Fye and Foul’s Cathedral plunges its audience into near darkness, letting audio take the lead in their latest show which features fragments of tape recordings – the voices of two former lovers – each recalling experiences and perceptions from their time together. Inspired by Raymond Carver’s short story under the same name, Cathedral is an exploration of memory and recollection. Unlike David Rosenberg and Glen Neath’s 2015 play Fiction which, also performed in total darkness, made its audience feel individually included in the story, Cathedral makes us intruders, peering through the fog to catch a glimpse of the characters’ pasts, whilst trying to piece together truths from their intimately detailed and largely biased memories.
The darkness in which you experience this play allows focus to be drawn to the stories being told on tape, and to feel each character’s desire and inability to recall exact moments from the past. Writer directors, Giulio Blason and Yaron Shyldkrot have devised a narrative in which we’re carried through a particular memory before the tape crackles into a pause, or another voice takes over. At times, both voices are layered over one another, each recounting separate memories simultaneously. The soft, albeit frustrated voices are effective storytellers, however the decision for sudden, disruptively loud sounds – such as those of firecrackers – to interrupt the piece seem only to be used to shock the already disorientated audience.
The use of lighting is clever in its visualisation of the unreliability of memory. In one moment, erratic flashes of white light allow us to glimpse a performer whilst never truly grasping their image. In another – a scene which recalls a similar moment in Michael Gondry’s film Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind – a silhouette behind an umbrella turns towards us, but the light cuts out before we capture their face.
The dimly lit figures lining the back of the stage are effective too in their obscuring of the performer’s features; we squint to make these out like we would the mental image of a companion from the past. The figures in question are performers Lisa Savini and Vjera Orbanic, whose movements are simple: slowly moving past one another, reaching out for contact with the other and an arm routine performed slightly out of sync – presumably to portray a couple becoming off-kilter in a failing relationship. These sequences are slightly too slow to interest our emotions though, and perhaps dance would be more powerful here.
The pauses in the recordings that leave us listening to distorted crackles and windy white noise are also sluggish. Similarly, the repeated recollections make the piece drag a little. However, despite the darkness and slow moving story, there are visually effective moments such as a thin trail of sand falling from the ceiling into a lit container as the male voice recounts his former lover’s shower routine, and the two figures frantically piling sand into a shared heap, as if building their relationship memories together.
Towards the end, one particular memory is recounted and then layered over and over itself, wisely reminding us that often it’s not the memory but the story we’ve repeatedly retold ourselves that forms our opinion of the past.
Cathedral is playing the Pleasance Theatre until 10 April 2016. For more information and tickets, see the Pleasance Theatre website.