Review by Cicely Binford
It’s a match made in theatre heaven: The Last Great Hunt and Side Pony Productions have pooled their resources and produced one hell of a strange show called The Irresistible, which is running now at PICA. Full of atmosphere and technical tricks, the trio of writer/performers Tim Watts, Adriane Daff and writer/director Zoe Pepper delve into a murky world of fog, strange lights, and fluid identities.
Watts and Daff may be the only performers of this cinematic sketch drama of interwoven plot lines, but they make up nearly a dozen or so characters through the use of wireless voice changers. The character gymnastics both must perform is terribly impressive – Daff, for instance has full conversations with herself as two different characters, even while giving a (fully-clothed) ‘sex show’ from within one of the two clear booths on the set.
Both actors are in top form, exhibiting sharp timing and focused performances, but for me, it’s Daff that truly commands this bizarre web of stories. It’s she who has the final, riveting dialogue as the stipper and client, and she who has the final, strange auto-tuned aria – a lament that comes from a very tender space within the work.
The Irresistible is a difficult piece for me to decipher – I had to work backwards from the end to try and make sense of what I had just seen, and have been doing so for several days after. The first 30 – 40 minutes are supremely enjoyable, as we get used to the format, style and characters; but as the piece went on, I felt it slipping away from my grasp.
Fascinating moments of truly inspired writing and performance gave way to unclarity; it felt as though the stories could have gone on for many, many more ‘episodes’ (if I may be permitted to make the comparison to a television series), but they were ultimately faced with a time limit which forced them to come to some kind of ending, though not a conclusion. Not that we should expect neat resolution (some of my favourite artworks are open-ended), but I felt myself enveloped in that same fog that constantly pervaded the stage space, and I haven’t found any point of light to guide me out of there just yet.
Pepper states that they were trying tackle how we unconsciously experience the world and how these unconscious experiences and biases shape our relationships, and to this end they’ve switched up genders, for instance. But there’s another part to the work which involves a little girl with supernatural powers who has a disturbing effect on her aunt and uncle. For me, conjoining the sci-fi element in their story with the other material in the piece is proving difficult – something was building within that storyline that eventually drifted away.
Visually, Jonathan Oxlade has given us two rectangular boxes within a box within a black box. The fourth wall is physical, not implied – it’s a plastic double wall that acts as a sound buffer to dampen Watts and Daff’s real voices so that only their distorted mic’d voices reach us in the audience. The plastic wall fills with smoke, allowing the performers to move unseen behind it, but it also makes a narrow corridor of fog at the front through which they can travel. Daff and Watts are dressed in neutral monochromatic beige, giving off a definite 70s sci-fi vibe. The way Richard Vabre‘s lights are diffused by the fog creates beautiful, cinematic pictures, and Ash Gibson Greig‘s score adds to the cinematic feel.
Ultimately, I suspect the ambiguity of the work’s ending and meaning is a product of the very thing they are delving into. It doesn’t negate the fact that their exploration is compelling, entertaining, and even brave in its attempts to define the indefinable and travel into uncharted territory. The Irresistible will have its hold on you, whether you’re aware of it or not.
The Irresistible is on at PICA until 24 June. For tickets and more information, visit the PICA website here.