Who is in the room today? Whoever that is, let’s run with it.
Kate McIntosh begins at a desk on stage, quietly watching us as we enter the space, choose our seats and sit down. Performers are so frequently on stage as the audience enters that it barely warrants notice, but in McIntosh’s piece it is significant, because it is the first instance of her observing us as a collective. She is not just sitting of course. She is watching and apparently noticing. Eagerly awaiting the moment that naturally, through no signal but a glance from her or a slight lighting shift or the time elapsed since we’d sat down, we all, simultaneously, as a group, grow quiet and decide that the show should begin. McIntosh later tells us that this moment, the collective silence, was so beautiful that it could have been the entirety of the show. And in a sense the memory of this very natural action that we performed collectively, before McIntosh makes us almost painfully aware of how we perform as a collective, maintains a purity throughout. As natural as birds sat side by side on a wire. It is the nexus of a series of actions that unfurl in which McIntosh attempts to understand the audience as a group – an animal that moves and thinks and behaves together.
She begins by giving us our autonomy in a sense – similar to a moment in Rimini Protokoll’s ‘100% City’ where the cast polls the audience who answer by putting their hands up – McIntosh asks the audience to answer a series of questions by putting our hands up. But this section builds to something complicated and sinister. She encourages us to look around the room, to take in what answer our neighbours may have, to scan the audience to see if there is someone in the room whose name we should know but do not, and finally, to look at the back of the person sat in front of us, to picture the two of us in a lifeboat together, and to decide who would survive in a life or death situation. If you survived, she asks, would you eat the person in front of you? Which part would you start with? It is a wonderfully uncomfortable moment. It subtly rather than gently (and yet somehow ethically) shifts the audience out of our passive stance. Without feeling overly exposed, we gradually become very aware of ourselves in relationship to each other. The piece continues as a collaboration with the lumbering many-noduled beast of a collective, examining how we lurch together but reflect individually. The piece is at its most tremendous and moving when McIntosh is able to treat us as an orchestra and guide us into making the sound of a rainstorm. And yet McIntosh also reminds us that, particularly in this section, we are playing by her rules – that as a group we are capable of great things but devoid of agency; that we become unlikely to rupture our position in the whole unless expressly given permission to do so by a leader.
There was perhaps only one misstep in the performance, a text section in which McIntosh appears to be acting. In a piece that feels so live and dependent on that group, time and place, it sticks out strangely, and has a slight sense of “this is the section where I tell you what the show means” - which would not necessarily bother me had she not been pretending to discover what she clearly already knew. But this was a small quibble in a show that made me, as one member in the whole, exhilarated, frustrated, and oddly hopeful.