Provocative Portrayals at Firehall Arts Centre

Whenever I go to see a performance that is described as ‘existential’, I take a deep breath and prepare to concentrate. When I heard I would be watching a dramatic reworking of the deeply philosophical play No Exit at the Firehall Arts Centre, I feared the night might seem more like a chore than entertainment. After all, I knew there was going to be no dialogue, no dancing in the traditional sense and the most minimal of sets to help guide the narrative. However, for all its diversions from traditional theatre, it created an atmosphere that perfectly fitted the terrifying plot.

When the lights go up following the first act, the silence is ambiguous. For 20 minutes we had watched three twisted people acting out seduction, death and hatred using a series of disjointed animalistic movements that climaxed in manic laughter. For anyone who is unfamiliar with No Exit, it is the story of condemned soles forced to spend eternity together. Based on the premise ‘Hell is other people’, slowly each characters tortures the others through interrogation and manipulation. Despite giving themselves the awkward task of portraying all this without words, the Fujiwara Dance Inventions‘ David Lynch-style storytelling keeps the audience completely engaged.

However, when the interval ends and the audience reconvene for the second play Lost and Found, my cynicism has returned. The pamphlet suggests that this is not a theatrical piece with a narrative, but the portrait of a woman who has lost her intangibles. The stage has been set up with only three props – a small ball, a single shoe and wooden box. This performance is going to be even more abstract than the first.

A woman enters the stage wearing layers of mismatched clothing, a nest on her head and she is singing to herself ‘Roll, roll, roll your boat’. Throughout the play she appears to be imitating mental illness, playing with her props and shedding layers as she struggles to balance herself. It is certainly intriguing, but ultimately difficult to follow and draws perplexed looks from the crowd. While she occasionally draws sniggers from the crowd, with bazaar statements like, “I do have issues, I am quite attached to them”, it’s difficult to determine whether the words were intended to have comedic affect.

Departing the theatre, my head is spinning. Having enjoyed the first half, the latter play had been open to interpretation and I wasn’t ready to dismiss it. Dealing with such big issues as identity and life choices is never going to be straightforward. Other the hand, at times it felt more like I had been watching some eccentric woman move round the stage haphazardly.

So what was verdict after a good night’s sleep? Perhaps these performances weren’t for everyone, but the amount of hours thinking about the shows proved how provocative and thought-provoking they had been. For those looking for a family night out its not recommended, but for others with an open-mind and developed artist palate, Fujiwara Dance Inventions are certainly worth a watch.

Click here to purchase No Exit and Lost & Found tickets.