Pacitti Company: Bottomless wishing well

Ruth Holdsworth

The Inbetween Time brochure copy tells us “Pacitti Company are well known for their uncompromising approach to image making.” We were definitely offered a rich profusion of images, and perhaps one too many.

Just before the performance we were asked to sign a contract stipulating that we would not look over our shoulder on entering or turn to look behind once seated, nor share with “any other living creature the contents of a wish you will shortly be asked to make.” Raffle ticket numbers were sellotaped to our lapels (I was number 15), we were each given a two-penny piece, and had a white ribbon tied around our right wrist.

Entering the space one by one, we move along a path formed of large dressing room mirror lights, passing a man too large for his chair, hunched over a Rumpelstiltskin spinning wheel by a mound of straw, spindle in hand.

The path is dark, but a clearing is ahead. We enter the circle created by a curtain of suspended straw strips and numbered chairs (corresponding to our tickets). As we move to our seats we circumnavigate a low, golden mound of pennies and two-pences, to find ritualistic offerings of cloth dolls placed on each seat. It was as if we had happened upon a magical place and were lost in A Forest, as complicit as figures in a carousel kinetoscope of Italo Calvino tales.

Numerous images and texts are spun together by merging elements of one fairy tale with another, and layered further by symbolical allusions to the social, religious and political history of Britain—director and performer Robert Pacitti had ‘lion’ written on one hand and ‘heart’ on the other. The company created a performance that drew on the old to make sense of the contemporary, simultaneously investigating the morphology of the folktale (recalling for me the 1928 account by Russian theorist Vladimir Propp), but with too many tales.

A Forest is performed in intimate proximity to its audience. The performers sat amongst us passing a black ribbon with a hand-sewn story that began “Once upon a time…”; methodically wrapping a ceramic-like model of a man with hessian rope; biting into an apple; and animating confetti-letters like tiny black bats that moved above an upturned metal fan. Just before the performance approached its conclusion small glasses of sherry were distributed and sipped as a collective act, followed by the removal of our ribbons and the gently whispered suggestion that we make a wish as the ribbons were tied to a branch that sheltered a naked Christ-like figure. As we left, again one by one, each performer softly took our hands and thanked us for coming.

The Pacitti Company obviously spent a lot of time researching A Forest, but in their excitement at what they had created—the powerful beauty of the many images and the analogies suggested with the materialism of contemporary Britain—they used too many potions in casting their spell.

4 February 2006