Brighton Fringe 2016
As the audience we are invited to stand amongst the performers and witness, a Grotowski device used to transcend the separation between performer and spectator, an investigation into isolation. This ensemble company, which clearly have no lead or director, work collaboratively to create an evocative and powerful ensemble devised piece to explore themes around human relationships and encounters using physically demanding interactions, music and minimal text. We bare witness to what it may feel like to be homeless and ignored, feel desperately alone in packed social realms, the pain of trying to connect, getting it wrong and becoming abusive, crossing barriers of gender in relationships and the impact of discrimination.
Broken Chair theatre company are a recently formed collective from London who use the central devising tool of exploration and play to devise their work. Their début performance acts to comment on issues inherent in society through the use of physical theatre to playfully evoke emotion cutting through nonsensical language to get at the heart of what it feels to be alone.
In the forty minutes there is a series of story lines that each bring a different sense of pace and rhythm in order to convey the meaning. We see relationships and violent encounters of desperation to connect. For example at times movement is slowed right down whilst an actor is trying to connect with others, until there is a fleeting moment of physical contact which sends the sequence into bedlam. One particular moment that stands out and is beautifully conveyed is two male lovers pulled apart literally and caught in a maelstrom of intertwining actors as they inflict their prejudice and judgement. This piece is closed by a particularly poignant sequence that uses repetition to share the universal fear of the loss.
The performers synchronicity with each other was flawless. There is a refreshing naïvety to their skills as physical theatre actors as they conveyed material that was quite possibly a lived experience that they were putting into the work. Emotion was raw and edgy in each and every performer then contained as they held the space for the next story. The cast would benefit being clear about their gaze whilst holding the space for other stories, whether it needs to be focussed on the action or neutral.
Choreography with the chairs to support the action was smooth and a skilful device to deepen meaning. There was a poignant and edgy music score to punctuate each storyline whilst the actors themselves physically scored the change through the space. At times there was a desire for the music to be louder to increase the intensity of certain moments and decrease for the audibility of the spoken word. The lighting was simple and effective to draw attention to the notion of isolation. The black and white flooring design was an elegant and simple device to frame and contain the performance complimented by the black and maroon clothes worn by the actors.
As a veteran of physical theatre as an academic, teacher, performer and director watching the development from Berkoff through to Frantic Assembly, Sonder was an exciting and exhilarating experience bringing the genre into the next generation. Broken Chair Theatre Company reminded us of physical theatre and its power to not just tell the story through the body but of it’s intensity when the internal experience is externalised and how we can re-connect in the universal experience of theatre. This company is fresh, energetic and have many stories to tell.