‘Supernatural’ begins with a grunt: my own. A sort of inner lurch of approval, and admiration, that takes over me as the two women who until this point have been strolling around the stage like purring, axe-wielding big cats in lumberjack attire and heeled boots, now simultaneously approach two tree stumps and chop a singular log cleanly in two. But I feel like I might be getting ahead of myself here.
The show actually starts as the audience enter the space. In front of us lies a bubblegum-pink landscape, variously scattered with tree stumps, logs for chopping, curiously hyper-green-hyper-real moss, two women and a man. The man sits to one side of the stage bowed over various musical devices: a loop pedal, a microphone and household items which are used throughout the show to create a semiotic-smashing soundtrack of domestic sounds made into music. The women prowl the stage. They survey us and their playground carefully as we enter. There is an acknowledgement of us, if not quite a greeting, or indeed, a welcoming. The pace of the show at this point feels deliberately slow and careful, as we are drawn languorously into the language of their world. That is, until that simultaneous punk-double-wood-chop: and then I’m there. There’s something about the powerful combination of music and bodies, and the revelation that this moment is carefully choreographed (as opposed to my previous assumption that perhaps the movement of the show might have been entirely improvised) that makes me not only want to stay watching these two women repeat this action over and over, I want to be them. It feels as if they are entirely in control.
There are various moments throughout the show that make me feel like this and others which make me feel horribly awkward, and left wanting. But the genius in this show doesn’t lie in its power to make me feel one way or another concretely, it lies in its power to leave me constantly shifting, constantly questioning.
The show is, as the company say, ‘Maybe music. Maybe dancing.’ It follows various orgiastic stages of movement: from a gentle teasing playing with wood and rope and each others bodies, to intimated sexual flurry, and post-coital repose. Over the course of the piece we see three bodies on stage constantly changing the layout of the space. Through movement, carefully manipulated live sound, and shifting looks to each other and the audience, we are taken on a journey through a hyper-gendered landscape. High heels and breasts compete with lumberjack shirts, and axes that become tools, weapons, and phalluses (not the only things in this show to become phalluses). At first I wondered about the political economy of having a man at the side of the stage creating music which seemed to shape the movement of the two female bodies on stage as they lunged, grunted, arched and preened: almost sexual, almost sensual, almost uncomfortable. But it soon became clear however that these three entities are entirely complicit in this relationship and the manipulation present is actually an exercise in control over you, the viewer.
Subtle whispers of pop culture and familiar imagery are threaded through the show. Your eyes and ears trick you as twanging guitar sounds reel from dusty Americana rock riffs, to ambient post-punk rhythms, and eerie music made with brushes and foil sweeps from the abstract into almost-birdsong, almost-wind in the trees to accompany this almost-natural landscape. A female elfin body before you transforms from a puckish woodland creature, into a cigarette-wielding, sweat-drenched lumberjack’s body worthy of a Levi’s ad, into a demented broken Barbie doll, into the figure of a preposterous porn star rubbing and tossing, rubbing and tossing (wanking or whittling?). With the occasional nod to the audience and smile to a co-star, sex and sensuality in the show are playful and full of trickery: always awkward, always comic, frequently leaving you cold. And that’s where the sweet-spot in this show is: a power struggle between us trying to fix our own meaning onto these multiplicitous bodies, and these bodies constantly tricking us, evading us, sending us on a wild goose-chase. The show teases us, castigating us lightly for trying to force the violence of our own perception and interpretation on these bodies.
There is a glorious moment in the show when we get a brief respite from the confrontational glare of the house lights: the stage lights become low, the music deepens and the bodies before us seem to glow. A brief moment of fetishistic voyeurism is granted. But just as you settle in, it is taken away from you. There is undoubtedly a darkness which lingers here, and yet it is a darkness which is never confronted full on: rather it lingers in the shadows of our perception, making us achingly aware of the difference between what we want to see and what we’re seeing in front of us. It reveals the difficulty an audience might have in not seeing those hyper-gendered clichés.
The show for me encapsulates a queer jouissance which says ‘fuck you’ to heteronormative linearity in the body, and our perception of it: these are bodies which in their vulnerability and state of flux, refuse to be defined, and thus lay claim to a huge amount of power. A kind of power which makes me want to keep watching, keep wanting, and may now and then elicit a deep physical lurch of approval and admiration.