Would be happier in a world without labels? Do they limit us as women and men? Where does that leave those who identify as non-binary? Endgame: Ariel, written and performed by Dead Leaf Theatre, asks these questions. The theatre company, whose members met at East 15 Acting School, features three strong new performers who seek to address these issues. They combine their own writing with the gender-subversive females of Shakespeare. Notably there are references to Viola from Twelfth Night, Rosalind from As You Like It, and Ariel from The Tempest.
The play opens with an epilogue and performed with accompanying gestures. This newly-formed international company features Meriel Hinsching (Germany), Pernille Broch Korsbøen (Norway) and Katie Coull (Scotland). Their self-defined ambition is to strive “to create fresh new writing and physical theatre through devised processes, dealing with the social and political issues of our time”.
The new writing is interwoven in an experimental form. One poignant quote which really resonated was the line “Sometimes I want to peel my skin off. Sometimes I want to disappear”. Physical theatre elements weave through this. The performers depend on one another quite literally as they form a triangle and there is some striking imagery in the use of three music-producing string devices which entrap them. They tangle and tear at themselves in an attempt to navigate gender parameters. Finally, they become un-meshed as the climax seems to connote: “Why can’t we be it all?”
At points there’s an overload of information as the performance jumps from Shakespeare to new writing to verbatim and physical theatre. Dead Leaf Theatre encourages a re-examination of the classic texts. However, there are several elements that could have been more deeply explored. For example, several verbatim quotes which inspired the work are barely audible. Additionally, there are playing cards and labels given to the audience which suggests audience participation, but this does not feature. Endgame: Ariel lacks the punch that perhaps more clarity on fewer elements would allow.
Dead Leaf Theatre are three performers with strong ideas, still trying to discover their own voice. The performance reads as a more visceral reaction to what gender feels like. The play is lined with questions such as of “Am I passing?” and “It’s a phase” which is reminiscent of the common dismissal of transgender people. At the finale of the play there is a renouncement of labels. The questions remain: would be happier in a world without labels? Is refusing to conform to the gender binary a label within itself?
Endgame: Ariel was at Camden People’s Theatre until August 14.