A suitcase wheeled from one side of a space to another. A body of water poured from one place to another. Bodies connecting in one place and coming to a rest somewhere different. Orgies climaxing towards silences. Balloons drifting upwards. White clothes gathering wear and tear, staining with dirt. This is The End of Things, a new work by Glasgow-based Company of Wolves that premiered at this year’s Manipulate Festival. It’s a slow, moving and at times quite painful piece of work, a mixture of words, movements and silences that ultimately tell us more about processes than endings, about the ellipses the form living rather than the full-stops of death.
The End of Things opens in a space of transit, the five performers (Beth Kovarik, Emily Phillips, Jonathan Peck, Liz Strange and Robin Hellier) standing next to different suitcases. They enact a slow choreography of suitcase shuffles, travelling together at times, travelling alone at others. It is evocative of Marc Augé’s description of the ‘non-place’, spaces formed in relation to certain ends (such as travel) that are characteristic of white noise (1). The airports you have rushed through, commutes you’ve forgotten, the stretches of motorways you’ve travelled that are detached from any sense of place or time. The opening to The End of Things takes this non-place and extends it across entire lives composed of brief connections and partings, all of which are steadily moved through, underscored by the constant rhythm of the endlessly ticking clock. The only means of orientation is to ask ‘how much longer have we left to go?’ It’s an opening that is mundane, slow and painful yet absorbing, meditative and comfortable too.
The work is composed of scenes that are incredibly drawn out, making visible the slow ebbing out of a process, of a life, of time. As we leave the non-place the performers sit down to a pot of tea. Each action is then laboured over, such that the sound of water moving from pot to cup is stretched out, and the clanking of a stirring spoon against the edges of a cup becomes another metronome, another ticking clock. It is this quality of laboriousness that is perhaps reminiscent of a film by Lars von Trier. I spend the evening suspended in a confused state of both always wanting the scene to end, desiring an action to be completed, and in an anticipatory dread for the scene that follows, where another process will begin drifting to an end. The End of Things is not easy to watch but is incredibly effective in conveying these qualities of agony, anxiety and desire that are contained within endings. A sort of bearable unbearableness that is characteristic of being alive sometimes.
The End of Things is also very funny, possessing a humour that is much needed to give the work a degree of buoyancy and that offers another effective way to approach its subject matter. The house lights are brought up mid-performance and the ensemble stand before the audience. They perform a barrage of dead-pan jokes about death, all characterised by their abruptness.
“I am, but you’re dead.”
Death, as an idea distinct from dying, is what makes us laugh. It’s a quite ridiculous punchline to a life, that way that things just stop, that sentences end. Company of Wolves offer us an insight into what makes death funny, so unusual, it’s abruptness in a world where our consciousness feels like it should go on for ever.
The work describes itself in its promotional material as being about ‘letting go’, suggesting an act of surrender perhaps to the way in which life simply ebbs away from those who live it. On occasion though, the structure of The End of Things, or the degree to which it is visible to the audience, seems to impede this. There are a couple of threads that run throughout the work, for example the performers undress gradually to a white under-layer, but the discrete nature of each scene, the iterations of death we are presented with, means that the experience of the work is sometimes disjointed. Perhaps this disjointedness is important to the piece, accurately reflecting that the death of one thing never implies the death of all things (death of the universe possibly excluded). Nevertheless, this uneven quality makes the work a little difficult to access, and to properly let go of your yourself within. To experience that quality of dying, the process of an ending, without knowing another beginning awaits you just around the corner.
1) Marc Augé (1995) Non places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Verso.
The End of Things was on at CCA in Glasgow. Click here for more details.