On new legs, a woman and a man totter into the half-light. Like tourists anxiously making their way around a foreign land, they peer across the gloom, circling one another, pursuing their mild curiosity, occasionally sharing a look. She is deeply nervous, her mouth cast in a grimace. He stands, and fidgets. His hands sit behind his back admiring something, somewhere, with the rehearsed show of interest a compliant grandfather might present in an art gallery.
They mindlessly explore their bodies while they pace. Perhaps putting pressure on ancient joints to see what weight they can still bear, how far these old muscles will stretch. Twisting and tensing and releasing. Then they come together and rock their hips back and forth. First sitting into their pelvis and then thrusting it forward. Sit and thrust. Sit and thrust. Until they share an awkward rhythm. A little shared recreation.
These are the two oddball characters we share an hour with, stationed as they are, between a tipi and a card table. They’re family to each other, we can see that in the familiarity of touch that they share. In the patient tolerance they express for one another. They seem to be humans from another, parallel world but their relationship is as recognisable as the husband and wife that have lived down your road for the last 40 years.
Frequently, and this happens only with the consent of the other person, they start a game. A game in which one partner pummels the other. First it happens at cards. 9-1-7-10! I take all your cards. I win this game. Another one? Repeating until all the cards have been played.
The next game involves him slapping her face repeatedly, before lifting her up so she can see the sky. Then its her turn. One at a time, ritual punishments are offered and agreed on. Another one? Yes. Another one? Yes. Another one?
The punishment never gets any more violent than a series of brief slaps. But what they find in the repetition of these games of endurance, these rituals of dominance and submission is a beautiful rhythm. A rhythm that both participants must contribute to – whether they are the one throwing the other person into the wall, or the one being thrown. They both have to observe the music and mutuality of the gesture.
Maybe this show is about the games people play in long term relationships. About how we tolerate each other’s whims and desires, even when they hurt us. And how these patterns gradually embed themselves into the fabric of that particular relationship. Maybe its a show about how to be together.
I’m not entirely sure, but regardless of what it means, the performances are exquisite. Its not as violent as I’ve made out. Most of it happens in silence, the characters hardly use any words at all – what words there are are meaningless anyway.
The greatest pleasure comes from just watching them be. They both twitch like restless birds. Constantly. His tongue flicks like a lizard. She replaces her glasses with stiff, straight fingers. Both responding to a million impulses that we don’t even register. Its like watching a wary animal try to find a safe place to sleep. Looking up one more time to check, before settling down.
The connection between the two characters is beautiful, and crushing. Its physical, ritualistic, tender, and full of care for one another. If you break my heart, they sing, I’ll break yours too…
Another One is on at Summerhall until 26th August 2018. Click here for more details.