Reviews EdinburghScotland Published 11 October 2012

Ménage à Trois

Traverse Theatre ⋄ 19th September 2012

Why you think you may be lovable.

Lisa Parr

The performance opens with moving lights: white dots and vertical lines dance against the absence of light. The effect is like space or static, permeated by the occasional drifting letter. Then we see the figure of a woman standing on a table. The vertical lines of light pass over her like currents. They illuminate her figure and galvanise her movement.

Through the moving lights she is playing a video game called ‘Couple Killer’, projected onto the walls and across the front of the stage. Level 1: Paris. Claire Cunningham uses crutches to walk, but here she is using her crutches to shoot loved-up graphics. She is wearing a wedding dress and helmet. She steps out of the wedding dress to reveal a slip and removes the helmet. Her guard comes down.

She opens a cupboard and an avalanche of crutches fall on her. Slowly, picking among the debris, she fashions herself a man out of two crutches, arranged like a crucifix or a scarecrow.

The male dancer, Christopher Owen, enters. Cunningham cannot see him. He enacts tentative and flirtatious interventions into her fantasy. When she dances with the man fashioned of crutches, Owen tilts the cuff of the crutch towards her as if arranging its head to face her. He supports a delicate balancing act, buffering her newfound ménage from the elements that threaten it, not least the limitations to her physical movement. He acts as puppeteer and personal assistant.

Owen eventually assumes the role of the crutch-man, slipping the prop out of Cunningham’s arms while she sleeps and replacing it with his own body. The choreography is beautiful and the projection works well. The lighting is inventive and responds to the actors’ bodies without drawing attention to itself. Cunningham and Owen are disciplined enough to look natural and Cunningham is delicately frank about her desire to be held, humoured, made love to. It is this honesty that is the real strength of the piece and makes weakness elsewhere more forgivable.

Cunningham uses ‘clicking’ as a wonderful verbal and aural motif linking the clicking of her crutches as she walks with the absence of romantic clicking that she senses in her own life. She draws her clicking in counterpoint to the clicking high heels of ‘real women’. She makes her anguish accessible.

As the play progresses we hear more of her voice. Her desires and designs for the ideal beloved begin as coy and self-conscious suggestions but quickly become a rather fixed and demanding list.

‘Dance with me slowly and hold me up’

‘You would not be disabled’

‘We will not have children’

‘Neither of us will die before the other and leave them alone’

We hear them through her recorded voice and see them projected across the stage. They’re a bit overwhelming. The sad part is that we don’t get to hear whomever they are addressed to respond. The sad part is that they go out into the ether unchallenged.

The real failure of the piece is that while it seeks to undermine a prescriptive ideal of the beloved woman that precludes those with physical impairments, it seems to embrace an equally prescriptive ideal of the beloved man that precludes those with poor fashion sense or frail mortality. The failure to form a relationship seems to come not from the absence of a man but from the absence of the faculty to question these expectations.

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Lisa Parr is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Ménage à Trois Show Info


Directed by Claire Cunningham & Gail Sneddon

Cast includes Claire Cunningham and Christopher Owen

Link http://www.traverse.co.uk/

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