building. The Outsider’s search for a better understanding of herself and her purpose, starts with Lucy McCormick performing a bizarre track called Rain in which she gyrates in tiny shorts while being drenched with water from a watering can and then a shower on the Battersea Arts Centre’s famous staircase; it’s all a bit early 2000s in its uncomfortably sexualised depiction of women.
But as the Outsider continues her exploration, the sinister tone becomes increasingly fantastical leading to enjoyably filmed sequences from Caleb Femi singing Gentle Youth, Le Gateau Chocolat performing Liminal in an elaborate, other-worldly costume and a mixture of music, movement, gymnastics and extreme hula hooping at the Coco Butter Club comprising the talents of Sadie Sinner The Songbird, Amazi, Wesley Dykes and Electra.
Omid Djalili proves a charismatic Guide, retaining the enigmatic tone throughout while making eccentric rhetorical statements about two thoughts colliding, asking whether the Outsider is interested in finding the Entrance or the Exit, and whether the journey or the destination is most important. Bláithín Mac Gabhann’s Outsider is a low-key presence as new experiences erupt around her but during the course of this short film, we see her personality develop from scared and alone to confident and grateful all without speaking a word.
Even if the oddness of this piece never fully settles on a clear message, Krishnamma’s filming style is the most enjoyable aspect of all, utilising the one-shot approach to create the unsettled and ominous tone of the early film before opening out into a more inclusive celebration of artistic expression. The way in which the camerawork lingers on the beautiful architecture and mosaics that decorate Battersea Arts Centre is even more edifying than the performances, giving us glimpses of art installations and modern pieces that tie into the story.
If you are missing the experience of theatre buildings in particular, then the chance to see the unexplored nooks and crannies of Battersea Arts Centre is a boon although even those who know the building well may feel lost in Krishnamma’s maze-like approach. We may not be back there for a while, but the BBC Performance Live series is an outlet for a variety of smaller shows that should tide us over nicely.
Streaming here until March 2021