Arts Review: These Delicate Things

Dir. Josh Armstrong, CCA, 13th-15th November

Based on the work of American photographer Francesca Woodman, this surreal production combines music, visual art and movement to create an uncanny and captivating audience experience. It is utterly weird and doesn’t make a lot of sense, but somehow, it works.

A string quartet at the front of the stage sets the tone of the performance, and is undoubtedly the best thing about it. The beautifully woven and flawlessly performed melodies are brought to life mere inches in front of the audience. This not only gives a sense of immediacy and passion to the action, but is also guaranteed to make even the most staunchly anti-classical among us eager to hurry home and download Shostakovich’s entire repertoire.

The focal point of the performance is the relationship between performers, objects and space. Woodman’s photography focused in particular on creating a contrast between vivid representations of life and dark undertones of decay, and the visual constructions on the stage certainly reflect this, albeit in an ambiguous way. The measured, slow-paced movements of the performers is oddly hypnotic as they interact with bones, dead leaves, and various “delicate things” from which the piece presumably takes its title. Meanwhile an aerial shot of particular objects in close detail is projected on to the back wall of the stage, distorting our perceptions of the space in front of us.

There can be no doubt as to the intense visual richness of the performance. Despite its slow pace, there is always so much happening on the stage at any given time that the audience is kept constantly engaged, if only by the numerous questions raised by each strange new development. What is he doing with that eel? Why is she dressed like a sci-fi nurse? Why are those pots so important? Why is that person naked anyway?

The piece may lack direction or clear explanation, but after a while it becomes apparent that this might be the whole point – or it might not. Ultimately, you don’t have to get it to get something out of it, even if that’s only the opportunity to see the world represented in a totally different way from how we’re accustomed to see it.

[Cat Acheson]

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