Wow. I mean…wow!
Okay, let’s get this show on the road. Again, quite literally, this show needs to get itself on the road.
These Rooms, created by ANU and CoisCeim Dance Theatre, have spectacularly blended together, dance, visual art and immersive techniques to create a moving and thoroughly emotional experience. Centred around the 1916 North King Street massacre in Ireland during the Easter Rising, two different sides of the story are told: one being from a British soldier’s point of view and the other from the women who lost their husbands and sons during the attacks.
Please note that throughout this review, I will refrain from calling the witnesses in that room ‘an audience’ because we were certainly not that. We were a part of the action, a part of that world, whether we liked it or not, which makes sense when you think about it?
During these attacks in Ireland, the British soldiers played the role of the ‘bad guys’, breaking into family homes and killing any suspected of being an Irish rebel. However, at the beginning of this performance, which felt like a live museum as you walked through each room, we were told stories of a British soldier’s time in the riots and we were left to sympathise with him. As he told this story, he made intense eye contact with everyone in that room. He then directly spoke to another member of the room.
“We were told to take no prisoners…so what do you do with them”, he said referring to the so-called rebels.
The woman stayed silent, but he pushed for her for an answer, he pushed her to come to the same conclusion that the soldiers came to. “Kill them” was her reply and he stood there and scoffed a quiet “yeah”.
He explained to us, with an incredible amount detail that could only have come from extensive research, the story of how he came into a home to find another soldier threatening the life of an eight-year-old girl for being a rebel.
And then he turned and looked at me directly in the eyes. “Could you do something for me?” he said, with fear erupting from his tear-filled eyes.
I nodded in response. I could not express my answer verbally because I was too focused on his emotions expressed through his facial expressions, lost for words by this incredible performance.
“Tell her…tell her how sorry I am…”
I was left bemused by this man’s story: he was ordered to kill people and yet, there he was standing in front of me, real as day, telling me that he did not want to be there. That he was supposed to be in a trench in France, being a hero to his nation. I sympathised with the ‘bad guy’ who did not even want to be there.
The other side of this story was from the point of view of the women who witnessed the deaths of their husbands and/or sons. They predominantly used physical theatre to express their emotions. They were scared. They were terrified of what was going on outside. The physicality of their bodies was distorted and harsh to imply their intense fear and worry and through all of the movement, the eye contract between us and them was rarely broken.
Every single connection made between us and the performers was intense and important. There was a rollercoaster of emotions surging through us as the performance went on. We found sadness in the soldier’s sense of betrayal and loneliness, horror in the graphic details of the occurring deaths, comfort in the moments of light-hearted comedy and sorrow and concern for each character, which was created by the continuous connection between us and the performer.
Another interesting note is that throughout the experience, some people were separated from the rest of the group. Where did they go? What happened to them? But in the final moments, everyone ended up in the same room, all together again. I guess, that’s what it was like during these riots…people disappearing and then, if you were lucky enough, reappearing. A very simple yet effective way of getting across what that was like.
When telling a story like this that is based in history, emotion and truth is everything. It does not necessarily matter if something is embellished or made up to push the narrative and make it more interesting, so long as it is done with an honest portrayal. These Rooms is based on a story where the facts are still not 100% accurate. But because of the sincerity these actors had in their performance, whether the information is completely accurate or not is neither here nor there. I have never seen a company of people perform something so emotional, continuously, on this kind of scale. Running for an hour and thirty minutes with no interval, these performers were constantly moving, and you could see every sign of physical, and on occasion even mental, strain. Sweat, heavy breathing, tired eyes, tears. But this only added to the reality of the piece.
I was so impressed by the amount of dedication and honesty they put into this piece. The direction by David Bolger and Louise Lowe, the lighting design by Ciaran Bagnall and the set design by Owen Boss came together to create a magnificently real and believable piece of what, I believe, should be considered art.
I would encourage any theatre or history fan to go and see this performance. It has been an experience for me that I’ll be sure to never forget and will encourage me to use similar techniques throughout my education. So, please, if you are reading this, head down to Shoreditch Town Hall, pick up some tickets and get ready for a fantastic experience, created by some brilliant theatre companies, performed by a multi-talented cast. You will not regret it.
These Rooms is playing at Shoreditch Town Hall until 22 June 2018
Photo: Hugo Glendinning