Camden Fringe 2011
Stella* guide us through time, space and infinitely confusing wonders of the similarly infinite universe in a stunning piece of experimental theatre. Collaborating astrophysical concepts with the instruments of theatre practitioners, Stella* create visual analogies to scientific theorems and philosophical concepts in the theatre space.
In the Pirates Castle, Camden Central St. Martin students Alicia Radage, Abigail Copeland, and Sarah Grange (theatre ensemble Stella*) facilitated a seminar on astrophysics, brilliantly instigating an affinity between art and science, proposing the two usually incongruously categorised disciplines find unity in their absence of indisputable empirical answers. A gazebo served as an observatory to view the entirety of outer space as the audience veered over the peripheral border of the universe. We were propelled into outer space as the intrepid masters of ceremony sought to force order in a chaos of information. Sense and understanding were elusive as novices intellectually surmounted baffling and bewildering paradigms; from the absolute properties of time and space, to the perplexingly difficult concepts of entropy and non-visible light spectrum.
Passages were recited from seminal texts on space inciting an uncanny resemblance to philosophy: a disproportionate ratio of knowledge to text, requirement to station a complex trail of logic in the mind, and a complete inability to sustain instant comprehension. The conversational compeers of this tremendously adventurous and incredibly practised excursion discarded with language, elucidating the intricate subject matter with their signature trade-tool, the visual aesthetic.
Biscuits were consumed and chairs thrown to demonstrate the conversion of mass into energy; a row of chairs acted as telescope, whilst a performer struggled to crawl through the restricted space between the legs, ping pong balls were thrown, plainly yet remarkably demonstrating the infallible, expeditious speed of light. Exploring gravity incited the story of pioneering astrophysicist Annie Jump Cannon. Cannon’s near-deafening childhood bout of scarlet fever fuelled a poignant parallel. Radage as the young astro-physicist lay the flat, frustratingly looking at the stars, willing herself to propel towards them. Adopting sand, skipping ropes, audience members and toilet paper as instruments of visual analogy proved The Observatory as a fantastic progressive theatre of exploration. Stella* investigated how convoluted theories and observations of the cosmos can be funnelled into the perquisite material limits of the theatre space.
Unsurprisingly, execution of the particularly awkward and confounding topics of the stunning seminar worked less successfully. It took some time for the crowd to relax and fully participate with the production. The compeer’s were warm, witty and clearly not phased by technical hiccups or stalls in their narrative. Conversely, opening night nerves were apparent as this was the show’s premiere in it’s current format and devices. De-seating audience members and rejecting the typified staunch ‘performer’ persona visibly disarmed and affronted the patrons. Far from a complete criticism, this aspect of The Observatory encapsulated an adventurous cooperative form of theatre, both unexpected and unusual.
Stella* was a dwarfing exercise in learning the magnitude of the universe, a nonplussing foray into physics and, most importantly, a veritable expedition into the capabilities of performance space and construction of meaning. The Stella* ensemble were engaging educators, proving a preposterously adept aptitude. Embarking on a journey from intellectual inception to corporeal realms resulted in a brilliant transduction of outer space into theatre space. Utilising space, the heralded final frontier, Stella* invigorated and enlivened post-dramatic theatre techniques and conceptions. The Observatory, despite it’s status as a developing and at times precariously footed theatre piece, is stunning, captivating and astronomically highly recommended for aficionados of experimental theatre and lamens alike.