This extraordinary piece of almost-dance is the result of a collaboration between two companies, Gecko and Mind the Gap. Gecko makes physical theatre which I find fascinating and often astonishing while Mind the Gap makes work with learning-disabled artists that is challenging and full of surprises. Both companies have big international reputations and, on the evidence here, deservedly so.
Gecko’s work delights in repetition and ritual and has little dialogue. The last Mind the Gap show I saw, Zara, was a huge outdoor event at the Peace Hall in Halifax about a young learning-disabled woman’s right to have a baby and was extremely moving despite being performed on a cherry picker. A Little Space marries the two companies’ styles beautifully.
Set in what could be a boiler room (judging by all the pipework) containing a TV, a bed, a table, a chair and a rug, and played largely in chiaroscuro, the piece vividly depicts the agony and the ecstasy of living alone, mostly. Each of the ensemble of five takes a turn as a human and two make a couple whose relationship seems to be glued together by Coronation Street. It certainly received a laugh of recognition. They are all excellent. The pain of existence and the angst of existential thought is clear in their eyes and their dance.
Everything around the human, and occasionally the humans themselves, is controlled and moved with a hammer on the pipes by people in brown dust coats. I thought of them as household gods. And sometimes the gods become a tower block with each flat and resident delineated, and the pipes are human connections.
It’s not a play. There’s not a lot of plot. The audience are invited to make connections from the elements presented including repetitions that could be ritual or expressions of shared experience. You need to pay attention as it’s not an easy piece.
The show is performed to one of the most ambitious soundscapes I have ever heard. It is through-composed with the aforesaid clangs and hisses, deep explosions and other noises scattered in it at crucial points in the action. One of the many remarkable things about this production is the coordination of the action to the split-second register of incidental noises. It requires great physical precision in the performers, and I didn’t notice an error.
Neither did I have an issue with the extensive programme notes. I loathe art speak. Somewhere, there is a degree course in writing the hyperbolic nonsense that you can find in programme notes and particularly the little plaques that accompany pictures at the Royal Academy or the Tate. But here, ‘the show is the story of a creative partnership that is industry-leading in terms of its campaign for inclusive theatre’, is entirely true. The companies are to be congratulated.
By Chris Wallis, Theatre Editor
Images © Tom Woollard