Brighton Fringe 2008
The Art of Catastrophe
Venue: The Nightingale Theatre
Festival: Brighton Fringe
"You’re still in the same dull job and it’s been 15 years since you last had sex with your husband. Rachel Blackman and Emma Roberts eviscerate the underbelly of love."
Helen met Gary in a shop; they were buying identical pieces of computer hardware. Helen now suspects Gary is having an affair because he’s been singing in the shower. Helen knows Gary is having an affair because he has changed his email password to ‘Grace’-the name of his lover. Helen is hurtling towards meltdown.
She goes about her day, performing ritual tasks with the same practised movements whilst imagining Gary and Grace in each other’s arms and trying to ward off the sense that dying alone is not that far away. Cheery stuff indeed, but stuff that we can all relate to in one sense or another. Still Point Theatre’s production seeks to explore this most common of life trials and does so through the story of one woman’s struggle to cope.
The performance, a collaboration between Emma Roberts and Rachel Blackman, was a crazy patchwork of all the inner and outer processes operating when crisis occurs. Scenes in which various wonderfully sketched characters break through Helen’s paper-thin defences are interspersed with expressionistic vignettes in which her body is driven to the edge of its capabilities by her inner turmoil. These sequences – or outbursts – were fascinating to watch as Blackman courageously and whole-heartedly gives herself over to the struggle.
The pieces are drawn together and framed by a post-catastrophe Helen presenting the experience to the audience as a slide show. It was these moments that left me rather cold and I felt they could have been tighter, more direct and more fully explored. Although the convention of improvisation was well-placed here, the performer seemed to lack the security to fully connect with the audience and some of the power was lost.
There were moments of real theatrical beauty, for instance when we see Helen watching Gary and Grace kiss and her face moves from darkness into rose-red light. These contrasts are what gives The Art of Catastrophe its momentum and force. Blackman’s ability to fluctuate fluidly between stillness and movement, comedy and tragedy and self and other generates an overwhelming sense of a full and rich world and context, inhabited not just by one performer but by people, possessions, colours and life.