Don’t Look Back (Festival page)
dreamthinkspeak @ Torrens Building
7:55pm, Thu 28 Feb 2008
Don’t Look Back is loosely based on the myth of Orpheus in the Underworld, attempting to bring his wife Eurydice back from the dead. The rulers of the Underworld are softened by Orpheus’ plight, and agree that Eurydice may return to the surface with him – as long as he walks in front of her, and doesn’t turn back to see her while before she reaches the surface. Naturally, he fails to do so, losing Eurydice forever.
So – it’s pretty obvious where the name of the piece comes from; but what about the performance itself?
Punters gather in a little ante-room in the Torrens Building, waiting for admittance to the Experience. People make their way through the performance in groups of three – an odd number, perhaps deliberately so: my SO and I were in separate groups, and the pseudo-isolation of that was… interesting. Engaging in such an experience as the odd-man-out with an older couple certainly put a social spin on the situation that I wasn’t expecting; trying to engage in thoughtful conversation about what we were experiencing was alien, what with their invisible couple-communication.
We’re led through corridors and up stairs to a dark room; “wait here,” says a Festival volunteer, “someone will be here to collect you shortly.” She leaves – the room is black. Pitch black. Eyes still adjusting, aural senses heightened, there’s the noise of someone snoring in the room and, with a splutter, a desk lamp flicks on to reveal a grizzled old man eying us with suspicion. He queries our names, fails to find them in his ledger; issues us tickets, and sends us on our way. “Take as much time as you like,” he says.
We push through the black cloth holding back the light, and encounter our first usher. Pale, withdrawn, top-hat-and-tails, she tells us all we need to know with a simple gesture – which also carries with it a tinge of tolerant distaste. We walk down this nondescript corridor in a government building and discover an open door; we peek inside, where we see a scene from a wedding-gone-wrong; the bridal table lies in ruin, a bride corpse strewn atop it. We three stare; after a minute or two, I try to start a conversation: “so – what happened here?” The fallen chandelier, the ruined cake, and the pristine bride herself begged discussion. I got none.
And so we progress through the Torrens Building, following the relatively linear path made available to us. Along the way, open doors and lit areas attract your interest, whether it be to a tiny diorama or an elaborately staged reconstruction of events. Films projected onto the end of long tunnels; entire rooms full of very deliberate actors, slow and studied in every detail. Up and down stairs we traveled, through office hallways and subterranean tunnels, carpets and dirt floors. A bizarre sequence involving an elevator and the bride falling away from us. A violin in a waiting room. A pitch black passage with an apparition shimmering in from the dark.
And always – always – questions: Why did the bride die? Why the tracks in the snow? What was behind the other doors?
OK, I admit it – I looked back. Curiousity got the better of me; I had to know what was behind a door that was ever-so-slightly ajar. A very, very stern usher appeared from nowhere, startling me, and pointed me in another direction.
I didn’t look back after that.
Don’t Look Back is more like an art gallery than a performance piece, though I should be careful to note that the performances within the piece itself are perfect; slow, deliberate actions as befit a public service like the Department of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. The scene where you happen upon a young woman guillotining names is glorious; she ever-so-carefully-and-slowly lines up the paper – it’s almost torture to watch – before whipping the blade down with a thunk. As you explore the subsequent rooms, you’re still hearing this *thunk* in the background… it’s chilling, threatening, and you have to keep reminding yourself it’s benign.
It really is a wonderful experience, with experience being the operative word.