“Tourniquet 2013”

at Summerhall, Monday 5th August 2013

*Originally written for A Younger Theatre*

Tourniquet 2013 sometimes feels more like a dream than a piece of theatre. Performed late at night in Summerhall and moving slowly between vignettes like a slowly shifting film, it is the stuff not particularly of our waking hours. A rolling, rumbling noise echoes out of a shadowy darkness before our eyes make out three nude figures. The next 75 minutes are troubling, meditative and hypnotic, as the scenes roll into one another, lacking any kind of narrative and instead appealing to our senses.

The piece, by Belgian company Abattoir Fermé, “focuses upon the ideas of rituals and trance and was inspired by (clandestine) exorcisms”. Its three actors – Oona Doherty, Kiersten Pieters and Chiel van Berkel – perform various routines throughout the show, following patterns. At one point, they drink wine methodically and systematically. Elsewhere, with their heads down and bizarre plastic masks on their foreheads, they dig up the unevenly tiled floor to build a house-of-cards structure. Christ symbols feature heavily throughout, and eventually come to fruition in the last ten minutes.

At the centre of all this is a large rotating plank, raised on a short pole and supported by wheels which follow a circular groove in the floor. A bath full of water sits down-stage right, and slowly gets dirtier as hands are washed and bodies are disposed of. Detritus covers the back and the sides of the stage. We broadly recognise the objects in Sven Van Kujik & Thomas Vermaereke’s design, but not in this context.

Stef Lernous’s direction sees one scene shift into another seamlessly, as we find ourselves entering one pattern of behaviour without realising we’re out of the last. The performances lay somewhere between cartoons and caricatures of performers in a Robert Wilson production.

Kreng’s score plays throughout, often repeating itself but soaring during moments of intensity. Once you’ve heard the same loop for the fifth time but your eyes witness something new you begin to wonder what Tourniquet is doing to your senses.

It’s a surprising, complex show which isn’t exactly easy to watch or think about. It gives us images, asks us to interpret them and then, once we think we have a grasp of it, throws it all up in the air again. And then, at the end, as the panting, naked performers covered in paint, water, flour and sweat, leave and we head outside, we wake up.

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