A long table covered with a cloth. A banquet? Perhaps we are in Olympia and this is a feast for the gods. Or the goddesses. A candelabra. Perhaps we are in a castle. We could be in heaven, or perhaps purgatory. Hell, even – there’s a lot of smoke. We could be anywhere mythical. Anywhere that we’ve read about in stories.
There are three women. They could be Olympian goddesses, their gowns look – well, Greek. They have colourful bows on their backs, so perhaps they are princesses. Or are those wings? Angels. Fairies. They could even be witches. Or muses. They can, actually, be anything you want them to be. They have no demands to make. This, they say, is about ‘us versus you’. Their bodies, your gaze. Their words, your interpretation. They are going to waste as much of your time as they possibly can, without mercy. They will pose for you, they will form gracious tableaux, they will be the canvas onto which you project your hopes and dreams and fantasies. Look, the Birth of Venus. Joan of Arc. Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Snow White (Brothers Grimm or Disney, take your choice).
Or we can go further back. The Garden of Earthly Delights. Adam and Eve and that darned apple. Suggestions for a scenography scroll by, white on black, on the back wall of the stage. An altar. Red velvet curtains. A balcony. A statue. A forest at night. A bowl of fruit. A serpent.
On the (three) TV monitors – the modern muses – images flash by. Art. War. News. Culture. It’s all just pictures, pictures, pictures. A chorus line of horrors marches towards the void.
On stage, a woman lies on the ground completely still, and to her side a stuffed deer on a pedestal stares out glassy-eyed. ‘A dead person’ and ‘A live deer’ say the projected words. You can’t trust your eyes. You don’t know what to believe. You don’t know what to think, what to feel.
And the layers of sound build and grow and ebb and flow. Loops of symphonic music rising to an epic crescendo. Words mediated by microphones: litanies and lists, poetic declamations. Pieces of paper are peered over, pulled from one hand to another.
They wait, and wait, and live in hope. ’I’m waiting for a lover like a doggy waiting for its master’. They touch each other tenderly and offer a gentle sisterly kiss on a brow or a sweet smile. They are apart, and they are together. They lounge, they stand, they twirl on a motorised turntable. They occupy different levels – floor, table, floor. They are whatever you ask of them, but they wonder what went wrong along the way, through all those millennia of art and poetry and philosophy and storytelling. What do they get out of it? Where is our gingerbread house, they ask. Where is our Fairy Godmother? Where are our talking animals?
Domestica, by Anglo-Spanish company Sleepwalk Collective, has been a long time coming. It was started in 2012, premiered in its Spanish incarnation in 2014, and has taken another two years to rework into its English language version. Previous company work that I’ve seen has been performed solo by Iara Solano Arana. Here, she is joined onstage by Gloria March Chulvi and Malla Sofia Pessi, forming a holy trinity of performers who work beautifully together. Company co-founder Sammy Metcalfe is writer and composer, and the work has no named director, being collectively credited to Sleepwalk Collective.
It’s worth the wait. I’ve always loved their work: Iara Solano Arana’s extraordinary voice and stage presence; the carefully crafted words; the innovative play with moving image; the inventive scenography. But in Domestica, they have made a great big leap into new territory, in both form and content, and it has paid off. They’ve taken on the whole of ‘Western’ civilisation’s art, culture, and prevailing religions, and delivered it back to us as a distorted dream, drawing us into the collective unconscious of archetypes and mythologies, asking us to question the evidence of our own eyes and ears. It’s an exhilarating love-hate homage to high art. A bold and beautiful new theatre for a brave new world. Bravo, bravo!
Sleepwalk Collective: Domestica is at BAC 5–8 October then touring the UK autumn 2016.
For dates / further information see www.sleepwalkcollective.com
Photo (top) by Alessia Bombaci