A couple of years ago Tamara Saulwick started to conduct one-on-one interviews with people from 6 to 92 years of age. She was interested in people’s visceral experiences surrounding threatening situations. The result is an audio/sensory experience inspired by these stories, the Green Room Award winning show Pin Drop.
Saulwick doesn’t divulge any further details regarding the people she interviewed, but her show features the stories of females only (including that of a child). Saulwick has of course been able to pick and choose from the responses of the interviewees, but through those depicted, the work explores some of the measures employed by women to prevent and minimise what they consider to be potential threats, and the sense of fear that these instil. It also recounts and brings to life the threatening situations these characters have apparently experienced and, perhaps most interesting of all, their reactions to these situations – including their ability, be it through good judgement or by chance, to overcome them.
Whilst the audience take their seats, Saulwick is carefully placing objects on the flat surface of a pedestal. There are door latches, scissors, a plastic syringe or pump of some sort, scrunched up plastic, a piece of watermelon. In turn Saulwick becomes a type of Foley artist, moving and manipulating the objects one by one, the noises they make amplified beneath a microphone. Presumably, it is these sounds, depending on the circumstances, that have the potential to create fear and to heighten ones awareness to the point that one could, as the name of the work suggests, hear a pin drop.
The interview responses, be they in their entirety or edited, are presented via a combination of voiceover and Saulwick’s live dialogue and re-enactment. Particularly in the early stages of the show, the voiceovers of the apparent interviewees overlap and interweave Saulwick’s live dialogue. The concept is an interesting one, but in the beginning especially it feels clunky and tends to detract from Saulwick’s performance – which is in itself quite striking.
There is a notable pattern in the stories told by these women, the main one being that they fear an invasion of their personal space – in many instances that of their home – by an unknown or unwelcome male. Some of the measures they take to prevent intruders are fairly standard; deadlocks, security doors, and panic buttons. Other methods, such as a rope tied to the balcony so that one can clamber down it should an intruder enter the house, are less practical. Whilst these preventative measures are not always logical, importantly, for these women they provide a feeling of safety and security, and the sense that should they be under threat, they will be able to escape.
In the instances where prevention fails, there is usually an account of a subsequent robbing or assault – be it verbal, physical, or sexual. Interestingly, the women’s responses and reactions at the time of these instances is often one of empowerment, physical strength, and the ability to assess the situation with clarity. They include a woman who finds a strange man, much larger in size then herself, in her wardrobe. He robs and attempts to assault her. She manages to not only fight him off, but to push him out of her house. In telling her story, it is her last sentence that is the most telling and the most interesting – one that admits that only after the danger passed did she fall apart.
Unfortunately the presentation of the story told by a character who is literally overwhelmed with fear, is not as strong as it could be. Depicted through an increasingly loud soundtrack and Saulwick’s violent movements, which are otherwise well choreographed by Michelle Heaven, it’s a rather alienating scene. Its downfall however is that the character is given little exposition or personality – something that is required if the audience is to identify with her, and feel the level of disturbance this scene looks to achieve.
The most effective creation of a sense of fear, and a demonstration of the potential for the mind to conjure up all manner of potential threat, is created through the simple use of sound and light – and in most instances sound designer Peter Knight and designers Ben Cobham and Frog Peg are spot on. At one point the theatre is plunged into darkness and there’s the sound of footsteps down a concrete path, then through grass, moving closer and closer from behind. A car passes but does not stop and with this comes both relief and a sense of isolation. The footsteps continue, and though still seated in the theatre, they have one listening and waiting for something to happen, for the sound of a voice, or the feel of a person, and a physical attack.
Although this work cleverly changes tone throughout, it is for the most part a quite light-hearted take on the subject of fear and dangerous situations. If these experiences are actual events – and some of them may indeed be imagined – it cries out for a deeper exploration of how such instances go on to affect these characters in the future. But then, in a rather abstract way, a demonstration may well exist in the re-visiting of an element from one of the most vivid, and beautifully depicted, of the stories.
The story is told by a woman who recalls a time when she was a young child, being chased by a man through a field. Her moment of safety comes, finally, in the form of her mother’s outstretched arms and a feast of watermelon. It is a demonstration of how security and comfort, both physical and emotional, can be provided by the most seemingly simple things in life — particularly at a young age. But then, toward the end of the play, Saulwick takes out a large piece of watermelon and a meat cleaver. Barely visible in the dim light, she begins to slice away slithers of the fruit. She places the pink, flesh-like strips on the top of her table, and then proceeds to eat them. It is a scene that creates great tension but also one with surprisingly unsettling connotations. It indicates that a childhood memory, be it experienced or imagined, may indeed have effects longer lasting and more disturbing than first thought.
Pin Drop raises more questions than answers, but judging by Saulwick’s notes, this is perhaps what she set out to achieve. It would be interesting to know why Saulwick chose to depict the points of view of only women, and whether the stories presented are a fair representation of their responses. There are also stories included in the work that lend themselves to further exploration: the increased level of threat felt by women with children; those instances we perceive to be threats, but which we know are irrational, and are highly unlikely to be realised; and those highly dangerous situations in which we knowingly, and unnecessarily, place ourselves. With all these questions it is possible that this work is just the beginning of a dialogue; between women, and perhaps women and men; a starting point for people to admit their fears and recount and share their moments of terror, which is perhaps a form of therapy in itself.
Malthouse Theatre presents
by Tamara Saulwick
Venue: Beckett Theatre | The Malthouse, 113 Sturt St Southbank Vic 3006
Dates: 26 July – 7 August, 2011
Times: Wednesday – Saturday 8pm. Tuesdays 7pm. Sunday 7 august at 5pm
Matinees: Saturday 30 July @ 2:30pm, Thursday 4 August @ 1pm.
Tickets: $26 – $40 (including booking fee)
Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au | 03 9685 5111