The Lastmaker @ BAC, London

performed by

Karen Christopher
Matthew Goulish
Mark Jeffery
Bryan Saner
Lito Walkney

directed by
Lin Hixson
Goat Island is a collaborative performance group from Chicago. They were founded in 1987 and, after 20 years of creating work together, The Lastmaker is their final piece. The idea of endings and finality runs through the piece, from excerpts of one of Lenny Bruce’s last performances to Bach’s Art of The Fugue and the music of Nick Drake.

The performance draws its inspiration from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a building that has been, over the centuries, a Byzantine church, a Mosque and a museum. The first third of the show begins with the five performers standing in a rough circle. They then embark on a repetitive series of movements, the swinging of limbs interspersed with gestures of prayer and worship: the bowing of heads, the raising of hands. Occasionally they lie down in stiff and rigid poses or slap the palms of the hands against the floor. This is set to a steady, unceasing pulse broken only by the sound of horses’ hooves and the performers’ Croatian chanting. ‘U vezi sa’ they say over and over again, which translates as ‘in relation with.’ There is something calming and evocative about this sequence, it contains a strong sense of time passing: seconds, years, centuries.

The performers are all dressed in casual clothes, brown trousers and ugly two-tone shirts, an outfit that somehow detracts from the precision of their movements. As the piece moves forward, the soothing repetition of this early sequence is replaced with something more frantic and discordant. The performers charge from one side of the space to the other, springing and leaping in a manner reminiscent of children at play sudden brief bursts of energy. One of the five takes a microphone and launches into Lenny Bruce’s familiar drawl, this is interwoven with recitals of Emilys Dickinson and Bronte. Towards the end of the piece a small wooden model of the Hagia Sophia is constructed.

There is no narrative to the piece, it floats forwards of its own accord. It is, at times, baffling, the ideas it presents don’t slot neatly together and it refuses to spell things out for its audience, but there are moments of humour and beauty within the piece. When one of the performers first appeared as a high camp St Francis of Assisi, I initially found it rather jarring and alienating, but when he returned towards the end it felt more fitting, more in keeping with the performance’s particular rhythms.

The final sequence is particularly striking. The various props are removed and tidied away. A bridge is constructed from wooden planks, the performers supporting each other’s weight; connections are formed. It feels like an ending but is also oddly peaceful; poignant yet full of hope.

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