The Special Guests: Life on the line

Marie-Anne Mancio

The Special Guests, This Much I Know (Part Two)

The Special Guests, This Much I Know (Part Two)

In grey caretakers’ overalls, 4 performers call one another on touch tone phones and make mock calls to unseen “characters.” When I come in to the 6-hour durational installation This Much I Know (Part Two), Suzie is curled into the wall, sobbing on the receiver. At intervals, we’re played tape recordings of messages the artists have invited people to leave on the Special Guests’ answer phone between 12 noon January 28 and midnight January 29 about: “What’s missing?” “What are they looking for?” “What are they hoping to find?” Replies range from a philosophical enquiry about the nature of loss to the mundane misplacing of objects—like the man who’s always losing his glasses and his car keys and says it’s hard to find the latter without the former. There are also recordings made by one of the performers in the Arnolfini foyer at various intervals throughout the show (the sound quality of these isn’t great).

As the work progresses, it becomes clear that each performer has a signature. Suzie calls her mother: “Just phoning to see if everything’s okay and you’re not missing me too much”; Matthew is always expecting someone; Lucy rings ‘Sandra’ obsessively, with an update on her progress through the day. The behaviours and codes around telephoning are acutely observed (the lovers, neither of whom wants to put the phone down first; the family catch-up that goes on forever…). The importance of the telephone in our lives is also explored. It can be a lifeline; a source of irritation, an interruption, an accomplice to deception.

The experience of this performance is cumulative, becoming more rewarding. For instance, Suzie tells her mother on the phone that a man has come into the room and he may be “The One.” It becomes clear that she’s talking about an audience member. He blushes. She asks his name. At her mother’s prompting, she asks what he does for a living. Much later, she references this moment so it becomes an in-joke for those of us who were there at the time.

Gallery 5 is packed for much of the day and there is a real sense of camaraderie in the room. The work is wonderfully manipulated without feeling manipulative. The performers get us all to cheer when the next person walks in; they offer us cups of tea and throw us chocolate biscuits. Performers Matthew Austin, Lucy Gibbs, Nina Wyllie and Suzie Zara make for compulsive viewing. Even after hearing the same elements over and again I am convinced by their veracity, impressed by their concentration and impeccable comic timing. People spend a long time here; I am in Gallery 5 for 40 minutes the first time. I need to see something else, otherwise I could stay all day. “No-one seems to want to leave”, one of them says. I feel like a guest who doesn’t want to accept that the party is over.

Bristol-based Special Guests have been making experimental theatre since 2000 and touring to festivals and venues across the UK. They also curate The Flaw Set, a DIY cross-artform event which takes over social clubs and other spaces for nights of music and performance. www.thespecialguests.co.ok

The Special Guests, This Much I Know (Part Two), Gallery 5, Arnolfini, Feb 4

RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006 pg.

© Marie-Anne Mancio; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

5 February 2006