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The fabric measures its length along the floor; it is a line, a boundary, a barrier that could protect or restrict. Up on her toes, Saskia teeters at its edge, precarious – this is a balancing act…

Together, Saskia and Joey hold the expanse of fabric, feeling its edges, tracing the extremities of its existence as it charts the space between them. Folding and unfolding, they explore its malleability and its softness, its ability to contract and expand, and its potential for rigidity and confinement.

By Belinda Dillon, July 2014.

Together, Saskia and Joey hold the expanse of fabric, feeling its edges, tracing the extremities of its existence as it charts the space between them. Folding and unfolding, they explore its malleability and its softness, its ability to contract and expand, and its potential for rigidity and confinement.

A moment of stillness in which they are separate and yet connected – undulations in the fabric implying both harmony and disruption – in which the potential for happiness radiates out to illuminate the dangers hovering at the periphery.

“If we start this, it will start…”

Circling the space in turn: one sits and handles the fabric, smoothing it out, fondling its folds, while the other walks around the edge, at times as if pressed into the walls, the corners. They swap. Tracing the boundaries of the space and the relationship; demanding discretion in public – one prepared to give everything and the other not.

“Meet me – on the outside…”

“We walk but we do not touch, do not touch, do not touch – making us want to touch all the more…”

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They wrestle and grapple, their bodies entwined to become something that is both abstract and literal, exploring each other’s physicality in constant pressure, one against the other. There is push and pull; an attempt to escape that is equally weighted against the desire to stay, and the desire to be stayed; an attempt to escape from what this relationship might mean, but also from the constraints of living a life that doesn’t fit what’s inside.

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“I am two people…”

As they manipulate the fabric, enfolding each other, clambering under and over, wrapping and unwrapping, it becomes a sheet, a shroud, a cloak, a screen. Visibility and invisibility are explored in the text – “I am disappearing…” – and enhanced by the fabric, which both hides and reveals, creating multiple possibilities for resonant images: sex, death, hiding, showing. As a line along the floor it is crossed, transgressed, adhered to, followed; it separates, but also – when they are at either end of it, holding it – connects. It binds and also protects.
Holding the fabric between them, like a sail or a screen, they repeat lines of text – shout them almost – and propel the words, as captured projections on the calico, towards us, throwing them to us, as gifts, or challenges, or invitations. When they sit, side by side, on the folded fabric – almost too small to accommodate them both – they gift lines to each other on postcards and their connection is intense but fragile. It is easy to see how these two might be in love.

In the rhythms and structure of the language, the overall tone, the performance feels like a love poem. The actors’ use of the fabric and their bodies– sometimes delicate, sometimes expansive, exploring emotion through minute gestures or strength in holding, sustaining, pausing – creates an intensity that suggests a relationship in extreme focus, while the words bring in the outside, the references to exterior pressures.

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This sharing took place during Ignite, Exeter’s annual festival of theatre and performance, and came at the end of a week’s residency for Natalie, Jane and Sophia, with actors Joey Holden and Saskia Portway. The week saw the team continue to search for a common language, exploring different ways of working to ensure that equal weight was given to each discipline through making, trying and playing. And although a work-in-progress, the piece itself sat well alongside work I’d seen throughout the week, its themes and intentions making their way to the surface; its potential to tackle issues of personal and global importance in a striking, beautiful and accomplished way already clear. The audience – which, perhaps 50 in all, filled the small space – were moved, appreciative, and generous with their thoughts and insights in the post-show feedback session.

“It feels like a beautiful melody, or a poem…”

“I’m interested in the notion of what’s outside. Two people start telling a story of one on one. When they disappeared under the fabric, I felt that struggle of invisibility and visibility, coming together in a hidden way. The fight was strong, also. And the exchange of postcards, a very intimate scenario but the words themselves were referring to the global situation, they have a global perspective. What was happening outside influencing what was happening inside…”
And while the notions of visibility and invisibility have meaning within a personal relationship – being consumed by passion, be subsumed into a ‘couple’ – they also resonate politically:

“In these waves of anti-progress, gay people don’t become invisible, you just pretend they’re not there. You can’t hide under a sheet; you’re just covered…”

The wrestling, the push and pull of conflict, the grappling – with each other, with potentia ldangers – not only conveys the physicality of the relationship in terms of each other and public perception –

“The fighting raises sexual tension, and it reflects my experience growing up as a young gay man – it was the only affection we could show in public…”

– it also alludes to exterior threat, and the paradox that this person who might be your emotional salvation is also a potential source of danger, of exposure, of making visible what you might want to remain invisible:

“The threat is only there when there’s two of you. So the other person then also comes to represent that threat – that tension is always there…”

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Another aspect of this notion of visibility/invisibility is that female sexual relationships are seldom portrayed, and one of the intentions of We’ll Meet in Moscow is to address this omission. It feels important to provide role models and models of living that can offer support to people needing to feel part of a narrative, or to offer inspiration to those seeking to create their own. And for LGBTQ stories to become part of theatre audiences’ worldviews.

And while the tenderness of the piece was recognised and praised, what also emerged strongly from the feedback was a need for rage. Where was the rage in response to this oppression, the violence, the intolerance and hatred? Another audience member asked, What can we do? What activism could this piece direct us towards?

“Is the love story enough? It’s extraordinary that your feelings – who you love – are illegal. How can that be, when it’s so passionately felt? How can a human emotion be judged as illegal?”

So there are many questions around what wider participatory events and projects We’ll Meet in Moscow could trigger. As well as feeding into an archive of LGBTQ stories from the South West, could it offer messages of support to those in Russia who are feeling besieged, and in what way? Do people from the LGBTQ community want to share their stories, and if so, how? These are all questions we’ve been working through during the course of this R&D.

And although the sharing has informed many fruitful conversations, and created the opportunity to make connections beyond the reach of the first performance, in terms of the making process the pressure of it was keenly felt by the artists. What emerged clearly is the need for more structure in the process, and a way of working that allows the different disciplines the space and time to explore different elements of the narrative; to be allowed to fill out the interactions, the ‘story’, the room. Since devising and improvising have been instrumental in the making so far, many of the questions have focused on where the words might find a place, how they might respond to or trigger shapes and movements without seeming separate. Those are all ripe for interrogation during the next phase.

But what was clear from the sharing was that the words did find their place, and perhaps allowed a way into the piece for audience members more attuned to comprehending meaning through language, and created the opportunity to perceive how objects and bodies are equally as expressive.

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