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A haunting illumination

Emily Bullock: Jane Longhurst, Dylan Sheridan, The Green Room

Emily Bullock is a Hobart-based writer and teacher. Her PhD on the cultural poetics of Tasmanian Gothic was completed in 2009.

Jane Longhurst, The Green Room Jane Longhurst, The Green Room
photo Jesse John Hunniford
It’s a rare hot day as I wade through the long grass on Hobart’s Queen’s Domain. The venue I’m ushered towards, the Victoria Gunpowder Magazine, is a place many Tasmanians have never seen, hidden as it is behind various sports grounds. Built in 1850 to house a mass of volatile weaponry—at its peak storing 1,000 barrels of gunpowder—the fortress-like edifice now appears neglected, surrounded by barbed wire fencing and accessed only on irregular tours by collectors of military memorabilia.

Inside this cold, virtual ruin, The Green Room, a site-specific production by solo-performer Jane Longhurst and sound artist Dylan Sheridan, is staged. This collaborative work is an outcome of the 2013 HyPe initiative, supported by Salamanca Arts Centre to encourage the creation of innovative, contemporary hybrid performance in Tasmania.

The fortress-like nature of the space seems more apparent on this day as the hot midday sun fades from view, the door is slammed shut and we are left in darkness. The marked difference in temperature somehow seems imperative, as this is an immersive work in which the audience is intimately connected to performer and to the space itself.

As we enter the room, Longhurst is already at work, sweeping the floor, stirring up dust. This sweeping—a recurring motif—is one of the ways the performer engages with the space, as tension builds around her choreography of physical gestures and interactions with a series of found objects such as rope and old gunpowder drums. In one suggestive sequence, a piece of rope falls to the floor which Longhurst then ties between two timber posts and swings on for a very long time, the rocking motion marked by the clocking sound of her boots against the floorboards. That I am disturbed by this—perhaps something to do with Longhurst’s proximity to the audience—says much about the potential of site-specific works to perturb common associations with a place.

The waiting game played with the audience is not only a test of endurance but also a sharp reminder of the site’s failed ideological function as a place awaiting a war that never came. This is alluded to in the work’s title, a Green Room being a space that accommodates performers when they’re not performing.

This preoccupation with the interstitial appears a central concern throughout the work, particularly in Sheridan’s exceptional use of atmospheric lighting and sound. With light glowing from the cracks between floorboards and hidden in crevices in the walls and a haunting soundscape ranging from a dull throbbing to metal scraping sounds—all of which were derived from field recordings at the site—the place takes on the guise of a character that taunts Longhurst. A point of brilliance is the performer’s response to a sound under the floor: floorboards are lifted, revealing a gentle, diffused light. This attention to the in-between and the duration of the interval creates a strange, resonant atmosphere where energy appears to seep through the very cracks of the building achieving a new and altogether more intriguing illumination of a hidden place and its stories.

As the work ended where it started—with sweeping—I was left with the impression that I was merely an interloper in a scene that would continue for the remainder of the day. The movement challenged and piqued its audience. With the room hazy from dust stirred, we emerged sneezing, stimulated by the textures of this strangely haunting place—and intoxicated by its smell and taste.


The Green Room, creator Jane Longhurst, Dylan Sheridan, performer Jane Longhurst, sound and lighting design Dylan Sheridan; Victoria Gunpowder Magazine, Hobart, 22 Nov-1 Dec, 2013

Emily Bullock is a Hobart-based writer and teacher. Her PhD on the cultural poetics of Tasmanian Gothic was completed in 2009.

RealTime issue #119 Feb-March 2014 pg. 38

© Emily Bullock; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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