Brighton Fringe 2019
This is a powerful piece of contemporary dance theatre and an emotional rollercoaster that is gripping from start to finish. Set in a series of counselling sessions, this is an intense and brutally honest view of depression and anxiety, where the “chatter of the mind” is heard and we see the inner emotional struggle accurately expressed physically, in this exquisite duet performed by two very impressive dance artists.
One might not immediately think that contemporary dance theatre and mental health would make good bedfellows but in the hands (and minds and bodies) of collaborators, Caldonia Walton & Katharine Richardson, they are ideally matched. Premiering in Mental Health Awareness Week, Weight/Wait addresses the process of dealing with depression and anxiety. Exploring the ‘weight’ of our mind that we carry around everyday and the procrastination experienced as we ‘wait out’ the inevitable resistance caused by irrational fears and anxieties.
As soon as we enter the small space, a breathlessly nervous and slightly over-excited character played by Walton, hands everyone a card and pen, and ushers us to our seats. Another woman, Karen, played by Richardson, stands frozen centre stage; a coat rack and a coat are the only other objects in the black space. A cleverly mirrored dance of indecision commences, ‘should I stay or should I go?’ and it becomes apparent that Walton is playing out Richardson’s inner voices both verbally and physically as she tries to prepare herself for her first counselling session. This sets up the language of the piece beautifully and is quite a genius device. The almost constant stream of verbal diarrhoea is synchronised with the choreography and perfectly expresses the leaden quality of trying to motivate action under the blanket of depression and the rising anxiety and frustration of Karen as she battles the voices in her head. Sometimes incessant self-doubt and criticism, sometimes the darkly humorous and mundane ramblings of resistance and displacement activity are spoken in a series of unfinished sentences. When we finally hear Karen speak directly to the unseen counsellor, who sits in a spot lit empty seat in the front row, in the sudden silence, we can hear the penny drop as the audience collectively grasps the narrative.
The intricate combination of voice and movement is becoming something of a speciality for Walton as she explored this language in her solo work Noise Control in 2017. When transposed to a duet form it is even more impactful and both her and Richardson work sublimely together. The implicit trust and obvious technical prowess between them enables great emotional power and brutal honesty in the movements, which is surprisingly satisfying to watch. As we witness Karen’s progress through the series of appointments, Karen and her doppelgänger are pushed, pulled, strangled and squashed by each other to show the inner turmoil of her therapeutic journey.
The Blockhouse venue is a perfect choice for this piece, just the right amount of intimacy bordering on claustrophobia, which serves the show well. The pace of the 30 minute piece is spot on and it is jam-packed with dramatic surprises. The subtle uses of breath, vocalisations and musical choices in the soundscape are as well crafted and as inventive as the choreography. The dialogue is just the right amount of minimal and the use of repetitive unfinished thoughts allows the audience to complete them and therefore pulls us further into the experience. The two women are dressed simply and identically to further the duality metaphor and the coat(s) and coat rack are brilliantly used to represent the enormity of venturing outside.
The dynamic energy of the pair is so potent that there are several ‘edge of the seat’ moments. In one such scene we reach a hiatus point in the show as we see Karen reaching a potential breakthrough moment, unable to continue resisting, the inner pressure builds to a crisis point where she appears to be drowning in her own inner chaos. A dance depicting how we ‘beat ourselves up’ is painfully honest and she is left lying exhausted on the floor.
From this point on there is a shift and as Karen learns to conquer her fears and the tone of the piece moves from visceral anguish to a more peaceful meditative quality as she experiences separation, harmony and a more balanced relationship with herself, again depicted beautifully by the choreography. By the time we reach the last joyful scene, the viewing participants jubilant relief was palpable as we celebrate Karen’s journey altogether.
Although this piece is at times emotionally gruelling to watch, do not be put off as it is equally balanced by many comedic and uplifting moments. In observing the multi-faceted aspects of the mind, we are reminded of the absurdity of the human experience too.
Such is the polish of these artists and the piece as a whole; it is hard to believe this was its first public showing. The show is so successful in its unique portrayal of the inner landscape that I defy any audience not to care deeply for Karen. Its curative quality confronts the notion that people with depression can “just pull themselves together” and it facilitates a deeper understanding of mental health and it’s impact on daily life. The subject of beautifully realised by these two courageous women.