Being There: Aegean Fatigue

Feature in Issue 20-3 | Autumn 2008

Three viewing points for Petra’s Pulse’s Aegean Fatigue at Camden People’s Theatre, Sprint festival 29-30 may 2008.

We wanted to construct separate scenes which stood on their own, but which, through their placement, created a cumulative sensual narrative for an audience. To create a piece that was absolutely grounded in the here-and-now of urban existence we chose materials, objects and colours from our everyday lives, and used images, bodies, words and sound to build up a layered and textured response to the city, its pressures and possibilities. Recurrent themes were comfort, escape, hope, illness, violation, the interface between the personal and political.

We set ourselves constraints for the structure of the piece. Nine existing song titles became headings for the individual scenes; two musicians were set two different briefs and asked to compose two sixty-minute soundscapes which were then played simultaneously at one level throughout the show, colliding, undermining, melding, destabilising each other’s logic.

We introduced physical obstructions to our performances in order to experiment with giving the audience a heightened tension and sense of their own bodies. We built our own landscape in the theatre, intending the audience to feel they were entering our place and interrupting something deeply personal. We were interested in how it would affect the audience if they were unable to settle, and how they would respond as a community when in moments the performers were in such close proximity to them that their physical discomfort became part of the action that the rest of the audience was watching.

Jamie Wood Performer and co-director of Petra’s Pulse

A man in swimming trunks and goggles. A woman being covered in blood whilst audience members try to avoid being splashed. A giant mouse with a hairdryer. A leaf blower focused throwing up rubble dust as the audience splutter. Few words and some projections. A tortoise pulling a tank.

Described as ‘Nine visual songs form[ing] a raw and unsettling theatrical album’ Aegean Fatigue is a quite extraordinary work. It’s unsettling, risky, messy, careful, and beautiful. I came out of it full of life, to a bar where everyone was talking at a hundred miles an hour. ‘What was your favourite bit?’, ‘Did the blood get on you?’, ‘Can you still smell talcum powder?’

Like most of the audience, I didn’t know what to expect from Petra’s Pulse, and I mean that in a good way. We’d talked about the piece but I didn’t want to know too much; just trusted. For once I wanted to be a punter (albeit a privileged one), and go into the space and see what happened. Forty people enter, witness, and are affected; and it’s great.

From my perspective I was looking for a show to open the Sprint Festival which made a statement of intent, pushing at your/my/our expectations of what theatre is. This work is a piece of visceral beauty which lives long in the memory – the creators (Jamie Wood and Selina Papoutseli) having been brave enough to make exciting choices. I’m glad CPT could play our role: my only regret is that it was only on for two nights. Maybe next time…

Matt Ball Artistic director Camden People’s Theatre

The interzone between the languages of classic European clowning and live art may seem a curious, even queasy, crossover. What unites these discrepant tendencies in Aegean Fatigue is a quite painterly concern for materials and things. Petra’s Pulse create an experience of volatile, liquid sensuality, in which attention constantly slips between the obscure object of desire and the secret life of the desiring object. Their exceptional ability both to imbue the inanimate with liveness and to yield to the objectification of their own bodies releases moments of alternately outrageous comedy and terrible bleakness, making this critic perhaps the first in history to want to namecheck both Viennese Actionism and Billy Dainty in one review.

The surreal illogic with which this theatre of visions unfurls is dreamlike but far from disengaged. The piece repeatedly grounds itself by exposing connections between romantic conflict and familial dysfunction on one hand, and imperial violence and religious obfuscation on the other. Beneath its oblique daftness, it’s ethically astute – and seethingly angry; play is not trivial here, and daydreams are a species of political thought.

This is complex and committed work, enlarged by Mamoru Iriguchi’s elliptical projections and Cis O’Boyle’s strikingly assured lighting design. As for the performers, while Jamie Wood works with characteristically tender abandon, it’s Selina Papoutseli who really astonishes this time out with her confidence and poise. With each new show, Petra’s Pulse seem to take a huge leap forward; here, they’ve landed right at the leading edge of British visual performance. Extraordinary.

Chris Goode Independent theatre-maker and writer

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Issue 20-3
p. 25