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Haunting Elliptical Chamber Piece

At Volcano Theatre

Volcano Theatre- 147 Questions About Love , Dancebase, Edinburgh , August 7, 2014
At Volcano Theatre by Volcano Theatre- 147 Questions About Love Dancebase is located at the western end of Edinburgh's Grassmarket, a serene place next to a line of a half-dozen pubs. It is a building of spaciousness and modernity, of architectural imagination and immediately recognisable as a millennium project from that era of cultural efflorescence. Volcano's space is a large upstairs studio, given a treatment which is characteristically novel and inventive.

“147 Questions about Love” is a piece about intimacy. It does what it is. The lights are undimmed and the audience sits on stage in an ad hoc grouping on stools and cushions. The two performers are a few feet distant. The opening tableau has them pulling on a long piece of string that holds an apple. The performance without lighting or sound makes for a heightened sensory awareness. The crunch of teeth on an apple acquires a ringing volume in this context of quietness.

Paul Davies poses the questions, plenty of them, not necessarily about love. His first is about relationship, whether a pre-emptive apology might be wise, to prepare for future wrongs that have not yet been done. The tone is relaxed and speculative, the brow furrowing on occasion in quizzical consideration. Catherine Bennett is silent. She moves and flexes elastically, drops to the floor to become an owl of the rare group that burrows to make its nest. In time she too comes up with her own questions.

The questions range and roam. Would you like friends, wonders Paul Davies, who play golf? What surface is best for a playground? Might a qualification in botany be useful? They trip out in profusion. Have you ever stood naked in the rain? This is addressed directly to an audience member. But the nature of this performance is such that the audience engagement comes wholly without its customary threat or tension. One watcher-listener is invited forward to declare his preference between waltz and foxtrot. He prefers the latter and is invited to join Catherine Bennett in its dance. He is in fact a practised dancer, good enough to join her as a python wrapping itself around its prey. He returns to his cushion performing, as requested, the lope of a hurried fox.

“147 Questions about Love” has a couple of props. At one point Catherine Bennett bears the weight of a table while Paul Davies tightens its screws with the aid of an army knife. All the while his random speculations continue. The source for “147 Questions about Love” is a novel composed entirely of interrogatives. Even the makers who have been inspired by it characterise it as both profound and infuriating. That effect is not so with the human form in action. Its very concreteness creates substance even if meaning may be evanescent.

Performance can come in every degree of size and scale. “147 Questions about Love” is both declarative and elusive, wide-ranging but inconclusive. It has an affinity with those Chinese drawings where the brush strokes are finely spare but executed with a studied concentration. Like that art it lingers on in the memory in its stillness and quietness where louder, brasher works fade. Volcano may be into its second quarter century but there is no sign of the predictabilities of middle age. “147 Questions about Love” is an event out there that is quite on its own.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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