We all get lost in our inner worlds at times. Drifting in our dreams, regrets, desires, fears, anxieties, and hopes. Lost with the inner voices that keeps us company, both for better or worse. Are we alone in these thoughts? Dare we share them with others? Is it possible that others think the same things we do, have experiences what we have? Do we dare let people know how perfectly imperfect we are in this age of hashtags and filters and no more than 160 characters? And what happens when we dare to bring our private lives into public spaces, share our intimacies and take action together?
“As If No-one Is Watching”, the new production from Vulcana Women’s Circus and WaW Dance brings together a team of 18 performers from their early twenties to mid-seventies in a gorgeous exploration of these private and public spaces for women. Part performance and part installation, the work utilises circus, dance, story-telling, sound design, and augmented reality to showcase the hidden worlds of an incredibly diverse group of women and what is possible when the private is made public.
The show is divided into two sections, the first exploring the inner worlds of the women, and the second show-casing these worlds made public. When I first heard about the production, I was struck by its scope and ambition. The size of the cast, the content, the mixture of modalities. I couldn’t fathom how this would all be brought together.
I should know by now not to question the talents of team behind this show. In As If No-one Is Watching they have created a production that is both an incredibly intimate and dense exploration of women’s internal worlds and a whimsical, gloriously weird, life-affirming celebration of what they can achieve together. As well as this, As If allows each of the 18 performers a chance to shine and express themselves in their own unique ways, and brings them together as a cohesive ensemble. And, unlike most live performance projects, they have created a legacy of the stories of these women and this show that will live on long after its completion.
In the first section of the show, the audience is taken on a deep dive into the inner worlds of this incredibly diverse group of women. The audience is invited to wander through the “gallery” of 18 performers to explore their hidden thoughts, desires, shame, regrets and dreams.
The inner world of each performer is portrayed through two stories or soundbites that are saved on an online platform designed by Line 26. The performers presents a series of movements that reflects or respond to these stories. The monologues run the gamut of emotions and experiences. There are stories of restless nights, motherhood, intrusive thoughts, eating disorders, assault, fantasy, appetites, passions, lost hopes and dreams and so much more. Both the sound design of the stories and the movements of each performer complements and adds to these intimacies that are shared with us.
The stories range from the banal and common thoughts we all share to the most intimate and person experiences shared by few. They are brave, hilarious, unifying, harrowing and grounding. I find myself laughing out loud at the internal rage of a meeting mismanaged, glad to know I’m not the only one who thinks like that. Then, made aware of my privilege to hear the stories of a woman walking home alone at night. Then assaulted by the intrusive thoughts that another faces on a daily basis. Each story is brought to the light and each story is given the reverence and importance they deserve.
I loved exploring the installation side of the show and could have spent hours wondering amongst this gallery of the inner world. In fact, my main criticism of the show, is that this part was far too short. With 18 performers, each with 2 stories, we could have spent an hour or more in this private intimate space. In fact, I spent much of the day after the show, listening to the audio again and exploring the stories of the cast, trying to remember the movements displayed in the installation.
If our time in the gallery had to be interrupted, at least it was by the gorgeous voice of vocalist Velvet Pesu. Velvet’s voices draws the performers and the audience out of the private worlds and guides us into the performance space, where the private will be made public.
In the second part of the show, we are shown what can be possible when women come together, support each other and make noise. At first exploring the space and each other, the group comes together to show how much more can be achieved by working together. Together they raise their voices to be deafening. The group is able push against the boundaries of performance space and the forth wall, lifting each other to climb and walk the walls in ways they couldn’t do along. And belaying takes the performers to new heights.
Together the women hold each other up, pick-each other up off the floor, and support each other through challenges. If someone is struck down, pushed aside, together they can lift them up. I am reminded of many stories of women coming together to support each other through life, be it supporting each other through personal tragedy or massive social movements. They show that they are so much more they are together than they are alone.
But it is not always positive, together they can also reject those who are different and leave them to struggle on their own. I was glad to see this also explored, and that the group piece didn’t just focus on the positive side of people coming together. For this reason, one of the stand-out pieces was Rindi Harradine’s rope act, all struggle, desperation and isolation in the middle of the group. It was incredibly powerful.
During the exploration of this public space, I found myself being drawn back to the private stories and I would have liked to see a few more references to this in the performance. While this may be too literal for some tastes, the addition of some soundbites from the stories mixed into the group pieces, snippets of well-known public movements like #metoo could have added some emotional resonance to the exploreation of the private made public. This is a little quibble though.
The performance is complemented by the gorgeous sound design of Anna Whitaker and the vocals of Velvet Pesu. Anna has been collaborating with Brissy performers for a while now, and in As If her work adds to the emotional texture of live performance pieces. Velvet’s vocals are rich, deep and booming, adding to the soundtrack, and her presence onstage is majestic, regal and calming. She is our guide through second half of the piece. Both take the performance to another level.
Guided by Anna and Velvet and lifted up by the ensemble, each performer is given a chance to shine once again in the second part of the show. It is rare to see a cast of 18 on a stage, and the group is used effectively to add to complement each piece by filling the space and adding to movements. This was particularly effective in a primal dance piece of power and fierceness lead by the WaW Dance crew and a number of the aerial pieces throughout the show, particularly Georgia Bale’s lyra piece and Trang Ho’s swinging pole finale.
In As If, Vulcana and WaW Dance utilise the vocabulary of new circus, dance and storytelling to shines a light on the private spaces of women of all ages and what can be achieved when they come together and make public those inner. They have created a dense and rich production that is both raw and real and that you will be thinking about long after you leave the show. Keep an eye out for the website that will be created as an on-ongoing legacy to the work and the stories shared. I for one can’t wait to revisit them.
Highly recommended, particularly if you love rich stories, contemporary performance, new circus, podcasts, physical theatre, and experimental work.
Adam Wood saw As If No-one Is Watching on Thursday 27 September. As If No-one Is Watching plays at the Powerhouse from 27 – 30 September.
Director | Celia White
Assistant director | Wendy McPhee
Sound designer | Anna Whitaker
Lighting designer | Christine Felmingham
Vocalist | Velvet Pesu
Digital designer | Line 26
Costume designer | Kaylee Gannaway
Videographer | Paris Owen
Circus Rigger | Helen Clifford
Production Manager I Elyse Fitzpatrick
Image credit: Rod Noendeng