Photo – Pier Carthew
Sans Hotel, a theatre/performance collective comprising Nicola Gunn and designer Gwen Holmberg-Gilchrist, in this reviewer’s opinion makes magnificent theatre: producing work that is original, enormously clever and conceptual without being pretentious, honest, funny and accessible, all the while doing what good theatre should do, that is, making you think. The performance describes itself as ‘part-careers expo, part-social experiment, and a show about the way we work and how we are in the world.” The name of Nicola Gunn/Sans Hotel’s work for NEON Festival of Independent Theatre, Green Screen, gives us a clue that something is being enacted against a backdrop that could go on to serve as anything.
Gunn deals with some big ideas about art saving the world in the first half of a divided show, creating a story of a book club founded by a young woman called Rachel, devoted to the writing of novelist Nicola Barker. Gunn’s use of imagery to express concepts is most satisfyingly theatrical, Green Screen opens with a visual gag, the sight of Gunn creating a line of animals reminding one of the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, but which on reflection could be referencing the erosion of the natural world. Gunn closes the first part of the production with a tableau featuring herself, the artist, gilded and crowned, atop a pile of inflatable mattresses.
If the first part of Green Screen suggests that art cannot save the world, the second part of this speculative performance goes on to ask, then, can activism save the world? A group of passionate young people meet to find solutions, sparring conversationally around a water cooler. One of the characters speaks her lines entirely in Italian, which doesn’t prevent anyone else understanding what she’s saying. Something very interesting happens here, because the language is presented in context and surrounded by English, we understand it too, or at least I did. But the young people appear to have given up and finish with a personal story of a kind of romance. An almost Beckett like approach is taken here, where meaninglessness reigns in the face of global destruction. Gunn goes on to collapse her theatrical world, literally by deflating the mattresses so we see The Artist fall from grace, and by the end, she has the performers lying on the floor around her, a poignant image of collective helplessness and failure perhaps.
Sans Hotel’s work is always worth seeing, if only to witness a range of performance styles and a unique and humorous take on society.
Sans Hotel presents
by Nicola Gunn/Sans Hotel
Directed by Nicola Gunn
Venue: Southbank Theatre, The Lawler
Dates: 24 July – 3 August 2014
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au/neon
Part of MTC's NEON Festival of Independent Theatre