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Ten Days on the Island

March 23 - April 1 2007

 Da Contents H2


small metal objects: an intimate conversation and the perfect front

judith abell

Judith is a Hobart based Graduate Architect and Sculptor who is developing a hybrid practice working between these fields. She writes about art and design for a number of national magazines.

Sonia Teuben, Simon Laherty, Small Metal Objects Sonia Teuben, Simon Laherty, Small Metal Objects
photo Jeff Busby
There is something very intimate about listening to music or voice through headphones. It is as though the sound hovers in the middle of your head, making itself comfortable in your own thoughts. A haunting musical score and a personal, heartfelt conversation fill this place in the opening scenes of Small Metal Objects.

Staged in Salamanca Square, the construction of a story through sound provides the structure for the show. The audience is housed in raked seating at the end of the square. Each wears a set of headphones for the duration of the show. The remainder of the Square, the city and the mountain beyond form our stage. With an apparently empty stage in front of us, to any passerby we are quite the spectacle.

In the opening minutes we are all expectant. The music begins and with that, we search our stage for any person or sign that could be part of the show. A conversation opens in our headsets with, “I cooked a roast last night.” This is chat between two male friends that mixes ordinary observations with personal thoughts on life and love, “You know what you should do? Get a pet. A pet brings out the love in people.” The voices are slow and stilted. These are two men for whom speaking takes some labour and thought, but the content of the conversation is common place–loneliness, love, fear–“Are you scared of dying?” Garry and Steve seem close, they talk openly about their affection for each other.

It takes over five minutes until the two men are revealed in the square. I become aware of the sound of falling water in my headphones and realise that it is in sync with the fountain in the square, allowing me to locate the men about 60 metres away from the audience. They wear wireless mikes so that their talk reaches us in real time. The conversation continues as they walk toward the audience and we see that each of these men might be labelled as having a disability. It is at this point that the plot speeds up. Without wanting to give away too much of the story that ensues, Steve and Garry become engaged in an apparent drug deal involving two others who emerge from cafes and restaurants within the Square. Alan and Caroline are a high flying lawyer and change management consultant. The deal falls apart when Steve has a crisis: “I want people to see me, I want to be a full human being” and the couple are unable to get the two dealers to cooperate.

I have to admit to finding the set up for the show compelling but confusing at first and I found it difficult to get past the fact that the square is almost empty at our show’s timeslot – there is something lost in the absence of innocent bystanders as I imagine that their reaction to the play would range from complete ambivalence to avid curiosity. A crowd would have also given the players an environment within which to hide more successfully. It is only in the hours that follow the show, in considering and reconsidering the content, that I realise the greatness of Small Metal Objects.

Certain people within society, particularly the aged and disabled, are often the “unseen” to quote from the show’s program notes. I understand now why Steve’s crisis abates after the bungled deal: “I feel better now.” In the context of the deal, he is not only seen but in control. The high-powered pair, who are accustomed to getting anything they want, going anywhere they please, are rendered helpless. Their money and influence mean nothing and they are forced to operate within Steve’s sense of time. And what a perfect cover if Steve and Garry are actually dealers—would you suspect them?

This is a slow-burn show that left me puzzled at first, and worked its magic afterwards. Small Metal Objects found its way inside my head just like the music in the headphones.

Back to Back Theatre, Small Metal Objects, director Bruce Gladwin, co-devisers Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sonia Teuben, Genevieve Morris and Jim Russell, sound composition/design Hugh Covill, Salamanca Square, Ten Days on the Island, March 28-31

Judith is a Hobart based Graduate Architect and Sculptor who is developing a hybrid practice working between these fields. She writes about art and design for a number of national magazines.

© Judith Abell; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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