Play On is set in child’s world, or the world two children make for each other when they play together. On a stage full of block-colour and outsized toy-materials, one performer experiments on the piano, the other with movement. Like all children they are natural copycats, want to change places, to reconstruct and dream one another. Sometimes frantic and antagonistic, sometimes soulful and charged with intricate response, their play builds a picture of creativity’s hide-and-seek patterns. When the stage lights go down, it’s as though they are suddenly in a grown-up’s shade.
Mother Smith is based on sound-recordings of two elderly Guyanese poets, who appear on stage as magically expressive puppets, each handled with amazing delicacy by two puppeteers. Tenderly eliciting the life from their puppets, supporting them and sometimes reining them in, these puppeteers reminded me of caregivers. Mother Smith and her charismatic male counterpart recite poetry, act out the passions of their youth, and reflect on what life gives and takes away. At one moment the mother puppet cradles the head of her ‘operator’: the reciprocity of their holding, in the act of preserving a history, makes a beautiful image for the work of care. After she tells her story, Mother Smith’s frail, spirited body opens out beyond the reach of any single person. A calypso coda has the crowd in raptures too.
Milan’s Game returns to a world of play, this time wondering what kind of place that might be for adults to live in. A heterosexual couple inhabit a domestic interior in which daily objects - a rack of clothes, some flowers - become the material for witty and engrossing private fantasies and games between them. Their off-kilter duets capture the arrhythmias of sharing your space and your body with another person. When the female becomes a veiled goddess, wondrously elongated and striking otherworldly poses, she is interrupted by her boyfriend clumsily knocking against a chair in his pants. Between these quick shifts from high fantasy to domestic disenchantment, Milan’s Game finds some moments that are levelling, grounding and lovely - as when the pair munch passionately together on some yellow flowers.
In a playroom seemingly designed by Leon Bakst two girls compete over a piano. Dressed in motley garb, they vie for each other’s attention like siblings - each taking turns to dominate the other through music. The movement of one is manipulated by the other who remains at the keyboard in an extended power game. Yanaelle Thiran’s imagery is sometimes stronger than her choreography and the piece slightly outstays its welcome. But her mastery of mood is assured and she is not afraid of stillness. The slow, dark movement towards the end is pregnant with paranoia and the fleeting sense that the girls are being observed is chilling. If one girl retreating to safety through a vulva-like sculpture and rolling around in a foetal ball is a little de trop, its playful surrealism is as indelible as wax crayon on wallpaper.
Four women manipulate two puppets like ventriloquist’s dolls as the recorded voices of Guyanese poets Mary Smith and John Agard tell their stories and convey the majestic power of words. By interacting with their dolls the puppeteers invest them with unexpected and charming consciousness. More puppet mime than pure dance, it is infused with robust life even in the moment of death as the Mary Smith puppet flies apart before being resurrected. Victoria Rucinska explores her mixed Guyanese heritage through text, music and movement with heart and humour. Densely-packed with emotion, its life-affirming, calypso-fuelled conclusion is as infectious as it is irresistible.
Role playing between couples that gets out of hand is a dramatic staple - see When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other for details. It needs a really original approach to lift it out of the rut of cliche. A valiant effort by Xavier De Santos and Delicia Sefiha can’t quite haul it out of the student workshoppery that bedevils the piece. Too many blackouts, too little focus, too many costume changes and too much unintelligible dialogue conspire to keep it dramatically inert in spite of energetic performances and a couple of nice images including a sadomasochistic horsey ride and a living statue. The magpie soundtrack - Stealers Wheel to Mozart - smacks of desperate eclecticism.