Emma Geliot's picture


Roos van Geffen collects anxieties and desires in her location-based production Vangst. Chris Bird-Jones catches her tri-lingual collaboration with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.

There is a box, a new and unfamiliar box placed in front of a familiar building in the landscape of my town. It looks friendly, but far too small to host the performance, which I've read makes use of three wholly different languages. A selection of vintage/retro typewriters is placed along three sides of the blue-y grey cube, with an inviting stack of papers just waiting to be typed up with sticky, mechanical ink. Typed by me, by us the audience. It's obvious that's what we have to do. There s a small amount of time before the performance is due to start and people are milling around, so I decide to give it a go.

The first paper I pick up is thick, of good quality and texture. It s in Dutch I can read a little, but not enough. I turn it over and see English, which is by far my most comfortable native language, followed by Welsh. I insert the paper hesitantly, and begin. What are my greatest fears? Before I've even made the machine 'ding' the audience is called to attention in front of the blue box.

We re informed that the performance will begin soon and we must choose which language we d like to watch it in. My daughter is confused for a moment; she speaks all three languages so needs to choose. Van Geffen offers the English and Dutch-speakers headsets, as the live performance will be in Welsh. We are in Wales after all.

We re then invited into the box. It holds the stage and seating, and is most definitely not the storage shed as I d first thought. Beautifully designed, one half of the space is filled with five or so rows of block seating, with an entrance door to each row and a rake that rises from very low at the front near the stage, to high at the back of the box. We have cushions for comfort and, thankfully, footholds built into the seats in front for those seated higher up and further back; a very economic functional design. The set itself is simple, ordered: A desk and chair one side and adjacent a large table with a large parcel on it.

The luscious, and by now ink-covered, papers filled in by the audience beforehand are collected, sorted and then wrapped up by a young woman seated at the desk. With delicate movements she organizes them according to a mysterious system, wrapping them in tracing paper and binding them with a fine golden thread, finished with a double knot. The desk is obviously made for this double duty the wrapping and binding as the woman repeats her actions, continuing to work smoothly and efficiently for a considerable time. This is how the performance starts, calmly and routinely.

As it progresses it becomes clear that the performance, the narrative with its distinct threads, themes and nuances the story itself is in the recorded languages and in the actions and movements of the two performers. The recordings, identical in each language on the headsets and through the stage speakers in Welsh, are verbatim audio transcripts of responses to the papers I'd seen outside, from other performances. They came from a variety of places: The Netherlands, Belgium, France, England and Wales, and from people of all ages, backgrounds and professions. Van Geffen is a collector of fears and desires.

Adjacent to the desk is a large table, with a large wrapped form on its top. She unfolds it slowly to reveal a body. She does not falter, although we re in the dark, she knows exactly what she s doing, and why.

She begins to brush his body, methodically with her hands. Lifting his limbs, we see grains fall from him onto the white paper, grains of salt which cover him entirely. Once clean, she starts to experiment with him.

The movements are convincing, as the performers interact on floor and on table. It is their interaction that engages us; that and the contrast between them. The man is impressively motionless, so relaxed that for a moment I wondered if he s really alive, and not an exceptionally well-made model from Madame Tussaud's. The woman has an almost superhuman strength as she pushes, pulls and throws him, testing the limits of the body. Even from my detached viewpoint I can sense their trust. There are moments when it seems the result of her rough or clumsy handling must really hurt, yet he doesn't flinch, or even appear to breathe.

I notice there are boxes of salt high on a shelf, enough for ten or more performances. Everything has had order and purpose.

The sensual pouring of salt preserves the picture I ll take with me as I leave. Desires and fears are preserved in my brain.

This is a longer version of the review that appears in CCQ magazine issue 1.