In Time Lived, Without Its Flow, Denise Riley tries to the describe the atemporality of grief – the sense of being lifted out of the ordinary flow of time, of living in a private stasis even as time moves around her, following the death of her son. Grief, for Riley, makes her feel ‘torn off, brittle as any dry autumn leaf liable to be blown onto the tracks in the underground station’. Something as ordinary as the passage of time is now extraordinary, curious, outside, threaded with inapplicable metaphors for time’s progress.
In Stopgap Dance’s The Enormous Room, there is a similar sense of confused stasis, of the ordinary suddenly seeming sundered, unclear and overblown. Anna Jones’s striking set design, featuring overgrown cabinets stacked like Lego blocks, tables with door-like surfaces used as beds, and cupboard doors opening to reveal suggestions of other rooms, strikingly evokes the perspective-shattering experience of grief. Within this enormous room, the cast of the piece grapple with their sense of being removed from the ordinary, as the ordinary threatens to overwhelm with the past it echoes.
The Enormous Room is divided into two halves. The first takes place in the room itself. Dave (David Toole) and Sam (Hannah Sampson) are coming to terms with the death of their wife and mother, Jackie (performed by Meritxell Checa and Amy Butler respectively). Toole pulls himself over, under and around furniture, his movements nimble but imbued with an aching possessiveness as he attempts to make sense of his house without his wife beside him. Sampson’s Sam is heartbreakingly poignant, encapsulating both the light-footed, bright inquisitiveness of a young woman on the verge of starting her own life (she is often partnered by Christian Brinklow in a series of intimate, fizzing duets) and the desperate sadness of a lost child. Checa and Butler initially move like stop-motion characters, suggesting echoes of their former movements about the house imprinted in the air, and move on to mirror one another in graceful phrases that recall the light drawings made by sparklers. Whizzing and weaving between the characters, sometimes in his wheelchair but sometimes tipping bodily over the furnishings, is Chock (Nadenh Poan), a Puckish, otherworldly creature whose task seems to be to help Dave and Sam navigate a Jackie-less world.
Chock’s mysterious direction takes us to the second half of the piece, which sees the stage design stripped away until the cast are standing on a bare stage. Lucy Bennett’s fervid, tactile choreography really comes into its own here, breaking away from mimesis and character-led work to a more fluid, more abstract exploration. Checa and Butler reflect and react to one another, their movements either so complementary or so tandem that they appear to be a force that sweeps the other characters along in their wake. Sampson really shines in this section, demonstrating a raw but nuanced physicality and a remarkable energy.
Stopgap Dance’s work excels at bringing together disabled and non-disabled artists and The Enormous Room is an ambitious work which dramatically showcases the possibilities of radical movement languages in different bodies. It is also a wonderful exploration of the passage of mourning, and has an emotional honesty that comforts and provokes long after the piece has ended.
For more information on The Enormous Room, click here.