“Welcome to the play, I am the jellyfish of sound”
It’s not the most conventional of welcomes to a play, but then Pigdog are not a conventional company, and the venue for tonight – Theatre N16, based in The Bedford, Balham SW12 – is, as you guessed, not a conventional theatre.
Offering only extra-live or relaxed performances, Pigdog aims to create inclusive theatre that challenges your presumptions, and Boat was no exception to this. With a sound artist on stage at all times, this production was just as much an installation piece as it was theatrical, and the audience are invited to deconstruct the piece just as much as the cast are throughout.
You’re on a boat, the girl’s twin sister tells you. The moon is in the sky. The waves are lapping at the side. You are invited to hum. Through a clever coordination of light, shadows, and your own sound, the haphazard old furniture strewn beneath a plastic sheet becomes the sea, and you are indeed on a boat.
The girl, played by a vulnerable Pia Laborde Noguez, does not know quite why she is on the boat, nor where the boat is going. She doesn’t even remember her name. There’s something not quite right – but you can’t work it out. Swapping between Spanish, Romanian, Italian and English, you never quite know what the girl is saying. Every time you feel you have an insight into the girl, she shuts you out. Her evasiveness is potent, and the more she pushes you away, the closer you are drawn to her.
There’s an awareness of artifice from the start, as the cast interact with the sound artist, to create the soundscape that creates the ocean around you. It becomes second nature to see the girl stopping what she is doing to sing into a microphone – and for the sound artist to ask her to “do it again, there was a train.”
Even as the Turtle and Seagull, played by Matthew Coulton and Gabriele Lombardo respectively, begin to deconstruct their characters, the girl’s distress and refusal to let go of the imaginary becomes distinctly unsettling. You’d rather the slightly creepy-uncle-esque Turtle remained a turtle than be an actually creepy man, and Seagull’s cheeky nature and attempts to turn girl’s world upside down remained a slightly playful interference as opposed to a rescue mission.
Creation is returned to its purest form as the most effective props become wooden pallets, water and clay. In watching the cycle of construction and destruction the audience is forced to challenge their own assumptions of belief and memory. Delivering just an emotive performance as the girl is her twin, Cristina Catalina, whose clay-encased face causes significant disturbance and discomfort. Arresting in her absence, the onstage chemistry between girl and her twin brings across the most scared bonds of sorority, and the fierce love of protective family.
With the multiple layers of imaginary worlds overlaid on top of the plot of the play, the line between what the audience is being asked to believe and the escape world the girl is creating begin to blur. Unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy, you find yourself holding onto the anthropomorphic characters who you first believed to be plot devices.
Pigdog have cracked it here, and have staged a play that you refuse to disbelieve, even as it is deconstructed in front of you. Even as the allusion begins to crumble, even as you begin to think you understand what is going on, you can’t help but want to believe in the boat. The isolation of the ocean becomes a comfort, and you find yourself clinging onto the girl’s fantasy.
You may not know the truth in the end, but surely ignorance is bliss?