Murder from the inside

Keith Gallasch:One Extra, The Narrow House

Kay Armstrong, Narrow House

Kay Armstrong, Narrow House

Experiencing Kay Armstrong’s The Narrow House is like getting into the head of a murderer by way of her body, her words and into the evolution of a psychosis, onto the planning and into the crime. It’s a claustrophobic trip as the will to act forms and the rehearsal of the murder forces choices. Naked seduction followed by a knifing? Or a cup of poisoned tea served with domestic grace in an apron? The fantasy is full-bodied, sexual, likely bloody; the fact is the female murderer’s favourite, the inversion of nurturing: poisoning.

Unlike John Romeril’s early work Mrs Thally F, a play about a real Australian poisoner, Kay Armstrong’s murderer is an invention but a nonetheless convincing one. This worryingly sensual, perversely poetic dance theatre work is about a consuming state of being. As the passion escalates we see the murderer across the theatre’s pitch dark spaces through various psychologically refractive perspectives. She’s a naked woman (self-)fondled in a kitchen window. She’s a close-up confidante of the audience. She serves tea at a table over which a mirror swings low so we watch her from above, doggedly rehearsing the increasingly mad moves of her murder. She appears in a distant corner of the ceiling like a spider alert in her web. She’s disembodied, projected onto a wall perpetually entering the crime scene-to-be.

But it’s in the naked and vulnerable but aggressive body that we see both the desire and the torment of the compulsion, an idiosyncratic and increasingly tormented dance to an unseen force that tugs at her, drags the woman off-centre. It’s a barely controlled agony heard too in Garry Bradbury’s rich, enveloping sound score. This body connects only with a few objects in this closed universe: a large, threatening kitchen knife, a bone china teacup that glows like the Grail and a statuette of the Virgin. The Narrow House is an absorbing and disturbing creation. Armstrong’s writing needs distilling and her acting more restraint, but after some tentative and difficult steps towards creating her own brand of dance theatre, she has now proven herself capable of a bracing totality of vision, not least in the self-choreographyof an aching dance of limbs, of a body dissociated as painfully as its psyche.

One Extra, The Narrow House, performed and choreographed by Kay Armstrong, dramaturg Nikki Heywood, composer Garry Bradbury, video Samuel James, lighting Simon Wise; Performance Space, March 10-21

RealTime issue #61 June-July 2004 pg. 48

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2004
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