Chris Scherer @ The Tool Shed
4:45pm, Sun 21 Feb 2010
Just south of the entrance to the Fringe Club is The Tool Shed. In the spirit of There., it’s a tiny white shipping container, and on either side of the footpath there’s a couple of chairs that waiting punters are using. I take a seat, start jotting down some notes on other shows, when a chap called Gareth leans over ask introduces himself.
It turns out Gareth is a choreographer from Melbourne, briefly in Adelaide on a whirlwind Fringe expedition, seeing all shows he can; he remembers seeing me in last night’s Heavier Than Milk, of which he was far more scathing than I. We chat, I pick his brain a bit on the state of contemporary dance, and then we’re ushered into The Tool Shed.
Now, the shipping container forms an incredibly intimate space for a small audience; there’s a limit of twenty people per show, and I reckon that’d be a tight fit. Our audience of about ten was comfortable, without feeling like we had acres of space on the white steps we perched on. To get to those steps, though, we had to first negotiate a field of primed mousetraps – the audience tip-toeing ever-so-carefully through a couple of metres of the snappy booby-traps before parking on the steps at the rear of the container. Then Chris Scherer appears, dishevelled and nervous, and launches into one of the more confronting and provocative shows I’ve seen in years.
Pickled is very much a physical movement performance with theatrical elements thrown in; there’s a plethora of small vignettes, sometimes linked by the odd phone-call, but otherwise disconnected. After Scherer unsuccessfully negotiates the mousetrap mine-field, there’s pieces where Scherer throws himself around the long-narrow space in the form of dance; he dons bright orange tights and flops around like a fish out of water whilst a goldfish looks on; he sits with the audience and addresses them directly. There’s also a quirky and challenging Kissing Booth, the pain and confusion evident on his face as he lowers his price – to the unresponsive silence of the crowd (I bumped into the Fringe Club a few nights later and asked if he’d ever had any takers for the Kissing Booth; “not yet,” he said, “but here’s hoping.”).
But two episodes really stick out in the mind; after providing each of the audience with a ping-pong ball, Scherer stands a few metres away, wearing a target on his chest. The mental cue is triggered in the audience, and the ping-pong balls are launched; some miss, some hit the target, and there’s a titter amongst the crowd. After all the balls have been dispatched, the previously-motionless Scherer flinches – and a gasp goes up behind me. We all, suddenly, feel like shit. This is followed by a segment where Scherer simply faces the crowd – and weeps. You want to look away, but there’s a compulsion to watch him; the weeping continues, outstays its curious and painful welcome, and the discomfort escalates.
Now – I love this sort of stuff. I love being emotionally challenged, being dragged outside my comfort zone by someone who clearly has a coherent vision. And that’s the amazing thing; despite the disparate nature of the elements that make up this performance, there really does seem to be a singular vision behind it.
If this were performed in front of a sober crowd at midnight, it would blow minds – it’s very much an avant-garde piece of work that is at once aesthetically impressive and emotionally involving, and I can only imagine how the isolation of an inky black night outside would impact the viewer. But, as it was this sunny Sunday afternoon, Pickled was merely stunning.