If These Walls Could Talk…? seamlessly combines circus and storytelling, creating a polished and delightful audience experience.
Presented at Chapel off Chapel as part of Glow Winter Arts Festival, If These Walls Could Talk…? is entertaining and magical to watch. Physical theatre company Dislocate was founded by Kate Fryer and Geoffrey Dunstan with the aim to create boundary pushing work, and while the ideas presented in the piece are at times conservative, the performers use acrobatics and circus to illuminate narratives in a way that I have never before experienced. These elements melt into and explode out of the stories in fresh and exciting ways.
The use of design and the ease with which the performers manoeuvre and transform design elements is extraordinary. The audience is constantly surprised as the apparently simple apartment set is opened out and moved around, the performers bodies merging and parting with the inanimate objects in the space. The level of detail and specificity required by such a highly mobile design is a testament to the cleverness and skill of the design team. The piece is at its best in the moments when a door is flipped, flowers are thrown or tape is pulled up from the ground to reveal a new level of interaction with the space. These moments tap into a playful wonder, an enchantment with the possibilities of the physical world. The staged vignettes are linked together as the stories of generations of tenants in the same apartment. This device lends dramaturgical relevance to centring of the piece so heavily on the physical space and this is to the work’s credit.
The naturalness and ease with which the performers navigate the space is beautiful to watch. Although at times their slapstick humour verges on trite, the performers create strong and empathetic characters and their interaction with the space and each other is skilled and graceful. We are in awe of their strength and plasticity, as they summersault off tables, jump through windows and glide through the air. They fill the space with their bodies, commanding the stage with a natural mastery.
However, the content and purpose of the six vignettes is at times clumsy and unclear. The piece opens with a moving story of an elderly couple whose simple and emotively driven plotline gives a clear frame for dance and acrobatic tangents. However, the following vignette, while an impressive display of strength, is ambiguous and lacks intent. The third vignette, a dance between a man and his absent lover, is incredibly moving, with the shifts from sex to romance to loss striking and powerful. However, the sexed-up presentation of the gay couple seems markedly in contrast to the innocent romance of the heterosexual couple before them. This contrasting depiction sit tediously and frustratingly within stereotypes. The following two vignettes are compellingly quirky and masterful in their exploration of the characters’ relationships to space and life and loved ones. However, the final vignette’s casual attitude to suicide is distasteful. It seemed unclear to me, watching this scene, why it is interesting to make a joke out of someone’s failed attempts to take their life. And it seemed unclear to me in general, watching this piece, why the vignettes had to be so centred on death when tenants leave apartments for so many varied and interesting reasons.
Though despite the dark and at times clumsily handled subject matter, If These Walls Could Talk…? is incredibly light and joyful. As a piece of theatre, exploits the liveness of the medium in a way that is refreshing and entertaining. If These Walls Could Talk…? is a spectacle, it is a romance, and it is a love letter to the magic and possibility of the theatrical space.