What is it with Brits and talking about the weather? More importantly, what is it with Brits and not talking about what they really want to talk about? This is the dual question behind the School of Performance and Cultural Industries third year performance piece, Subtext and Rain, which aims to recreate the elements using a variety of theatrical tricks and treats within the suitably moody black interiors of stage@leeds, whilst examining the profound nature of what goes unsaid between human beings.
Before taking their seats, the audience is ushered into a small dark room characterised only by a set of clear plastic bottles hanging from the ceiling by lit torches – the first of many beautiful representations of the rain. Here we are asked to write down a secret on a piece of paper, and put them in a black box. After a little awkward reluctance, participants suddenly scramble to divulge their hidden truths to the anonymous scraps of paper in hopes of the liberation of hearing them spoken aloud in the performance. Afterwards we are shown to our seating, overlooking perhaps one of the most lavish production sets seen on campus this year. There’s a lawn of fake grass, and a floor of wood shavings one step below; a table of apparently miscellaneous tat – an old fish tank, some bowls of cereal – sits right in front of the audience, and three large screens dominate the walls surrounding the stage.
What unfolds here can only be described as a multi-sensory puzzle. The drama – as far as it goes – revolves around a pair of girls, who are “outside looking in…inside looking…outside…” No one is sure. Played at different intervals by a rotating selection of the exuberant cast, we see these characters in a slightly different context each time. Sometimes they are shut up indoors gazing out of the window at the foul weather, sometimes they are locked out of the house in the baking sun. Only their dialogue remains the same, and, as the title suggests, that gives away very little. We must piece together the story behind these characters’ recurring tense exchange from thematic clues delivered in-between their scenes. Using a kaleidoscopic range of effects from live sound and video recording, body percussion, copious props, a surprisingly arresting dance sequence featuring umbrellas and, of course, the secrets contributed by the audience, the cast offers us a delightful meditation on friendship, anxiety, confession, banter and the British weather quite unlike anything you will have seen before.
“If you do not appreciate the subtext,” we are warned early on, “you will leave here tonight thinking: what the fuck?” That is, in a sense, exactly the question this highly original show will leave you with, but in the best possible way.
Subtext and Rain will be showing at stage@leeds until Saturday night.