Director: Mark Maughan
“Triggers include suffocation, loud noises and sexy disabled people.” Australian Dan Daw’s latest project starts with a series of warnings, telling people that there is no shame or judgement if they feel they have to leave, that they should have a safe word in mind for if things get too much.
The reason for such warnings is that Daw is exploring his sexuality, and his relationship to it and his own body, at the hands of performance partner Christopher Owen in a sub-dom relationship.
Having a disabled performer (Daw describes himself as a “queer Crip”) being manipulated by someone with a much stronger body is initially disconcerting – a parallel to the hierarchy imposed by our imbalanced society, perhaps – but the level of care and respect the two performers have for each other is self-evident.
As Owen moves a video camera over the 38-year-old’s tattoos, Daw talks about the one on his back, a Japanese Oni demon, “my armour for facing the outside world”. This show, devised with director Mark Maughan, is about letting that armour down, about Daw being forced to confront and push the limits of his body and its capabilities.
Early on, Owen tells him to stand on a table and, despite various attempts, Daw has to use his own safe word – “spoons” – to call a halt to the attempt. It all feels real, and Daw’s hyperventilation as he composes himself lends weight to that. But at the same time, the onstage surtitles document everything, even getting ahead of the action at times.
For this is a performance tightly scripted to feel improvisational. Daw is honest about this – from the beginning, he states, “this is exactly how I want you to see me.” The duo progress through a series of scenarios, from wrestling to role play to a set piece with a vinyl cube into which Daw becomes vacuum sealed. Owen may seem to be the one in control, but Daw is the clear architect.
There are circumstances where watching two people explore their kink might be sensual, arousing even. This is not such an event. Nor, despite the warnings at the head of the show, is it especially distressing or disconcerting.
But seeing someone put their complete trust in another, and seeing that trust repaid with total respect, is certainly romantic. Daw’s use of kink to explore his relationship with his own body does seem cathartic to him, and it’s never anything less than watchable.
At the show’s conclusion, Daw’s armour is reapplied in the show’s visual masterpiece, the performer becoming his own Oni demon. While visually it may not cohere with the rest of the show’s aesthetic, such a conclusion does reaffirm how important it is that we don armour not for defence, but for self-confidence.
Continues until 1 October 2021