May 2016 | Volume 143
Fight with a Stick Performance is the company formerly known as Leaky Heaven Circus. Leaky Heaven used to do crazy, funny, joyous, anarchic productions with kids and dogs, songs and funny costumes, acrobatics and excess of every kind. Steven Hill, Leaky Heaven’s artistic director and Fight with a Stick’s co-AD with Alex Ferguson, has directed every one of the company’s productions since 1999. He co-directs Revolutions with Alex (whose doctoral dissertation I’m supervising in UBC’s Department of Theatre and Film).
Based on Revolutions, I’d say that either Steven has had a major aesthetic change of heart or Alex has slipped something into his coffee, because this show couldn’t be more different from the half dozen or so Leaky Heaven shows whose reviews you can read in Vancouverplays’ archive. It’s abstract, conceptual, minimalist and very sl-o-o-w—until the end, when it explodes into an amazing scenographic ballet.
The 45-minute piece is staged in an empty warehouse. A low light comes up on a bed with rumpled sheets. Nothing happens for a long time except that a subliminal electronic sound becomes increasingly loud. Finally, an actor enters from a bathroom, sits at a desk, lights a lamp and recites things that he writes in a notebook: e.g., “Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself.” “There’s no cure for curiosity.” Etc.
The sheets begin to move and a hand reaches out onto the desk. The actor gets up, pours a glass of water, the hand takes it back under the sheets and we hear sucking noises. It’s kind of a Beckett play for 30 or 40 minutes.
Finally we notice that the bed is moving upstage and the desk downstage, so slowly we almost don’t realize they’re moving. Then we begin to hear sounds from under the platform where we’re sitting and our seats begin to move backwards, away from the set. Then things start to appear from the wings: little toy boats and trains (I think), à la Robert Lepage, girders and other things. The electronic score gets louder and the pace of moving and falling objects begins to pick up.
Then suddenly, the walls of the set come apart and start to move independently around the warehouse space in a complex choreography, accompanied by pulsating lighting and sound, the walls gliding back and forth at high speed for an astounding few minutes.
That’s Revolutions. I’m not sure why that title, or why anything else about the piece, to be honest. I found much of it boring (confession: I’m essentially a plot and character guy when it comes to theatre), some of it mildly fascinating (I’m also, paradoxically, a big Beckett fan), and the ending thrilling. I was amazed to discover how they got those walls to move so fast by themselves! Alex’s dissertation is about the way theatre audiences experience scenography so the ending made a certain kind of sense to me at that level. The show is different—more abstract, more experimental—than anything else you’re likely to see on a Vancouver stage this year, and I say bravo to that. But personally, I preferred Leaky Heaven.
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