BLOG Linda Rhinehart

NWR Issue 113

Negative Space

I attended a production of the play Negative Space at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Tuesday 28 February. The brainchild of the Belgium/UK-based Reckless Sleepers theatre group, the piece was performed without any dialogue by six actors, who appear on and off the set at various times. Negative Space is in many ways difficult to review, as the lack of verbal communication made for a highly ambiguous final product. The backdrop to the action was extremely simple, and consisted only of a white 'room' with three walls, empty of any kind of decoration, and with no ceiling. The play opened with two performers standing alone in the room with a chair and a ladder, after which one used the ladder to climb out. Later on other objects were also introduced. The objects used were a ladder (which disappeared after the very beginning), two simple wooden chairs, a brush, a hammer and two red roses. Out of all of these objects, the roses were the most memorable, and a sequence near the end of the performance in which the petals of the flowers are shredded and tossed to the ground had a particularly ominous and important feel.

The intensity of the on-stage action escalated gradually, with the participants at first staying clear of each other, then touching and interacting with each other in increasingly close and energetic ways. The point at which the focus of the play changed most was when the walls of the white, enclosed space were breached for the first time, even though people had exited and entered through the floorboards before. From then on, the action was not concentrated in the 'room', but also occurred outside of it (although it was difficult for me to focus on what was going on outside of the clearly-lit central area most of the time). The sense of physical exertion was apparent throughout the performance, as the actors participated in sometimes precarious-looking activities, such as pushing each other through the walls or dragging each other across the floorboards. The silence in which the action took place highlighted the physical presences of the people on stage as well as the importance of sound. To my surprise, the production did manage to hold my attention all the way to the end, even though it was nearly an hour long. This was mostly due to the fact that I was never sure what was going to happen next.

After the performance itself there was a discussion with the performers during which the audience was encouraged to ask questions. This proved to be a very illuminating discussion. According to the actors, the play is more about the audience members' interpretations of it than about anything that been planned by its creators. On the one hand this allows for greater discussion of the meaning behind it and the different ways in which different people will view it. On the other hand, however, this seems a weak justification for the play. In my mind, the flowers symbolised love while the hammer symbolised hate and oppression, yet the performers were quick to say that they did not want to encourage this kind of symbolism at all. Instead, we were urged to view similar actions taken with a flower and with a hammer so that we could appreciate how gesture can change the meaning of an object.

I found the title of the play especially interesting, as the term 'negative space' is usually taken to refer to artistic objects rather than performances. I was particularly fascinated by the actors' statement that the decision to create the play without words was not a deliberate one. Since I had assumed that this aspect was the main motivation behind the performance, I was somewhat shocked by this. Overall, the effect was certainly unusual, but quite baffling, leading me to question whether Negative Space functions mostly as a mockery of traditional theatrical narratives. Ultimately, each viewer will have to decide for him- or herself what to make of it.

Linda Rhinehart: is a PhD student at Aberystwyth University’s Department of English & Creative Writing.


previous blog: Oubliette: A performance by Ellen Bell
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