Like all art, theatre is subjective; the artists place something before you and you take from it what you will. With most theatre, this takeaway is about your interpretation of the messages behind a performance – how it makes you feel and the way it makes you think about certain issues. When it comes to absurdist performances, however, you may also be taking away a completely different impression of what happened during the piece than other members of the audience.
An Ice Thing to Say, a multi-sensory recorded performance by Vertebra Theatre Company and conceptualised by Mayra Stergiou, is somewhat indescribable in its narrative structure. The only context provided is that it is the meeting between a human and a polar bear, in an exploration as to how we as humans are impacting nature.
As the recording begins, sat in pitch darkness I wait for the audio and visuals to start. Thirty seconds seems like an eternity and I adjust the volume in case I’m missing something. Out of nowhere a voice pierces my ear, a soundscape forming over it – a cacophony of whispers, followed by the crackling of a fire as the visuals finally kick into motion.
This sensory confusion is matched perfectly by everything that follows; the soundscape, by Gregory Emfietzis, continues to be an intriguing mystery throughout, switching between sounds, music and operatic singing – all seemingly irrelevant – whilst we watch performers expressing themselves through free form movement.
The focal point of the performance is the interaction between one of the performers and three blocks of ice in the middle of a vast and empty warehouse. She caresses and explores the blocks, experimenting with how different parts of her body can touch the ice, and views it from different angles. There is an emotional connection which we see forming between artist and ice, she slowly becomes protective over it, gives it a life force, and holds it close to her.
The performances by Piedad Albarracin Seiquer, Gregory Emfietzis and Mayra Stergiou, whilst confusing for the most part, are superbly executed, with a well-honed precision perfect for the piece. Their clarity of movement lays bare the emotions hidden underneath, allowing their audience to see more than simple expression.
I must admit that in these initial stages of the performance (which have a distinctively art installation vibe) the limits of my imagination dictate my appreciation of the piece and I begin to lose interest in a party that I clearly have not been invited to. However, towards the end of the piece, things start to fall into place for me. As the performer devours fruit from the top of an ice block accompanied by the sounds of cars and the low blues and purples of the lighting, I suddenly see an animal being forced to feed itself with unknown food in a human world. An icy perspective on humanity’s impact on nature.
As if perfectly planned all along, the performance now allows me to apply my interpretation to the preceding scenes. It may not be how the piece was envisioned, but my impression of the last forty minutes changes in an instant. If you have the patience to stick with this piece it is one that makes you sit back and really look at the world around us, before it’s too late to stop the harm we are causing.
An Ice Thing To Say is available to watch online until 14th December. For more information and to book tickets, visit Cockpit Theatre’s Website.