Maresa von Stockert
As the concept of surveillance society becoming truer than ever, coupled with the 20th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square massacre, comes Maresa von Stockert’s very timely TrAPPED, a theatre dance piece on personal freedom.
An army-like opening, in which five dancers in military clothing march and make their every move in perfect timing, instantly indicates the inspiration of TrAPPED: the Stasi of the German Democratic Republic.
But of course, what makes this theme intriguing is that it is so many other things at the same time: it is Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is the UK’s move towards more CCTV and ID cards, it is all the propaganda-fuelled and control-obsessed countries still existing in the world today.
The title of the piece speaks for itself: a combination of ‘trapped’ and ‘tapped’, the characters in TrAPPED must find freedom through a regime that does not tolerate any deviance from the norm and listens in on every word.
Though a very important and worthy topic, in many parts TrAPPED is reduced to a rather crude form of storytelling. As if concerned the audience may not understand, there are some very simple mime and dialogues that explain how the regime works. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a narrative, or using words for that matter, spelling something out feels somewhat patronising and unnecessary, such as one character’s rage at his brother’s need to be a cog in the system, or the ending in which he rejects the regime by literally crashing through a wall built by conformists. TrAPPED would have been even more powerful if it was not so literal; putting everything into words and basic movements almost trivialises the matter.
That said, there is one poignant section where the activist, sick of what he labels a ‘toy solder’ regime, projects small plastic soldier figurines across the auditorium. As giant black shadows engulf the auditorium, von Stockert succeeds in showing just how huge this toy soldier regime is and how powerless it feels to be within it.
For its faults, what TrAPPED is very good at is portray an ultimately very serious topic in a comical manner. Von Stockert manages to use props to great deadpan effect, from a policeman’s banana that doubles as a phone, which then becomes something with a more Freudian undertone, to a scientist struggling with a substandard OHP, or a man so consumed with work that he dreams of his wife serving tea from paper files while they get ‘eaten’ by these files all mocking the absurdity of the system along the way. The two giant cages on stage that are filled with paper files convey, in one, the mundanity of life under an oppressive regime, the claustrophobia of the characters’ lives, the prison they find themselves in, the place they called home that turned out to be tapped everywhere.
One part where movements and comedy are put to good use is a character’s initial meeting with the secret police, who manipulates him into doing what they say (and what the regime wants) by physically manipulating his body. The moments that provoked the greatest laughter were those where movements match the words: the secret police lifts the character up as they acknowledge his ambition to climb the career ladder, or they hang him upside down while stating rather bluntly that he is a very passive citizen.
And it’s just as well that it is funny, because if you can’t laugh, this all-too-real subject really is just plain depressing.