Like many, the Rhiannon Faith Company were met with the difficult news that theatres (and pretty much every other fun thing) would be suspended under the lockdown restrictions. Also like many, they found an innovative way to create work using what they had available to them. Drowntown Lockdown is the result, a film prologue to their dance theatre show Drowntown, which is now postponed until 2021.
The film is centred around 6 people. Simple imagery is used to introduce who they are, from the fluorescent jacket of a construction worker to the copious post-it-notes of a WFH-er, the simple yet poignant imagery is instantly recognisable and relatable to us as our ‘new normal’.
The film is well made. The editing is simple, the use of multiple exposure on some parts makes it look as if the performers are stuck in a time loop. To me this shows the relentless monotony of lockdown where, for many, every day feels the same.
Rhiannon Faith’s choreography is clear and congruous throughout. The performers’ movements are all similarly jagged and tense depicting the frustration, boredom and anxiety of the pandemic and our enforced inertia. Shelley Eva Haden particularly stands out with her visceral performance consisting of twisting, writhing movements.
Voice over is used on and off, which, for me, sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. The spoken word at the beginning works well to set the scene. However, the anxiety portrayed in Thomas Heyes’ construction worker is tangible and powerful enough without needing the (not particularly accurate) impersonation voice-over of Boris Johnson.
Only two of the performers speak which I like, it gives their words authenticity, I feel they are speaking because that comes naturally to them and their characters rather than that they’ve been told to ‘say something!’. Lines that really stand out to me are Heyes’ lament: “they push us under again and again. I am someone.” It is significant that he is given a voice as most construction workers have not been given one regarding their return to work during the pandemic. Also Donald Hutera’s line, “I’m drowning in stains” stands out to me, it captures the anxiety of constantly feeling unclean.
Indeed, water is a motif throughout, clips of the sea, bathroom showers and taps are interjected between or merged with the choreography. For me this creates an interesting dichotomy between cleanliness and safety, and anxiety and drowning. The latter is captured in various ways, Lewis Bramble’s character is drowning in the cries of his baby, and Cherie Coleman portrays a woman (of the copious post-it-notes) drowning in workload. Maddy Morgan attempts to swim through the metaphorical waters, donning a swim hat.
The film brings to life the oxymoron of community and isolation. Towards the end the choreography synchronises, showing a collective loneliness which in some ways is what the pandemic has given us, a universal relatability.
The piece works on two levels, as they use what they have around them the performers are intrinsically bringing their own personal experiences of lockdown to their characters.
The emotion of the performers is tangible, I can’t imagine the anticlimax of all the training both emotionally and physically and getting so close to the performance only to find it impossible, illegal even, to perform. The film works as a means to channel some of that emotion into something.
The virus manifests in different ways, as well as sickness it also results in loneliness and anxiety and this piece is important in reminding us of that. Although upsetting it manages to highlight a certain togetherness at the same time.
Drowntown Lockdown can be viewed at Rhiannon Faith’s website.