A little dabble into theatre with a guest post by C. Balchin
Waiting Room, created by Gerard Bester and Jane Crewe, enjoyed its first run for three nights at The Nunnery in the Wits Theatre Complex 11 -13 April 2013. Bester and Crewe, both accomplished practitioners and staff at University’s Drama Department, collaborate for the second time on Waiting Room, after 2011’s Table. Waiting Room sees Crewe as its solo performer, with Bester taking the director’s credit.
Wrapped up against the chill on its opening night, the small theatre filled up quickly. The Nunnery is typically a dismal venue, but set design by Abby Lombard worked hard to transform the 80s fundamentalist black box. Suitcases, suspended in the air and mysteriously lit, hung open, displaying small mood boards, maybe journeys, nostalgic and broadly evocative. The set is a living room – or rather, a sitting room: formal, dark and polished. Two stiff chairs, a two-seater couch and a low coffee table, already apparently engaged in their own perpendicular conversation. It takes a moment to notice the human form slumped in one of the chairs.
The performer ‘pre-set’ in space strikes my jaded perceptions as contrived – until the tiny body set there, in this case, seems not to hide or wait, hoping we will forget its breath, but to radiate, starting already, even before we have. Crewe’s soft, precise and highly-trained body will anchor the entire piece, so deliberate and so committed.
The work unfolds peacefully, its set and score guiding the audience to read Crewe’s minute, un-dancerly choreography simply and readily. A narrative emerges quickly – a woman, in her room. Without becoming prescriptive, I see mirrored in Crewe my own female domesticity. The score and some of the attitudes begin to suggest something antagonistic, maybe mundane, somehow anti-liberatory about the tea service and high-heeled limp that Crewe enacts. The rhythm of the piece begins to stifle, Crewe’s ‘grounded’ choreography has the audience bending and straining to see over one another to the carpeted floor she works on.
But the piece segues pleasantly, somehow without resolving itself, into a new narrative direction – she, and he. Her eyes directed to an imagined someone in a chair, big band swing replacing the tenuous static score, Crewe begins what I can only, morbidly, describe as a seduction…
The narrative impetus is abandoned, now, and less linear kind of study follows. The score keeps up, supporting our connection to the increasingly strange games Crewe is playing with the furniture. I can’t help but start to laugh as Crewe coyly rubs up the sofa, or boldly sticks her head inside the lamp. I have mentioned her total commitment, her performative strength, which begins to parody the ephemeral ‘dance’, the much abstracted ‘physical theatre’ which generically contain the work.
No rules are broken, no conventions are smashed – the tongue must remain firmly inside the cheek. But hiding the tongue, the cheek is newly exposed. As the lights in the dead space around the set are suddenly lit, white and plain, and Crewe breaks free of her mood-board-licious, colour-palette-connected set, some kind of wild energy, some total disregard, sweeps up from beneath.
I am disappointed that this flash is so brief – when Crewe returns, the rhythm drops again, the static picks up, the colour palette has been respected, infinitely. And as Crewe slowly, casually, tucks her gorgeous creamy little body under a thick maroon Persian, and hides there, my laugh gets stuck inside my open mouth.
The piece is obviously in its infancy – which is to say that, I hope it grows. The subtle, delicate and razor sharp under-play, that for me so characterise Bester’s theatrical instinct, still feel like in-jokes that I might not really understand. The detail is accomplished, precise and absolutely satisfying. Although the piece could be described as ‘intimate’, in its small venue and one-woman cast, I couldn’t help but feel that its impetus is bigger. Perhaps this is the cardboard model that Bester and Crewe have been able to disassemble and reassemble to find this clean and poignant work, but the next step must be in bricks, and in mortar.
Waiting Room is a 45 minute delight of mundane humour and fine physical accomplishment. Its quality sets its concept a truly tough standard to meet – a challenge I anticipate Crewe’ and Bester’s response to.
Text – C. Balchin