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“Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves”
On Monday 22nd October, I found myself, among a crowd of others, filtering through into the wide, dark space of a stripped-out Nuffield Theatre, with only the vaguest idea of to expect. I’d heard aerial, physical theatre, something about a choir, and little else. I’d heard Ockham’s Razor – the company in question – had been here last year at some point and had apparently gone down well. So I arrived optimistic, if oblivious.
My entering the Nuffield that night was an experience totally removed from any other I’d had of the space. Gone was the seating, down were the lights, and out were the apparatus of Ockham’s Razor’s unique show. The great black box of the Nuffield had been transformed into some skeletal, breathing cave, occupied by ambiguous scaffold-like constructions, hanging overhead, sprouting from the floor, and complimented by the rafters in the ceiling. Ethereal, ambient music, composed by Graham Fitkin and impeccably executed by Ruth Wall, fills the space even as the audience enter – adding the sensation of being trapped within the workings of an immense music box. It was a moment of wonder to realise that the accompanying cave sound effects of echoing, dripping water were somehow being produced live, upon Ms Wall’s harp.
Makeshift, cardboard seating was scattered around and soon seized upon by many members of the audience, who gathered around a promising looking crash mat, as ants around sugar. This early, before the start of the performance proper, I began to think I might find the presence of so many others, in this free-for-all, promenade piece, an obstacle. I would not. With the onset of the performance, the entire audience of over one hundred was expertly and subtly shepherded around the space, so as to be just where the performance wanted them.
The start of the performance took the ants by surprise, as a hollow, Perspex pillar, placed behind them and lit from within, began to show signs of life. A performer emerged from within, tearing away sheets of paper that had obscured the interior, as an insect from a cocoon. Her three partners entered from different corners as she exited the pillar, into the space, to join them.
The performance transitioned seamlessly to the skeletal scaffolding in the space’s centre, with the four performers taking to it with a child-like transformation from timidity to temerity, as they and their audience discovered what they were capable of. The mixture of playfulness and sheer physical dexterity, present throughout the performance, might tempt a comparison to monkeys at play, but this was more than a physical performance – these were not merely gymnasts, displaying their aerobic aptitude, these were performers, acting with not a word shared between them, only their bodies and their looks needed.
Though of course, these performers were gymnasts. And it showed, in their confidence, in their trust in each other, which spread to the audience; with the aerobics unfolding above them, on the shuddering, creaking apparatus, looking around, there wasn’t a single expression of concern. Indeed, there was only wonder. And it was a beautiful performance – less a continuous narrative as ‘a collection of poems’, as Charlotte Mooney, artistic director and performer put it in the post-show discussion. Each ‘poem’ developed organically and charmingly and with a constant sense of childlike wonder, of discovery and of finding oneself, others, the world.
Not content with transfixing their audience in the air and enveloping them in the score that echoed around the space, Ockham’s razor sought another level of immersion: a choir, composed of local singers, including some members of Lancaster University, scattered, hidden about the audience, chanting a Latin translation of the piece’s title in some Gregorian manner. This succeeded both in adding another level to the piece and giving the impression of the performance leaking into those observing it. One could never be sure who was audience and who was choir.
This show was, ultimately, one of the best pieces of theatre I have witnessed all year: filled with energy, with a constant sense of newness, discovery and unity of humanity, this was a magnificent, magnificent show.
Ockham’s Razor are now on tour. If there is any chance of you being able to see this show, I urge you to grasp it with both hands.