Theatre Delicatessen is currently in residence at the former BBC studios – a disused building in Marylebone that many people would walk past without even a second glance. However, American theatre company Wilderness doesn’t view the world like most people – instead it sees the perfect location for its promenade piece The Day Shall Declare It to unfold. Artistic director and only female in the piece Annie Saunders, intertwines some of Tennessee Williams’s lesser known short plays with extracts from a series of interviews by Studs Terkel about the Great Depression. Delivery of Williams’s and Terkel’s distinctive prose is interspersed with breathtaking phrases of movement. Any thoughts of being on the fourth floor of rundown building slip away as you are transported to 1930s America – a time filled with smooth jazz on the wireless, gentlemen in top hats and tails, and the murmur of discontent and disillusionment among the working class.
The Day Shall Declare It takes place over a series of four rooms. The first is dressed with red drapes hanging indulgently from the ceiling, white paper chains created using leaves from a book and white fairy-lights that twinkle like stars. The presence of Anthony Nikolchev as a cloakroom attendant indicates that we are in the dancing hall where Saunders and Chris Polick’s characters first met. Saunders is in a long red ball gown that glides as she dances, giggling, with Polick, both intoxicated by each other’s presence.
Ushered into an adjoining room, 10 months have elapsed and the glitz and glamour of the night they first met has evaporated and is replaced by dirty nappies and the sound of the couple’s acerbic bickering. Beata Csikmak’s scenic design is a real feast for the senses as she replicates in exquisite detail the sights and sounds of their cramped apartment. Polick’s claustrophobic sense of entrapment that he feels in his thankless job and disintegrating relationship is intensified by use of boarded up windows in Csikmak’s set design.
In a recent interview for the Marylebone Journal, Saunders is quoted as describing the piece as “site responsive rather than site specific”. I think this particularly fitting description refers to the dance sequences within the piece. The talented performers use the natural features of the space around them, as they balance on window sills, swing off clothes lines and clamber up the walls. Sophie Bortolussi’s choreography was a real joy to watch – from stylised pedestrianised movements to intricate partner work and daring counterbalances. The fragmented nature of the text meant that the frequent eruptions into physical movement heightened the overall disjointed nature of the work.
As there is no clear division between when one play starts and another finishes, in the third room there was a tangible sense of confusion as to whether the scene in the gentlemen’s club was in any way connected to what had happened previously. Audience members who enjoy a linear narrative would find The Day Shall Declare It uncomfortable viewing. Personally, I gave up trying to piece together any form of coherent narrative and decided to view the work as a patchwork and to try and appreciate the beautifully delivered prose in each individual patch in its own right. For me, part of the fun of a site specific piece is being able to stand anywhere you so wish in the room; although we were given the freedom to stand wherever we wanted the actors repeatedly moved audience members that they deemed to be in the way. I completely understand that they were trying to prevent individuals from being trampled on, but I do think they could have relied on the audience’s natural human instinct to move out of the way rather than physically herding us out the way.
I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that co-Director and choreographer Sophie Bortolussi is currently appearing as Wendy in The Drowned Man. Stylistically there are many crossovers between Punchdrunk’s work and The Day Shall Declare It, the main one being that every audience member has a unique experience. For instance, one had a character whisper in her ears, another was led on her own to a room for a private performance. The Day Shall Declare It is an intriguingly disjointed and hard to follow production, but yet strangely this all adds to its charm.
The Day Shall Declare It is playing at Theatre Delicatessen until 31 January, for tickets and more information please visit the Wilderness website.