By invitation, the company were to perform to a mixture of professionals at Borehamwood Civic Centre. The audience included: Nurses, Social Workers, Support Workers, Psychiatrists and Psychologists. The venue sat on the second floor of an orangey-beige office block that sat squarely, looking down the main street of Borehamwood like a custodian and protector of civil law. The room allocated for the performance was occupied by a Team Meeting. And despite the promise of half-an-hour to set-up in, we were given approximately ten minutes. Ten minutes to shift furniture, set the props, the stage and the sound. A quick look at the grid lighting meant that we had the options of on or off. The company has always thrived on pressure and needless to say the stage was set for our performance on time, audience in place.
From the start of the piece it was clear that the audience were on our side. Laughs came where expected and where least expected. It was clear early on that the audience found more meaning in the piece than others we performed to. And as the audience engaged in a bit of forum theatre calling out points they agreed with, murmuring to the truths of the writing the company settled into their stride. It’s worth saying that during the performance by the nature of their jobs audience members were called out every now and then to appointments. By its nature the piece evolved in response, emphasising different lines that highlighted the frustration of interruptions and commitments to other things that couldn’t necessarily be attended. At one point the fire alarm went off in the building; but the living nature of the piece incorporated the blaring harsh call of the alarm into the fabric of the narrative. One actor on stage doing this is skilful enough; but the company wove a short tributary to another stream of thought allowing the alarm to be that of the lift getting stuck and the incompetence of the engineer sent to fix it.
Throughout the performance the audience seemed to enjoy the journey through the humour, anxiety, fear, panic and revelation of the piece. The cruel thumping of the lift getting stuck made them jump and exclaim at the loudness of the noise. Without question the sighs of relief that followed were to do with not being in that lift with the company: relief that they were on the outside and not stuck within the claustrophobic confines of the chairs that marked the edges of the stage. But their sense of liberation was tempered by the ever present threat of unpredictability as the disembodied voice, the lost soul, walked amongst them shouting, cajoling, singing and threatening the stability of the room. The characters struggled to make sense of their dilemma. And the one person who could have saved them: the employee of Yo-Yo lifts sat quietly, within the framework of her own story, pouring fresh coffee left over from the team meeting.
As both the company and the audience remained within the existential cruelty of sudden shock and prolonged suffering the performance took a surreal and unexpected turn, as Jacob tortured by unresolved guilt at losing two friends in a fire sang ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles….’ in a voice full of power and pain a counsellor entered the space and declaimed that there was a meeting on next door so could we keep the noise down. The realisation of the piece would have been lost on her: pain can’t be silenced. Pain can only be heralded as the voice of our existential angst amongst the mundaneness of expectation that the bureaucracy of life insists we engage with.
The cast carried on.
It was a wonderful performance by all the cast. The ensemble nature of the piece in its purist and most cohesive manner enabled each actor to perform in a way that allowed the story to flow and reach the audience, who played their part admirably with encouragement and a liveliness that was refreshing and loving.
The bunch of flowers, and the pot plant presented at the end seemed to confirm what we hoped the piece would illicit: A human empathetic desire to heal the wounds of others.