North WestPhysical TheatreReview

Reckless Sleepers: Negative Space – Contact, Manchester

Artistic Director: Mole Wetherell

Reviewer: Peter Jacobs

Reckless Sleepers create original theatre pieces, installations and interventions for theatres, galleries and site-specific projects that seek to entertain and challenge. Their work originates from research and development: ideas and structure – physical and narrative – evolving and emerging to create performances and events that push and establish new boundaries.

For Negative Space they built a room-sized structure, lined it with plasterboard and then spent weeks exploring and destroying it and rebuilding it. The result is this visually-striking show.

Negative Space has a stark architectural beauty – at first. Both complete and unfinished. What emerges, performed in a slightly-unnerving silence, is an unfolding series of small narratives of human communication and incremental physical mayhem. The work draws elements of other genres – love story, slapstick comedy, horror film – and tangles them together in a show that is thought-provoking and awkward and oddly intimate and occasionally very funny.

Devised and engagingly performed by Alex Covel, Leen Dewilde, Kevin Egan, Tim Ingram, Rebecca Young and director Mole Wetherell, the show leaves the audience to create their own narratives and draw their own conclusions – or to enjoy the physical comedy and remain pleasingly baffled. What it may be about is the importance of personal space and the territorialness that we attach to it; the importance of rules of social behaviour and the difficulty of human connection when these rules are strayed from; and the slightly scary joy of destructive adult playfulness. Small moments of visual comedy evolve into a mayhemic choreography of random and calculated destruction. But then we live in a world of random and calculated mayhem and destruction, of uncomfortable social interaction. What looks absurd and comedic on stage may just be our lives reflected back at us through an unexpected lens. Which is pretty much what theatre is meant to achieve.

The show, however, does lose momentum as it winds its way towards its awkward conclusion. The deconstruction of the set brings with it an intentional deconstruction of the illusion of theatre. The simple mechanics of the performance are revealed through the gaping holes in the set and the performers visibly catching their breath and brushing plasterboard from their heads to the sides of the set. But this show quite deliberately deconstructs theatrical mystery, while being simultaneously unreadably mysterious. It debunks our expectations of drama and comedy.

Overall, Negative Space is an intriguing, visually-interesting show with some clever and surprising moments and some finely-nuanced performances from the likeable cast.

Runs until 3 March | Image: Contributed


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