Presented under the Barbican’s new season, The Art of Change, in tandem with LiFT Festival and Back to Back Theatre, Lady Eats Apple is a piece exploring the fragility of existence; in the mythical and the mundane. Ushered through the back of the theatre to an inflatable plastic opening of a vast, black fabric-lined womb in which the performance takes place.
Following a three-act structure, we begin at the beginning of existence – God (Scott Price) naming his creations. Created and primarily performed by an ensemble of actors with perceived intellectual disabilities, Lady Eats Apple is so much larger than a re-interpretation of a creation myth. It is an assessment and critique of the politicisation of existence itself.
Brian Lipson’s old God, a character without perceived intellectual disability, utters how he cannot remember whether him or God came first.
“The personal is political”: a phrase born out of second wave feminism that essentially laid the ground work for body-based live art; it describes how the simple presence of bodies can be a political act vis-à-vis the socio-political systems of the spaces they occupy.
The production is a direct challenge to the social construct of disability, and the suppressive perception that origin of these heavily politicised bodies exist secondary to non-disabled ones. That is what makes this visually arresting and awe-inspiring production so urgent.
From the binaural sonic landscape of the headphones worn throughout the duration of the piece, observed reality is warped, destroyed and created again. The void entered both holds the audience and remarks at their insignificance. Lady Eats Apple is a piece of experiential theatre, where a moment may be chilling and breathtaking at the same time, with the outcome dependant on the perception brought.
Entering this space that seemingly separates realities, both in its design and method of entry, it is disappointing to then spend significant time waiting for the remainder of the audience to enter one at a time, chatting until the performance begins.
Yet, in quiet acknowledgement and almost-darkness, the performers watch from the stage. This period of time is not utilised by the production at all, which is odd considering the work taken to transport the audience to this otherworldly environment.
Though the use of binaural sound vehemently succeeds in certain sections, in live performance, especially conversation and intimacy, it becomes unclear what the position of the audience is in relation to the characters; am I still observing them, or have I become Man (Simon Laherty) experiencing reality? A clearer distinction was needed.
In spite of this, the production is a powerful statement of shared impermanence, offering a lens in which the epic and every-day interchange and co-exist; the cosmic potential of every simple action. In the final minutes, Sarah Mainwaring’s Lady reassures the limp body of the old God – “we will all look after you”. That we must.
Lady Eats Apple played at the Barbican Theatre until 16 June
Photo: Jeff Busby