Theatre

Smile Off Your Face @ BAC, London



It is a surprisingly difficult thing, to relinquish control, to put yourself into other peoples hands. But in Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goeds amazing piece of one-to-one theatre, this is exactly what you are required to do, to give yourself over completely to others.

This is as intimate as theatre gets. You are seated in a wheelchair, a blindfold is placed over your eyes and your hands are tied. Disorientated and in darkness, you are taken into a room where scents are wafted under your nose, sweet things are placed in your mouth and voices echo in the distance. Hands stroke your face and, in turn, your hands are raised up to touch someone elses face. This extreme physical closeness is both a little alarming and yet also comforting, it triggers memories of lying with a lover in the seconds after waking, it is a quite wonderful experience.

At times you are made to stand up and this is even more disconcerting, if thats possible; you feel unanchored and as vulnerable as it is possible to be. But you are not left alone for long; once again the hands hold you, and a body enfolds you in slow, simple dance. Later you are made to lie on a bed and a woman whispers in your ear, drawing out secret thoughts. It is unnervingly easy to be honest in the darkness. I found it surprising just how much the questions affected me and the truthfulness of my answers caught me off guard.

Even though you understand that this is a created intimacy, that you are one of many going through this process and that there are people outside waiting to be wheeled in after you, there in the dark you give in to the illusion.

I was nervous before I went in, I admit, but the sensation of relinquishing control was actually very liberating. The performers do not betray your trust; you are subjected to nothing unpleasant. Despite your helpless state, you feel safe, protected, cared about. And at the end? Well, at the end there is a moment of revelation so perfectly composed that it will stay with you for a long while.

It is only a twenty minute piece, but the emotional impact of those twenty minutes is huge. Some people have compared the experience to therapy, and it has an element of that in it certainly. The piece literally forces you to ask questions of yourself. But there is more to it than that: power and pleasure and fear all intertwine. Afterwards, back in the light of day, I felt shaky and a little off-balance, like stepping off a ship on to land.

This is an extraordinary piece of theatre that transcends its novelty value to become something far more affecting and memorable.

Ontroerend Goeds new work, Internal, is also playing as part of the BACs Burst festival, from 16-17 May 2008.



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