Brighton Fringe 2019
Forgotten Dialogue is hard to categorise but beautifully realised. A melding of dance/physical theatre with spoken word, an improvised soundscape and some audience interaction.
It is witty and playful – surprising at times, often funny, occasionally poignant. It deserves to find a larger audience.
On arriving at One Church, the front doors are locked and there is no sign of life, and for a moment is seems that the event may have moved or been cancelled. But someone in-the-know tells us that the doors will open just before the performance, and sure enough, they do.
As we enter we are greeted by the performers, and an easy banter starts up – everything from sunburn and footwear, to how best to cook an egg. It transpires that most of the audience know each other and the performers, but it isn’t hard to imagine a similar warmth and ease being created with a room of strangers by this company.
Penultimate Place are based in Bristol. Recent graduates, they “specialise in the experimental; propelling new and exciting methods of creating theatre and multi-disciplinary work”.
Forgotten Dialogue lives up to the “new and exciting” promise, and feels very much like a collaborative effort, from the easy interaction between the four performers (Millie Wood-Downie, Ellie Bartram, Alice Smith, Rianne Jones), to the seamless exchange between movement, text and sound.
It is billed as a piece about words – where they end up; what happens when they are left behind, and about confinement.
According to the show blurb, some of the text is drawn from graffiti seen on toilet walls. Some comes from the audience – the subjects of recurring dreams for example. And some (such as egg cooking) seems improvised in the moment. The interaction between word and movement is graceful, energetic and witty; and most successful with the more abstract text.
The performers are dressed in mix and match black and cream – two pairs of PJs divided between them.
The set is simple: the floor covered in areas of green and blue, perhaps representing ‘wavy grass’ and water; a frame made of plastic plumbing pipes that represents at difference times entrance way, cubicle, prison or perhaps safe space (the confinement we’ve been led to expect), and is then de- and re-constructed to take new forms – ear trumpets, monstrous spider’s legs, telescopes, a punt…
Most of the piece features pairs of performers. Wood-Downie and Bartram start us off and perform for a good half or more of the show. There is a real chemistry between them, whether they are in unison or at loggerheads. And a particularly gorgeous moment when one takes and puts on the face (the mask?) of the other. Words as well as movement pass between them. Sometimes their physicality matches the words, sometimes it seems deliberately at odds with them. Bartram And Wood-Downie use the plastic frame as a plaything, a trap, a place to ascend from. Throughout the piece there are passages of real physical poetry.
At strategic points in the piece, we break out of physical performance into audience interaction, revisiting the chattiness that ushered us in. This interaction results in certain themes or storylines being shared. And then we are back in performance, the storylines being acted out and/or repeated verbatim. It’s a neat trick, but has a very different energy to what was going before. Some shows might need a shift in mood; an injection of interest. This one doesn’t.
By the time Smith and Jones are (literally) dragged on stage, the piece has become even more about interaction with objects and storylines. Bartram and Wood-Downey are now onlookers from the safety of their confines, adding an extra dimension. The humour of the piece really comes out in this latter section, Smith especially working this element within the audience. Jones provides a lovely contrast, an almost resigned exasperation. There is desperation too, for example in a scene of (I think) punting on very rough water.
Throughout the piece there is a freshness, the movement still bearing some of the marks of the devising process, and this keeps it real and raw, not too polished. I imagine there must have been a lot of lovely material that was (so to speak) left on the cutting room floor. It can’t have been an easy task to shape and edit the piece, but Patrick Thomas directs skilfully, allowing each theme room to breathe yet ensuring a cohesion.
Sam Gallop’s sound (and at gorgeously long times, the silence) works beautifully – adding to the mood, never pulling focus.
As promised, the piece certainly explores the relationship between words or text and space, including the body and objects. I am less certain that it illuminates some of the other ideas it sets out to tackle, but I don’t think this matters. For this reviewer at least, Forgotten Dialogue is more a felt than a thought experience.
This is an intriguing piece, beautifully realised by all four performers who bring unique strengths to it. It was at its most successful when simple and focused. I’d like to see this company hone in on a single theme or source of material, and perhaps allows themselves to go deeper with it rather than broader.
Lovely as it was, the audience interaction felt like it belonged in a different piece. A piece that may well have been successful too but, for me at least, the distraction wasn’t needed
Forgotten Dialogue did not have the audience it deserved. On the night I saw it, the vast majority of the audience were friends or relations of the performers. That is a great shame. This piece may have been overlooked, but once seen it is certainly not forgotten.
You can catch Forgotten Dialogue on 30th May at One Church Brighton, 7 pm.