Supernatural. Photo Jorge León

Simone Aughterlony, Antonija Livingstone, Hahn Rowe: Supernatural

Chop, chop – who’s there? Supernatural is at once hypermodern and as old as the hills. The terrain is a mash-up of made and found, natural and fabricated, objects and beings. Flesh, wood, axes, rope, clothing, moss, electronics … It’s a fairytale land for the modern age. Wilderness versus civilisation? Have both!

The smell of pine – or is it cedar? – hits us as we queue outside, passing a log-pile to our left as we enter the performance space. Inside: hot pink lino covers the floor, and our ears are assailed and entertained by Hahn Rowe’s musique concrete, as gold foil paper is wrapped around a microphone to create a foley of fiery crackles and windy wooshes; or an electric violin is tormented with whatever inanimate object happens to be lying nearby. I find myself watching Rowe (a renowned musician who has worked with Yoko One and Antony and the Johnsons, amongst many others) a lot as he fiddles and tweaks and bows and rattles. Such wonderful sounds emanate…

Meanwhile, Simone Aughterlony and Antonija Livingstone act out a Brokeback Mountain lumberjack fantasy of hard and fast physical action within their ‘forest’ of logs and branches. Gender perceptions are played with most delightfully: the women – both with what once might have been called ‘boyish’ haircuts; one in a leather jacket, one in a vest showing off her bare muscled arms; both sporting cuban-heeled boots – swing their axes and bring them down purposefully on the big logs. Later, one lies topless on a pile of logs looking at the other work. She might even be chewing a straw. Later still, both are engaged in a naked tussle with a large branch, their bodies aping the rise and fall of orgasm. Slowly, clothes are retrieved – or new items found and donned – and the whole cycle starts up again…

There is a lot to admire. All three performers are highly skilled, truly proficient in their art, really owning the space –and we never doubt that we are in good hands as we are taken on this rollercoaster of sounds and images. There is a great deal of humour and joyfulness.

But I have some reservations. The first is in the staging. End-on feels all wrong. Supernatural feels like it ought to be presented in the round, or on three sides at least. I’m longing to be upfront, to sit close; and to have the freedom to move around to observe and listen from different angles. The piece, at 90 minutes, feels too long – but that could be because of the staging. The cycle of activity repeats three times (although every time is different, it is a repeat of rhythm rather than an exact replica of activity), which would be fine if it were a durational performance-installation, and you could move about, but sitting in seats, staring ahead at the performers, doesn’t quite work. We feel excluded from the action, not invited in.

Also, and  I’ve tried to resist this thought, but it won’t go away – I realise I feel uncomfortable witnessing a performance in which the women onstage get naked whilst the sole man stays resolutely clothed. That shouldn’t matter – I wish it didn’t – we should have moved on to a point where the gender (or indeed age, fitness) of a naked body doesn’t matter, but it still does – the body itself is political, no matter how much gender stereotyping is played with and subverted in the performance. Listening to comments in the post-show discussion, it was clear that for some audience members, gender was transcended. For me, this wasn’t the case.

These reservations aside: the images created are wondrous, with references to fairytale, folklore and the contemporary myth of the great outdoors tumbling out one upon the other. The physical performances from both women dynamic and robust, the soundscape created enchanting. A beautiful and thought-provoking performance.

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Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing.