The story of Pareidolia follows three characters – Mrs. Z (Helen Brown), Mx. Y (Jayran Lear), and Mr. X (Caetano Capurro) – each with a tale to share. But Pareidolia is not a simple paradigm, and neither are the accounts from these characters. Their stories do not come out with ease, instead they are hidden – buried beneath elliptical poetry and references to other texts and fairy tales.
Pareidolia is a palimpsest – it is written over previous works (‘The Wizard of Oz’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin’s ‘We’) and is constantly re-writing itself as these characters try to tell stories of traumatic and monumental events in their lives. Writer and director Daniel McVey is aware of this complexity and even plays with it – at one point, Mrs. Z accuses the other characters of using “florals” instead of “facts”.
Eventually, the cruxes of these stories begin to emerge, yet they still feel like half-complete narratives. This play is overflowing with imagery, literary allusions, and non-linear storytelling, but at times it seems that those stylistic elements are present in place of substance. Each of these characters are dealing with trauma from serious issues, including death and sexuality, but the writing tiptoes around these subjects instead of confronting them.
The reliance on imagery is complicated further by one of the key themes of this play. If you’re unaware of the definition of the word ‘Pareidolia’, it refers to the phenomenon of incorrectly perceiving a stimulus as an object, pattern, or meaning known to the observer; examples would include seeing shapes in clouds, or seeing faces in objects like food. In other words, ‘Pareidolia’ refers to finding meaning where it doesn’t exist.
This shoots down throughout the whole work – in each of the characters’ stories, there are overlaps and repeated motifs (colours, clothes, and flowers pop up everywhere), but Pareidolia questions whether this means anything or not. The show fiercely resists easy interpretation and instead requires an awful lot of work from both its creatives and its audience.
Some drawbacks arise from this – the actors in particular are given a demanding task to distil all of the above ideas into a coherent performance. The result is that they require a wide range – sometimes performing with emotion, and other times needing to maintain a coldness and distance when the piece relies on other texts. This can leave each of the actors feeling occasionally stilted, as if there are too many layers of unseen meaning in the script to cut through. This is most notable in the scenes when the characters are interacting together on Zoom, and the awkwardness may also be a symptom of having to perform while distanced. Zoom is sterile, and limits the physicality of the actors, leaving a divide between their words and their presence.
The caveat here, is that the piece utilises video extraordinarily well in other areas. Pareidolia is visually stunning and even features animation plus great use of green screen. It’s a smorgasbord of creativity which adds a cinematic quality to the show and demonstrates how much work has been poured into this.
Pareidolia is challenging theatre in numerous ways. It also knows that it is challenging and embraces that fact in its entirety. Considering that this is the first work produced by Phone Box Theatre Company, they deserve huge credit for being so bold and original. There are times, though, where this feels too bold, and it is difficult to imagine that the audience will understand everything the writer is trying to convey.
Hopefully, Phone Box continue to develop and hone their off-beat, esoteric style.
Pareidolia is streaming online until 31st October. For more information and tickets got to Phone Box Theatre’s website.