November 4, 2015

A Collection of Noises

People will faint; some people can’t handle this. A Collection of Noises is an original work in the style of Grand Guignol. Can you last the journey? - Writer/director Alexander Sparrow

I wish I’d read this comment before I saw A Collection of Noises last night. It was a brilliantly executed production, but I wasn’t mentally prepared – it is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

The programme described it as “a horrific new play” which “follows a young girl, Alice, as she attempts to navigate her troubled mind. It’s dark in there, and some thoughts just won’t leave her alone…”

I walked into the tiny studio theatre on the top floor of BATS, and instantly felt nervous about how small the audience was; how close the seats were to the stage.  So confined and exposed, there’s nowhere for me to hide. I sit in the back row, trying to get the fourth wall firmly back in place. I want to comfortably observe. Remotely. Anonymously. Safely.

The lights come up, and I’m sitting in Alice’s cramped attic; a darkroom with startling, large black-and-white portraits strung from wall to wall, pegged in place. In pride of place are two photographs of the faces of two young, beautiful blonde women.

Alice emerges from the back corner. Dark hair, dark clothes, and dark lipstick with a silver face.  She is literally the photographic negative of the two blonde divinities that she has set up on a pedestal to worship, to resent, and to aspire to. She’s a dark vortex of anxiety, obsession, and self-hate.

Alice tells me her grandfather has recently died. She tells me. I’m so physically close to her, and her voice is so soft, so conversational, so confiding. She’s not a character on a stage. She’s Alice. And she trusts me.

He’s left her a box. We go through the contents together. A jumble of random, unrelated objects: scraps of paper, an old book, a hat – an old-fashioned razor blade. She weighs it on her palm, threateningly, for a suspended moment, before throwing it back into the box.

The obsessive, psychotic, violent thoughts come streaming out of her, and I know exactly how this play is going to end. But it’s too late. I’m trapped. There’s nothing I can do to change what’s going to happen. I can only watch in horror.

I realise I’m sitting in the worst possible location in the audience. I’m so uncomfortable. It’s too raw being in such close quarters with Alice and her thoughts. The room is too tiny, I can’t breathe. This severely messed up girl is telling me her deranged thoughts, and I watch her spin out of control, and I can’t escape. If I try and leave, she will hurt me, just like she hurt the last person that tried to leave her.

To get out of the room, I’d have to walk through the entire audience and across the stage to get to the door. In my mind, I know that if I really, really wanted to, I could still leave. No one could force me to stay. I could leave. But I can’t. I’m too scared of her. I don’t want to draw attention to myself.

As Alice spirals further and further down her unhinged rabbit-hole, dragging me with her, she keeps talking to me. At first she asks my opinion causally, quickly filling the empty silence with “it’s okay, you don’t have to answer, you can just watch for now”.

But as the show goes on, she starts to get frustrated with me – I’m just sitting there, watching her. She’s shared her pain with me, shown me the depth of her rage, and I haven’t offered any solutions. I just watch. I feel powerless. Just as I can’t get up and walk out of the theatre, I can’t speak to her. I know that technically I could. But I can’t. I can only watch, paralysed. I feel so guilty. I am responsible for this. It’s partly my fault. I sat and watched, and did nothing.

I have never felt so uncomfortable, so involved, and so at fault, in a piece of theatre before. So at fault for just watching. I would highly recommend this show.

Performances: 3-7 November, 7:30pm
Tickets: $20

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