Breathe in that fine Balham air! Being my first Theatre N16 visit, I already know and love the pub and theatre grub London scene. Heightening the intimacy of a venue, theatre companies are safe to experiment and perform extreme human emotions towards a small audience. I adore productions which focus on the self and document personal experiences. To read these words from Max Barton’s new company, PIGDOG, I slobbered all over my invite:
Working on this piece has been a challenging and moving experience, dealing as it does with personal experiences of assault and the horrific human trafficking industry that plagues our world today…
…The girl is fourteen and all she wants is to find a new home. But she’s been on this boat for what feels like forever. She can’t remember her name, or the last time she saw one of the litter lands. For miles around it’s just her, the sea creatures and her twin sister. And her twin has been asleep for a very long time.
Theatre N16, Boat, 2015
BOAT was the perfect visual playground to sail upon the seas of imagination and dreams. Shawn Soh‘s theatre design roared tides of creativity and bravery as a spread of clear film hung around the centred crated boat with wooden furniture as rocks. With Girl and Twin confined to the small space of the boat, they were in sync to secure us in our life jackets seats and travel the tides of every emotion possible. I thought it was going to be a pleasant voyage of sisterly love with light-hearted sea legs, but the distress signal was to be fired.
The introduction of the JellyFish of Sound (played by Jethro Cooke) was an interesting species as I was slightly weirded out by his requests for Sssh and Hummm. Using audience participation, he captured sounds on his techno board and played them right back at us for a special “extra-live” performance. Nice touch! Serves me right to judge so quickly. Like watching a show on CBeebies, he narrated the play with one liners, preparing and enabling the story to flow. He was the man for clarification on the play’s literal truth.
There was a sudden moment when I thought “Kill me now, adults pretending to be animals“, but then the audience giggled and I must admit I did smirk at the quirkiness of it all. Using everyday items, the costumes expressed the animal bodies – Turtle (played by Matthew Coulton) with his puffer jacket and rucksack and Gull (played by Gabriele Lombardo) with a white tracksuit and whacking two wrapping paper tubes as his wings. Although these humans were transformed into animals and then reversed, their costumes symbolised the Turtle being “trustworthy” whereas Gull had a “dodge” look about him. Lombardo’s gull-like voice and Coulton’s turtle-like behaviour earned a couple more bursts of smirks and giggles from the audience.
The Twin (played Cristina Catalina) disrupts the BOAT‘s seabed and surrenders as the Girl’s anchor. Gulping the muddy water from the bottle of Flash and suffocating herself with smearing sludge over her face, my jaw dropped and I’m afraid to say I loved this moment of suicide and humiliation. It was emotionally horrific and cued the tears. Although it echoed a spa treatment I had once, I truly felt the Twin gave a breath-taking performance…quite literally I thought she was dead!
The Girl is very starry eyed just like the glitter dust (or fish scales) on her hands. Pia Laborde Noguez plays an intriguing character who has mastered the childlike innocence towards her sister’s rotting dead body stashed away within the boat’s trunk. An emotionally choked up moment was the scene of the Girl saying goodbye to her Twin, especially the Girl singing their childhood “think positive in desperate situations” song into silence. The Girl turns into a wild killer whale, striking her prey (the Turtle) with sexual assault, throwing acid into his eyes and the return of the sludge (which robbed her sister’s life) onto his face. One of Kiran Millwood Hargrave‘s five star script moments was Turtle’s last words to the Girl, calling her “Turtle Dove“, which I loved as Turtle refers to the Girl as heavenly “Dove” throughout the play.
BOAT started as a beautiful sailing boat, but ended as a treasured ship wrecked. The destroyed boat symbolised the desolation of dreams and enveloped into sudden moments of chaos and madness. The “relaxed” performance was a ray of theatre goodness within the good old proper pub setting. I’ve often thought pub landlords as pirates, robbing us theatregoers, but the Theatre N16 was a very current creative space with fabulous sea booty….luckily I did not miss this boat!
Ends 5 November, buy your tickets here
Big thanks to Chris Hislop