The premise of this show is rather inspired. What would happen if you put in the limelight the things usually hidden from the audience’s consciousness? How would this turn out? If you’re thinking this might result in something along the lines of Noises Off!, think again. This isn’t a comic exploration of backstage on-goings, instead Quarantine takes as its starting point the periods of time just before and just after a theatrical event.
The piece is, in some ways, endearing in its simplicity. We see a set constructed from scratch, and the quiet warm-ups and last-minute rehearsals of the performers, but as soon as the production seems ready to start the movement slips suddenly, like a dream, to the get-out and set breakdown after the performance. The audience tantalisingly never see what the show-within-the-show is actually about. We are only given the liminal spaces in-between, and although the show is obviously tightly choreographed, the technicians who form the main part of the piece are not trained actors but real technicians. This somehow adds to the resonance of the piece: it feels both real and not real at the same time.
What is most satisfying about Richard Gregory’s piece is how quietly reverential the performance of construction and deconstruction is to watch. The marking out of the stage space with tape, choreographed by Sonia Hughes, becomes a kind of shuffled waltz. The act of focusing the stage lanterns provides a space for contemplating the quality of the light itself, thinking about how and where the light is produced. The eternally embarrassing sound check, where the performer just has to speak into the mic so that sound levels can be judged, becomes a platform for one of the dancers to reminisce about her life, loves and future. It is not for nothing that the programme lists a philosopher, Dr Michael Brady, in the creative team.
Entitled undermines the live nature of the performance event; it prevents the audience members from forgetting themselves and immersing themselves in the moment. Here, the lives of the stage crew and cast are lain out to us, and in the central monologue the audience is spoken to directly. The diversity of life experience explored by the performers is reflected back out at the audience: although we are all sitting here together, involved in a communal act of watching, we too are as different and diverse as those on stage.
Occasionally the production’s quietness means that the audience becomes restless; it is also the case that the piece’s philosophical bent can become over sentimentalised. During the get-out each of the technicians imagines where they will be in five hours time, in a day, in a week, in a year and so on. The main technician imagines a chance meeting with a lady who will become his wife, only to imagine her death some time after their marriage. This came across as rather trite device, and slightly undermined the rest of the monologues. But in general this is a thought-provoking and elegant work. Quarantine have been producing ground-breaking theatre for over a decade, and this piece has a well-deserved place in their repertory.