I Hide In Bathrooms

I Hide In Bathrooms
Astrid Pill and Collaborators. Vitalstatistix, Waterside Workers Hall, Port Adelaide. Tue 5 Mar- Sat 16 Mar, 2024

Astrid Pill and collaborators have delivered a multifaceted hybrid solo work for the Adelaide Festival, part theatre, part performance art, part installation.  Within this creative construct, Pill’s exquisite stage presence and ethereal, nuanced, multidisciplinary performance is something to behold.

Prior to lights up, a voiceover clues us into the fact that we are to experience a “true-ish” story, the characters may or may not be based on reality, and may include “those alive, those passed, and those made up”.  The stage space is hauntingly dark, framed upstage by monumental, boxy, fabric-draped mounds, overlarge abstract floral arrangements, and with black curtaining on three sides.  A neutral plush carpet takes up around two thirds of the space and a large amorphous shape hangs suspended above; never really lit directly it could be an asteroid, a lumpy sack filled with memories, a sinister piñata, or perhaps a looming cloud.  Two rows of white, unoccupied plastic chairs inhabit the space between audience bleachers and carpet.  On closer inspection these are only fragments of chairs, an impressionistic continuation of the viewing space; one row of just the chair mould (no legs), another where only the top half of the chair backs are visible, rising from the black flooring as if protruding from a watery surface.  The suspended object was an immense presence that could be interpreted as symbolic of the undeniable weight of grief.  I found my attention wandering toward it at times and wonder if it represented a lost opportunity:  possibly more could have been made of this structure with, for example, a painfully slow, incremental lowering in the last section of the work to reflect the soloist’s level changes and sometimes contracted, tortured physicality.

The first we see of the performer is a giant video projection of her face uttering a stream of consciousness monologue.  When the first character appears awkwardly on stage she is holding a champagne flute and wearing an elegant black mourning dress, black heels, and a ‘fascinator’ that won’t stay put.  What follows is an absurdist take on the funeral address a widow (extrapolated to ‘weirdo’ in wordplay banter) might make to the gathered crowd, and referencing the audience as fellow mourners.  This soliloquy is interrupted by Pill’s various physical representations of dying while projections of formal serif lettering on an upstage screen articulate the method of passing: “death by coronary… by firearm… by water”.  As the widow prattles on admitting she cries too much, “or is it cries too little?”, and asking if it is “too soon” to date, the accompanying soundtrack is “The Great Pretender” and more projections declare yet more ways one might die: “Death by convulsion, death by labradoodle… by stretching… by Instagram… by bus”.  While more textual tropes about coupledom are uttered, Pill’s extraordinary physicality and elegant but comic movements model these forms of expiration as sudden interjections.

There is no linear narrative in this work, but rather an episodic unfolding of personas where Pill shifts between three states of love tainted by grief: the widow, the one who is dying, the one who is ‘replacing’ the dead spouse.  I was reminded of the Jamie Anderson quote: “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot…”.  As Pill expertly and elegantly embodies three different personas, a rich array of imagery is rendered through layers of dance, song, text, objects, projections, and music.  Zoë Barry has designed the sound score, including beautiful string sections.  Video designer Jason Sweeney and Renate Henschke on set and costume design have kept to a very affecting, mostly monochrome, black and grey palette allowing Susan Grey-Gardner’s lighting to provide subtle warmth or more threatening moods.  This was a supremely successful melding of projection and live action, Sweeney’s artistry apparent and pertinent but never overwhelming the solo performer.

Ingrid Voorendt has utilized her considerable skills across a number of artforms to direct I Hide In Bathrooms with compassion and discernment.  Staging choices like multiple entrances and exits and breaking the fourth wall are featured.  Repeating movement motifs and gestures are scattered throughout and a sense of ritual is established as Pill manipulates various props or moves gracefully through the space.  With the gentle removal of the drapery, the mounds upstage are revealed to consist of clear plastic boxes containing an array of frosted glass objects.  As Pill reverently lifts one of these and symbolically lists contents, not actually present, as meaningful relics of a life well lived, I was reminded of the concept of Memento Mori.  This reflection on mortality is aligned not only with grief but with the idea that with great love comes risk of great loss.

There is much more detail within this performance project than can be contained in a short review.  The complexity and gravity, the pathos and whimsy remain with you long after the final bow.

Lisa Lanzi

Photographer: Sam Oster

Click here to check out our other Adelaide Festival 2024 reviews.

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