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Grey Matters: A Play for Six Brains/Curricula Vitae, Chelsea Theatre

Presented by Head of a Woman
★★★

Pros: Both acts present concepts that are easily identifiable. They delve deep into exploring how our society works without ostracising the audience through overly complicated notions.

Cons: The concepts could have been pushed further; by adding extra dimensions they could have kept the agreeable timings whilst speeding the shows up.

Overall: A heroic attempt to produce performances that encourage the audience to reconsider themselves and the society that has formed them. While all concepts were vital to this process, some were too slow or too long in places.

Courtesy of Head of a Woman

With no obvious storylines, Grey Matters: A Play for Six Brains and Curricula Vitae are not like my normal theatre visits. I enjoy something that starts in one place and ends in another, where I can watch the characters relate and develop from their interactions. These two pieces were something different, although not completely alternative. There was an obvious developing of relationships, it just happened to be between the actors and the audience. And with an emphasis on the spatial-temporal relationships of people, how could I not like it?! It harked back to the musings of some of the more philosophical lecturers of my geography degree. It was safe to assume I was in a comfortable position.

Grey Matters: A Play for Six Brains begins with six unidentifiable actors with paper bags over their heads performing repetitive stylised dance movements before removing their bags and placing them within tight spotlights. These became visual aids to help the audience understand the premise: each actor is attempting to recognize what it means to be in each other’s brains, and to examine the questions of how we function as individuals, and how this translates into our perception by others.

As the six performers use synchronised movement to switch between spotlights (and therefore paper bags), we watch as they deliver, one by one, sentences that begin with ‘If I had the brain of…’ and then proceeded to deliver facts, witticisms and stereotyping of each other. These cause the audience to laugh, think and widen their eyes, perhaps recognising in themselves some of the facts. It is a test of social boundaries where the reaction is not seen on stage but in the faces and minds of the audience.

There is a small section in the middle where they turn their attention to the audience, each actor picking on an audience member. While this was a clever way of involving the audience more directly in a piece that clearly prides itself on being holistic theatre, it also helpfully breaks up the thirty minute first half, which unfortunately lacks variety and therefore dragged slightly in places.

Curricula Vitae was a slightly longer performance. Its main concept surrounded the larger idea of the entire human population as a community. Turning the whole stage into a giant world map, the piece plotted the six actor’s lives from birth through to the current day and the countries they had visited through exploration of basic human movement such as walking and dancing. Their movements in that time encourage the audience to become occupied with their lives; I felt myself guessing at one point what date they were born in, why they travelled so much in that year (gap year, family gatherings, yearly visits etc.), making up much of their lives in my own head.

I can appreciate the hard work that has gone into these pieces, both in conceptualising, writing and rehearsing them and while there were areas where the pieces dragged, and others where their message took a while to make sense and sink in, Head of a Woman have two strong (if not polished) performances that explore the spatial-temporal nature of human life. I really enjoyed their ideas, the marking of the map on the floor and the use of all six performers saying one word each to produce a unified statement during Curricula Vitae especially stand out for me as clever and artistic, even if they didn’t quite explain to me the purpose of the pieces.

It strikes me that the show’s beauty came from the fact that it allowed the audience to make their own conclusions and their own community, which naturally means we didn’t feel pressured into understanding any concept beyond our grasp. Rather, I believe the intelligence in these performances stems not from the idea of imparting a message but rather from their desire to explore the actual path of investigation.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Grey Matters: A Play for Six Brains and Curricula Vitae run as part of a double bill at the Chelsea Theatre until 1st September 2012. 
Box Office: 020 7352 1967 or book online at http://www.chelseatheatre.org.uk/

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