90 seconds to midnight. That’s how close we are to annihilation according to the recently updated doomsday clock. A dismal reminder of human hubris. It also implicitly asks a question: what next? What happens after the bombs drop, after the ice melts, after Armageddon?
Vertebra Theatre’s An Ice Thing to Say imagines that world. In equal parts: performance art, installation and dance, its vision is brutal and masochistic.
It starts with six performers (Piedad Albarracin Seiquer, Alexa Kormari, Susie Fairbrother, Bianca Beneduzi, Elena Stamoulakatou, Mayra Stergiou) clad in hazmat suits. Some hold candles, some revolve around a block of ice that sits centre stage. It’s a vigil for humanity that is soon to euthanize itself.
The only semblance of a character comes in the form of a lone polar bear who emerges solemnly as if it has come to pay its respects. The puppet’s lifeless gaze is accusatory. “Why have you done this?” A dribble of water leaks from the block of ice as the bear’s wretched gaze turns to the audience.
Soon the hazmat suits are off, a civilized skin is shed revealing our suppressed animalism. The performers de-evolve becoming cold blooded carnivores. Their movement is no longer fluid and graceful but jittery and reptilian. They hiss and growl at each other whilst prowling around the stage covered in blood. It may take inspiration from German psychoanalyst and sociologist Eric Fromm, one of his quotes is projected onto a wall, but Antoin Artaud’s shadow looms larger. As does George Bataille and Carolee Schneemann.
Gregory Emfietzis’ music design grounds the aesthetics in gloomy ceremony. The sound is carefully curated to pulsate with a dull but menacing throb reticent of monks humming prayers. It culminates in a distorted version of Dido’s lament: “Remember me”. The last wailing echo of civilization. Will anyone be alive to remember?
Its ambiguity is as much a weakness as it is a strength. Whilst undeniably thought provoking the production defangs itself by leaving images to linger without context. An Ice Thing to Say needs more focus if it wants ideas to really sink in. As miserable as it is to say we are already desensitized to its message: we know that environmental doom lurks around the corner. And then what?
VAULT Festival 2023 runs Tuesday 24th January to Sunday 19th March, full listings and ticket information can be found here.