Z-Arts went into a state of Emergency this weekend, with the venue besieged by a range of performances for a free mini-festival, presented in collaboration with Word of Warning and STUN. I caught the morning / early afternoon stream of activity.
The first portion of the day was a smattering of one-to-one and durational pieces, starting with Peas On Earth by Maya Chowdhry. This was a sit-down exploration of the classical elements through poetry, technology and tarot cards. As with any piece that uses mobile technology, there’s an element of fumbling around making sure you’ve got the right tech and that it’s working. Then we were led to four tables which were set up to represent each of the classical elements. Scanning these little digital codes with your phone camera, Maya’s voice emerged like an overseeing guide or narrator offering instructions and thoughts. Each table involved picking a tarot card to determine the level of activity – breathing, looking into a candle, drinking or moving earth. I really enjoyed the interactive elements and they did their best to pave a smooth path over the somewhat haphazard nature of the performance; do I move to the next table now, or wait for it to be empty? Is there an order that’s best to do it in? Do I have a bag to put this little pea-plant into or do I leave it here? Overall, this could be easily forgotten as the immersive and interactive nature managed to pull you away from the outside world and offer introspection for a short, sweet duration.
The next piece we encountered was No Man Is An Island by Peter Jacobs, which involved four or five burly, bearded men in black summer dresses walking vaguely yet specifically around the Atrium to an ominous, atmospheric soundtrack. This piece supposedly explores “perceptions of public, personal and private space”. Perhaps it was the durational nature of the piece, or it being housed in the sunny thoroughfare Atrium space, but it didn’t keep me engaged long enough to catch up with it. A space that reflected the moodiness might have been more fitting, or perhaps it just wasn’t for me – but we quickly moved on.
On our way upstairs we passed Dominique Baron-Bonarjee mid-performance of Sui Generis – a durational piece which, if I’m speaking frankly, looked like someone struggling to get undressed. There were moments that distilled an interesting image or shape, but as something that we encountered unexpectedly, we weren’t quite sure what to make of it. Having checked out her website, however, I’d be intrigued to see more and reengage with this work.
Arriving upstairs we stumbled across a piece by Elena Molinaro – a large studio space washed with sounds and snippets from speeches and news reels around the theme of Europe and Brexit. In the middle of the room is a table covered in black cloth, on it is stitched a map of Europe in thick, red lines. Britain, however, was cut out of the fabric itself revealing a shocking, intimate and powerful image beneath. I could’ve stayed in this piece longer as I found it simple, accessible and interesting.
The first studio performance we settled down for was Land of the Giants – a fun, tender piece from Maelstrom Theatre. A clown tries to juggle, and then dances around the map of fallen balls he was unable to get airborne. I enjoyed this as a homage to failure, resilience and making do with your lot. As the piece played out, it became a somewhat poetic insight into feeling ‘different’, with some simple and effective movement to express this.
Next up was Ding & Sich. I struggled with this piece. Two people sat at a table reading a script. The script/text was considerably repetitive: convoluted to the point of not only making me disinterested, but also making it difficult to engage with. I did come away with a nice image of a man being made into a teacup, but this felt about twice as long as it could’ve been. It’s possible that the story could have worked as a reading experience, but I found that its dry delivery and lacklustre ‘poetics’ left me thirsty for something else.
After this, we popped along to Sync by Ryan O’Shea. This piece started off like the others, uber-‘contemporary’ and – after the marmite work I’d seen so far – I felt a sense of “here we go again”. I was wrong. This is a slick and clever performance that uses its initial setting as an interestingly false conceit. Any notion of script is pared down to a very need-to-know basis, and was all the more effective for it. This piece is funny, self-aware and crafted with a microscopic attention to detail I’ve not seen before. Also – and this might out me as not very cool or intellectual – it was just fun to have a purely unserious environment, with mentions of Tellytubbies, RuPaul, Cher and strange interludes of strobe lights. O Shea’s piece was visually engaging, impeccably crafted and full of exciting ideas.
This was, unfortunately, where my Emergency came to an end. Punching in at a 12-hour day if you see EVERYTHING, that’s quite some time to dedicate for even the most loyal and inquisitive theatre-goer. I’m keen to revisit Emergency when it rolls into town next year, as even though I found the work a little hit-and-miss, it certainly prevailed in making me curious for more.