Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Review by Rene Lerch

“Flight Patterns”, directed by Lucette Hindin

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Why does love never quite seem to travel like that? When it comes to love, we often find additional point forces appearing in the vicinity, that tend to deflect, obstruct, or otherwise make complicated the pattern that love creates. These additional point forces need not be as concrete and external as a rival lover or a jealous friend – they can be as abstract and internal as the residue of an unhappy affair of the past, or an ideal of romantic love that one unconsciously harbors and that keeps deflecting the reality of the love that is present.
Flight Patterns, devised and set in the private house of director Lucette Hindin, explores some of the patterns that love makes, and it does this with ease, direction and quirkiness. In the opening scene, which is set in the garden that surrounds the house, we see two characters, a male and a female, sitting on a bed, and we hear the sound of chirping birds. The male character, played by Milton Charles, wears an 18th century white wig, red scarf, high collar shirt, and exquisite make-up. We see him reading the personals in the local paper with dreamy eyes. The female character, played by Eve Barlow, sits next to him with long dark hair and a stunning red dress, we see her eating lamingtons and drinking tea with an expression of boredom and slight annoyance.
A third character appears from under the bedcovers, played by Allison Hall. She wears a voluminous blond wig and, like the male character, appears with dreamy eyes and a copy of the local newspaper. While the woman in red keeps to her lamingtons and tea, sitting as she is in between the other two characters, they begin to read out loud to each other personal advertisements of the local paper, tasting each one as one would taste the moist sweetness of an exotic and promising fruit.
Eventually, the woman in red throws the lamingtons that are left on her plate over her left shoulder and announces her departure from the scene. While she leaves and walks away, the other two keep holding each others gaze with gleaming eyes.

Next, the audience is led into the house, where the action for the second scene splits up into different rooms – a phenomenon that extends to some of the other scenes as well. The audience is free to walk around as the action unfolds, thereby being able to determine their own experience to a much larger degree than is possible in conventional theater settings where the audience is locally immobilized by being placed in a chair for the entire duration of the show. In the conventional theater space, all of the action is visible to all of the audience at all times.
Flight Patterns departs from this concept. The way in which the action is physically set, is reminiscent of Japanese garden design. In a Japanese garden, only a part of any object is ever made visible – the whole is never exposed. It is common, for example, to have a meandering waterfall come in and out of the line of vision of someone walking a path. Each new view allows the waterfall to be temporarily glimpsed from a different perspective. The whole, however, is prevented from ever being known completely.
For the second scene, I chose to join some of the audience in a room, in which Milton could be found lying on a bed in missionary position, resting on his elbows, reading out loud dialogues from Pinter's playscript “The Lover” while moving his lower body copulatively. I could hear the voices of Eve and Allison from the hallway without, however, being able to understand their words, nor to see their actions.
At some point, Milton stops his movements, puts the book aside and picks up the phone. Shortly after he has dialed the number, we can hear the phone ring in the hallway, and Eve’s voice as she answers. Milton asks to speak to someone called ‘Sasha’, but is told that she doesn’t want to speak to him. When Eve accepts his request to be able to leave a message for Sasha, Milton begins to speak a long love poem, dripping with old leather-and-rose kind of romance, which we can hear Eve repeating, line by line, in an increasingly annoyed and bored tone of voice. Eventually we hear a noise from the hallway that suggests that Eve had picked up a marker and had started drawing on the wall. When Milton is finished the two end the phone conversation and that is the end of that scene.
Members of the audience who came and expected to see a cogent narrative spanning the entire length of the play, would have been disappointed. Rather, Flight Patterns presents itself as a cluster of scenes, each of which forms a cogent whole and is at the same time a more or less autonomous part of the larger structure that makes up the entire show.
Neither the names of the characters nor their costumes or language remain constant across all of the scenes. Structurally, Flight Patterns bears greater resemblance to a large organic protein, whose inner bonds are flexible and shifting, than to a simple sequence of recurring molecules. Internally, the structure of the whole is held together by the three actors and the characters they each play. The nature of the characters that each one plays remains within certain bounds throughout the show. This is a feature that brings stability and orientation to the structure as a whole.
Milton’s and Allison’s characters all tend towards a kind of honesty that is naïve at times and insightful at others. These are characters, who allow themselves to swim and be swirled around in the currents of love amidst the quirky ordinariness of their day-to-day world. These characters experience the sweetness and gleam of love when they entertain love's seemingly endless possibilities in savoring the personals of the local paper. They experience the heights of sexual pleasure - in what must be one of the funniest scenes of the show - while discussing a missing entry in their day-to-day accounts book. They experience the gravitational force of romantic poetry, and the harshness of unrequited affection.
There is a moment of great honesty when Milton is following Allison’s request to play a submissive dog but then suddenly stops playing. When Allison asks, in a sad tone of voice: “Don’t you like it?”, Milton says: “I do like it. I’ve just had enough now. Can we not go to the movies instead? Wouldn't that make you happy?”, and Allison replies, with one of the most honest and saddest expressions I’ve ever seen: “This is what makes me happy.”
The characters that Eve plays, on the other hand, always seem to emphasize the effect of those extra force points that tend to appear in the continuum of love, preventing any kind of simple pattern from emerging. Her characters find themselves in between love – as in the opening scene, where she finds herself sandwiched in between Milton and Allison, who exchange dreamy looks and personal profiles dripping with sweet promise – or outside of love – while Milton and Allison are having sex in scene two, Eve is in another room playing tennis with herself – or otherwise excluded from love.
One of the strengths of Flight Patterns lies in its refusal to extend our knowledge of the history of each character beyond that which we see in each scene. We see the characters that Eve plays in their seeming inability to catch even a corner of the shifting pattern that love makes all around her. We see how various internal point forces seem so insistently to deflect, obstruct, and complicate, how the characters always seem to operate from behind a thin but impenetrable sheet of boredom, annoyance, and loneliness.
What we don’t see, however, is how these characters came to be in that place. We don’t know whether we see characters that have once been in a place of dreamy eyes and poetry – or have yet to go there. We don’t know whether what we see is the result of a past that looked like the present of Milton’s and Allison’s characters, or whether what we see is the result of a future that has not yet arrived for any of Eve's characters.
In one of the scenes later in the show, we see Eve in front of a wall of shelved shoes. Allison plays a therapist, who is asking Eve to choose a pair of shoes that she thinks “men would feel drawn to.” After first pointing to a pair that resembled the ones Allison was wearing, she pointed to three or four different pairs, stuttering with a mixture of insecurity and assertiveness “I have many sides ... you see ... I have ... a mysterious personality”. Allison looks at her and says “Men are drawn to decisive women”.
Flight Patterns is a funny piece. It is an entertaining piece. It is sexy and sensual. In one of its most light-hearted scenes, we see even Eve’s character break out momentarily from her bleak gloom and buried longing and join the other two for a dance to Robert Palmer’s video of “Addicted to Love”.
The experience of the show is at its best when both the actors and the audience are least self-conscious. The immediacy and intimacy of the experience is then striking as the audience and the actors are almost always only feet away from one another in spaces that are no larger than ordinary rooms. A high point of intimacy was reached in a scene where the audience was crowded in the bathroom of the house – sitting on the floor, on the toilet seat, on the edge of the bathtub - surrounding Eve, who was sitting in the bathtub, dressed as a Russian woman with white fur and ear muffs, reading out messages in broken English from potential lovers from the display of an opened laptop. It is ironic that the intimacy that evades Eve’s characters within the narratives of the show, is here so effortlessly achieved between her and the audience.
Irony is one of the tools that allow us to see ourselves. And allowing us to see ourselves is one of the most precious things theatre can offer us. If we can believe the reports that are coming in from the frontiers of cognitive science, then about 95 percent of our thought is unconscious. Moreover, the 95 percent below the surface of our conscious awareness contain most of the concepts, desires, ideals, beliefs, and metaphors with which we conceptualize and judge our experience. Being able to catch glimpses of ourselves and the patterns we make in love and relationships is to be able to catch glimpses of those 95 percent. It is something to be grateful for. How cool if this can be as fun as watching Flight Patterns.

“Flight Patterns”, directed by Lucette Hindin, 42 Wincester St, Lyttleton, Actors/Devisers: Allison Hall, Eve Barlow, Milton Charles.

Reviewed by Rene Lerch
Christchurch, March 2007

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Manifesto

The reason I do what I do – create/devise theatre, teach devising, offer low budget performances in intimate settings, including food and time for conversations – is to share with people the lovely experience I have of living my life in a playful and creative manner.
I want to encourage people from all walks of life to embrace their inner child, to enjoy their creativity and to find creative solutions to the events and situations in their lives.

I want to offer people an experience that is not so distant from them – not a professional cast of highly trained actors in a professional theatre setting performing a play written by an expert from another country. In my little theatre events, I wish the audience to feel that the inspiration has come from people just like them, that they too can go home and put their ideas, dreams, thoughts and feelings onto paper, canvas, into their bodies, their gardens, their cooking, their 'boring' jobs and so on.

I want to inspire people who are already on a creative path by showing them that it is in fact easy to create and to share the fruits of your creation and to do it in a playful manner, with people you enjoy having around. All it takes is persistence – not a huge grant, not a huge qualification – just persistence (a bit of loyalty to your original impulse/idea) and a bit of organisation, trust, and openness.

I am also attracted to a view of life-as-carnival, to glamorous fun, to performing the most fabulous sides of ourselves and celebrating one another in all our specificity, idiosyncrasy, our fantasies and the hidden sides we wish we could share with the world. I hope that the parties and soireés connected with Laverne-Laverne will allow people to have fun and meet one another in this atmosphere of carnival, dream, play and liberation.

What is liberation, in this context? I found myself discussing the play with someone who hadn't seen it on Saturday at our (lovely) party. I told him that it was not really an experimental piece, that in fact it didn't challenge the audience, break the 4th wall, have the intention to shock or use extremely adventurous form or political content, and that I had in fact wanted the piece to be enjoyable, amusing, safe and liberating for the audience.

He asked me if political theatre always had to be scary for an audience.

And of course, it doesn't. It made me think about some of the best theatre I've seen, that has touched and inspired me deeply - this experience of liberation, which is actually a sort of transcendance, being suddenly lifted above some old pattern of belief or some old habit of behaviour, to be able to see it for what it is and let go of it; or to reach a new ability to accept some part of oneself (or another, or the world) that is flawed or that society sees as incorrect, imperfect or ugly.

If the art I make can do that, I will be very happy and excited.

So often, 'scary', challenging art, that has the intention to make the audience go home and (intellectually) review and critique their lives, beliefs or behaviours, actually has the outcome of making the audience defensive, angry, and closed-down. I want the audience to feel that they are awakening to a new understanding, and the challenge to them is really to become more aware, more playful and more accepting - the very things I wish for in my life.

Monday, March 05, 2007

New Plans

The success of FLIGHT PATTERNS - with a total audience in excess of 120, fantastic feedback and good times - has brought me to the planning of an ongoing culture of performance, art, dressing up, food and fun in Lyttelton.
I am planning to raise funds to create two performance/soirees in a new house venue in Lyttelton through 2007. Here, we would invite the audience for a short (20 - 45 minute) performance, including dinner or supper, and an opportunity to share their own work, hear live music, and socialise in a creative environment.
Each performance/soiree would run weekly for 6 weeks, and we are hoping to coincide one of the pieces with the Lyttelton winter festival, perhaps offering a succession of evenings (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun) at that time.
We also have plans to publish a zine, and I will start working on editing the film version of FLIGHT PATTERNS, hoping to have that also completed by the time of the winter festival.