There is a distinct feel to the beginning of Mayfest, the contemporary theatre festival that takes over Bristol for the next two weeks, offering “adventurous theatre for playful people”. In Jo Bannon’s Foley and Sleepdog’s Astronaut the work focuses more on the sound of performance than on the act of a body within a space. You could say that the majority of theatre that we experience seeks to put first the body and then the aural into a space, yet both Bannon and Sleepdogs prove that sometimes pleasure can be taken in the simplest of sounds.
In Foley the work of foley artists, who create the everyday sounds for use in films or performance, are brought into the theatrical limelight by Bannon. Her obsessive habit of creating everyday sound has seeped into her theatrical performances, where aplastic bag over her hand makes the sound of waves on a beach. Bannon tells her audience a murder story, building suspense and tension in the unfolding but short drama. A woman is followed down a street, eventually chased, she finds herself in an abandoned building before a murder takes place.
For the first moments it is Bannon as a performer who entices us into her sound-fixated world. Yet it is not long before her table of vegetables, microphones and an odd assortment of other instruments are put to use. The effect is quite mesmerising to the ear, and it encourages you to close your eyes and hear the performance rather than to watch it. Clearly Bannon is aware that some theatrical presentation is required for us to watch her make her foley story, and this is achieved in the manner in which she slaps, attacks and hacks into vegetables and other items. There is some brilliant jelly slapping that is generally one of the best things I’ve heard or seen it quite some time.
As a whole, Foley is wonderfully thought out, and really does become captivating to both experience and to hear. With dark comedy and Bannon giving a brilliant theatrical performance, this short performance explores an art that is normally heard and not seen.
Keeping with the use of sound in performance Sleepdog’s Astronaut, a collaboration between Tim X Atack and Tanuja Amarasuriya, looks at Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Using a single microphone and a wonderful soundscape and narrative given by Tim X Atack, Astronaut is beautifully tender and emotive whilst being exceptionally simple.
Heading into space and landing on the moon was clearly no easy task, the level of risk involved at the time could easily have meant an unhappy ending regardless of the tests and equipment NASA provided. It is this risk, this unknown, that Astronaut seeks to explore. What if those courageous astronauts, through no fault of their own, failed their mission, with NASA withdrawing all connection and communication and leaving them to die on the moon? A chilling thought, but one that is explored with a calm and gentility that strikes at the audience’s hearts.
A melodic piano rhythm plays out, and the cackle of a radio beeps and produces static as the exploration of a simple narrative on the moon is given. What makes Astronaunt so endearing is its simplicity and tenderness. With barely enough light to see the stage, and a soundscape pounding into The Brewery, it’s as if the magnitude of space is presented and then gently removed, leaving us cold and empty. An excellent theatrical journey.
Mayfest is taking place over the course of two weeks in venues across Bristol. See the festival website for information on all the shows and to book tickets.