Erotic lunacy in the digital age

Sue Moss

red message service is a Hobart-based improvisation ensemble comprising is theatre ltd director Ryk Goddard and physical theatre performers Martin Coutts and Laura Purcell. The group creates a full-length improvisation performance—not theatre-sports games, but full-on physical theatre. They create lush, absurdist, minimalist performance in a self-organizing space while the ensemble is conversely configured by that space.

On a virtually bare stage 99 white balloons, inflated to the size of light bulbs, pulsate with eerie promise. Cradled in Coutts’ arms the balloon-bulbs are held in an ambivalence of capture, containment and embrace. There are no explanations or revelations. The performers co-exist in the space, insistently building images of association and dissociation through the interplay of movement, text, light and sound.

While running in slow motion the performers register amazement. Their quick-fire-language suggests, yet equally denies, explanation or revelation. Purcell engages in the erotic lunacy of tasting clouds on a rainy day—a movement and message for unstable times. The audience is denied any chance of tying the performers into the tired meaning systems of old codes.

Four strands of illuminated blue and red strips stretch across the space. The challenge for the performers is to find their own footsteps and negotiate the potential of each line. red message service responds by offering a user’s course guide, creating instances of intimate alliance and rupture via a domestic clothesline, a cable car to Mount Wellington and a line for carrying a digital global message.

red message service appropriates elements of life in the digital age, showing alternate possibilities for thought. Paradoxically, each improvised situation requires a semblance of resolution before generating the next response to that resolution, producing a continuous folding of reaction and response.

“Into each life some sweet rain must fall,” sings Billie Holiday while Coutts, Goddard and Purcell explore contemporary addiction to the banal promise of the 7 steps to happiness. The balloon-bulbs invite sensuous contact and the performers oblige, holding them against their lips in a scrabble of lust and squeaking.

The entanglements of human life recur throughout the performance. They erupt in Goddard’s dexterous self-gagging, Coutts’ percussive washing-machine stomp offset by the Washington Machine, Goddard’s self-demeaning inner voice, and Purcell’s ability to extend movement into potent dance statement. The performers cling to each other like static electricity before their 2 against 1 triangular pattern segues into childhood ostracism and bullying. The excluded becomes the excluding. Instantly the energy aligns differently, everything implodes and the configuration changes.

The laundry line is replaced by a folding of cloth. The performers sit with shrouds over their faces, accentuating their visible, yet invisible features. We gaze through the cloth to an outline of promise. red message service ensemble challenges the audience to create different thinking of and for themselves.

red message service, performers Ryk Goddard, Martyn Coutts, Laura Purcell; lighting design Jen Cramer; lighting operator Jody Kingston; sound Sarah Duffus; Backspace, Hobart, Nov 22-23

RealTime issue #53 Feb-March 2003 pg. 32

© Sue Moss; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2003