Pros: References to Francis Bacon were clear and I enjoyed making the connections between the performance and Bacon’s work.
Cons: One scene was very uncomfortable. Others may like it, but I didn’t enjoy the intensity.
The Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells has a slightly institutional feel on entering, and I can’t say I felt particularly welcomed. However the theatre itself is a great space with spacious seating, which I always appreciate as a tall person, and versatile performance space.
Normal Love is an expression of Director Zi Ling’s understanding of love and an analysis of the artwork of Francis Bacon. Bacon’s work is full of distorted bodies and faces, violent imagery and, as Ling states, his works are ‘based on reality but demonstrate something beyond reality’. Basing a piece of theatre on an artist’s work struck me as ambitious, however I was surprised at how well Ling had made Bacon’s work come alive. Particularly noticeable was the moment when the lighting turned red and a dancer started to wrap thread around her face – distorting her face much in the way Bacon does through his paintings.
Thread was frequently used in this performance. It was particularly used at the start as the female dancer, Monika Klimaite, used thread to manipulate the male dancers. The phrases ‘stringing him along’ and ‘like a puppet on a string’ kept on popping into my head. I wondered if this was a reflection on love in its worst forms, when it is used to control others and eventually hurt them.
The set was a spinning rectangular platform on which the majority of the action took place. Placed on top of this was a metal sculpture, weaving across the platform and perhaps a reference to the shapes used by Francis Bacon in his artworks. Beyond this set and a few chairs different scenes were created by very clever use of lighting. Particularly effective was stark white light followed by a complete black out, the biggest shocks in this performance were as a result of the sudden lighting changes.
I liked the use of music in this performance. With just two musicians, a guitarist to the side of the stage and a cellist who was often involved in the dances, the sounds they created were very atmospheric. Using a variety of effects the cellist created eerie and horrific noises. The guitarist’s powerful playing was fantastic at building up the intensity of certain moments.
The performance is an hour long and within this time there are many different images and portrayals of love. At times it felt disjointed but owing to the nature of the performance I don’t think this mattered. There was one scene which maybe could have been emphasised more. Red wine is poured and drunk, then thrown and spat… I assumed this would create a Francis Bacon style image on the sheet placed on the floor. However the watered down red liquid just didn’t have as much impact as a stronger colour would have.
I have to admit I really didn’t enjoy one particularly intense solo dance sequence. While the physical strength and talent shown was impressive, the power of the section was almost too much to watch. The dancer begins moving slowly, the movements become more frantic along with the music, and with a gun in his hand the scene escalates towards suicide.
The overall narrative is difficult to follow at times, however on reflection I don’t think that is the point. Normal Love is an exploration of love, while analysing the works of Francis Bacon through performance – and this is achieved remarkably well. It is an intense experience and one that I think will stay with me for a long time.
Director: Zi Ling
Choreographer: Jemma Gould
Producer: Eldarin Yeong Studio & Normal Love Theatre
Booking Until: 17 July 2014
Box Office: 0844 412 4300
Booking Link: This performance has now finished.