4 women in t-shirts and skirts, little socks and trainers, standing next to each other huddled up in a shape fit for teenage girl band poster image
4 red chairs, the kind you see in schools
4 microphones on stands with red cables
A video screen suspended at the back of the stage mid way up
The women (or girls as they are referred to in the show) begin to move slowly, precisely, with aim and purpose. A choreography of large and small gestures is precisely located in the tightly packed space.
There are fragments of stories, about a group of teenage girls who are behaving strangely, in Hope River, upstate New York. Ticks and twitches are unexplained, a girl starts and the others follow in ‘possessed’ moves.
Part documentary, part research, part interview-based drama, part dance, this beautifully constructed work takes me on a journey of really wanting to know what happened to the Hope River Girls and yet I know right from the start that will not happen in this theatre show.
No matter! I am hooked in. Each section of the work reveals a new layer of possible explanation of the cause of the twitching. Is it reborn witchcraft? Is it a medical condition? Is it mass psychogenic illness? Is it staged and performed?
What is it?
The most interesting part of the work for me is posing the question: How do you treat something you don’t believe is there? How can you? How can you get invested into a thing when your whole being is saying: it does not exist, this cannot be. How do you try to understand something you have no probable explanation for – and indeed no interest in understanding? Because some things remain just that: unexplained, unknown.
I, for one, am very interested in the unknown, with its attractive, cunning ways – it lures us into wanting to believe a version of events. This show is a lure, gently dangling interesting facts and yanking away theories. It juxtaposes different forms of communication through video, text and movement – each one inextricably linked to the others, inseparable, the modes in communication with one another and with us.
Ultimately, The Afflicted is a complex work about what we don’t know. About why some stuff happens, about our fascination with the unexplained and about the fascinating jigsaw puzzles we construct in trying to explain. Understanding is a process, an effort, the result of our pattern-forming rational brain trying to construct meanings and answers. The Afflicted declines to offer answers and in this dancing, teasing, refusal lies its greatest strength, its beauty and its complexity.
Featured image (Top) Groupwork: The Afflicted. Photo by Michaela Bodlovic.
Groupwork: The Afflicted is presented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 as part of the Made in Scotland showcase.