notes on day one of The Soap Factory, pt. 2

That was the sense we had in the work on the Enemy, as we did later in the Burrow, where the Enemy seemed to split asunder and reproduce, invading from all sides – the body so besieged, it seemed to be divested of any power to resist. … So, fear of surprise, fear of being taken unawares, from behind (as Freud realised about paranoia, fear of being buggered). We are talking of a paranoid consciousness in which, as in the paintings of Francis Bacon, even shadows bleed. Wherever the enemies are, the Enemy is, keeping its distance. There is no reciprocal trade agreement nor non-aggression treaty. The invasion may or may not happen, but it is feared, desired, tempted.

– Herbert Blau (Take Up The Bodies, p. 138)

We intend, at The Soap Factory, to touch on a number of themes, inspired chiefly by the need to work. The imperative comprehends a need to make work and to make work that works. The work in question is theatre, so it is vital work! And here on these pages, in these posts, I hope to work out an approach as if stalking the possibility of a theatre as prey or prize or making a trap to be set elsewhere than here. It is of course difficult to make an approach or a trap with the very medium that one seeks to either trap or approach, just as it’s almost impossible to capture words with words – and call it poetry. The calling of it from the medium with which one works should finally be left up to others. So that it is their time in question in the cliche time will tell and not one’s own. One’s own is better spent standing a fraction of a hair’s breadth out of the way of the accident and the teeth snapping shut of the trap and covering one’s scent with the perfume of the prey.

Day one found us, Jeff, Paul, Tallulah and I, in the rather oppressive space under St. Kevin’s Arcade literally walking in circles, avoiding bumping into one another, while the question what are we doing? was treated with a similar circularity and a like avoidance. Although the walking itself suggested a way of being in the space, one that suspends the requirement for interaction, one that is appropriately oblique as far as what the communication consists in, generically, mentally, emotionally, taking place amongst the figures. Because we are communicating insofar as we’re continuously aware of each other, if only for the fact that we have to consider each other perambulatory obstructions. There came into play in the group walking/talking an actorly, but more importantly, impersonal mutual consideration: a sense of stage.

Once the direction was given, however, to make conscious the avoidance of other figures moving in the room, the professional liability of staginess entered the picture; until, that is, the figures grew still and standing as close to one another as they could without touching continued to avoid communication or any form of interaction: I’d used the word ‘snubbing’ in the direction. Any interest provided by the exercise came more from an additional direction, to Tallulah, to talk about how she felt, while Paul and Jeff riffed on memory, than from the direction to snub. The result, through the consideration that the performers showed to each other in allowing each to speak and then weaving their own voices in or riding over the top until a space opened in the interweaving of voices, was more effectively musical than the expected psychological one of a discomforture arising from the isolation, by snubbing, of each figure from the rest. Except that Tallulah in expressing her feelings contributed a kind of subversive emotional undercurrent, that for the lightness of her voice, and for the fact that she’d reduced her volume as soon as she started talking her feelings out loud, gave the exercise a fragility, a walking-on-glass, rather than thin ice, quality, less tentative than attenuated.

It would be easy to dismiss this effect as psychodramatic – in the sense you could say Tallulah was deliberately placed in breakdown mode. The direction was not to be honest and honestly express feelings, although this was how it was taken and although Tallulah could not be said to have been indulging. No, the effect came from an interplay of the three voices’ varying acoustic qualities and the affective speech and an attenuation in the female voice, the lightness noted. What was being said as much as how it was being said produced a change in the overall tone and texture of the voices, made a different music. So to vary the texture what is said must be considered separately. For instance, memory, direct observation, whether of internal emotional states or external physical features, thematic improvisation – e.g. talk soap! – will be determining factors, changing the interrelationship of the voices, if only at this level.

I described later the link between the snubbing exercise and soap – as genre: the typical emotionally charged two-shot, sometimes in declarations of love or in admissions of guilt, where one figure turns out at the critical moment 180 degrees away from their interlocutor so that both faces, both reactions, remain clearly in shot, compressed into the screen, in a kind of symbolic abstraction or shorthand for the viewer, a conventional departure from ‘realistic’ shooting. Of course, the characters in this shot are not snubbing or avoiding each other, quite the opposite. But the direction to snub came from a desire to circumvent direct recourse to narrative or situation, emotional connexion or relation, in order to arrive at the structure: two – three in our case – faces turn away from each other. And of course, the adoption of the TV convention in the stage setting is problematic. If it exist only as a formal component, is it interesting? What is being stylised?