Negative Space at Southbank Centre
Negative Space exists in a place between theatre and performance art. The Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre is set up with a room-sized white box of plasterboard built on a wooden frame in which six performers spend 50 minutes in a choreographed dance of physical theatre and destruction where not a single word is spoken.
The room is filled with an arty audience ready to be intrigued, challenged or whatever else this work may bring. The silence of a performance with no words or music is confrontational. The only sounds are of smashing and bodies falling. As the work progresses, the plasterboard is more and more smashed; the performers use hammers to bash through the board, creating a certain visceral satisfaction.
There are trap doors in the floor of the box, which the performers use to peek through, drag each other into and disappear into themselves. The work is intensely physical for the ensemble. Artistic director Mole Wetherell, a man of no tender years, is essentially used as a battering ram to the board at one stage. Leentje van de Cruys, a mischievous glint in her eye for the audience throughout, not once but twice hammers out perforations around the same colleague to then push him through onto the wooden frame with agonising thuds. When the blurb says the development of the project resulted in bruises, that is clearly no exaggeration.
There are some arresting, lyrical visual vignettes such as dust being produced from a pocket and sprinkled to the ground; two orange roses being plucked apart at the same time by two performers, their bright leaves sprinkled across the floor; and two saws appearing from behind the board, simultaneously carving rectangles in it.
Negative Space is an interesting, opaque piece, open to individual interpretation. The position of the box means that some seats do not give a view of the whole space – perhaps if the performance had been set further back on the stage it might have afforded a clearer view. Unusual but memorable and thought-provoking, Negative Space explores the boundaries of what theatre can be.
Negative Space was at Southbank Centre on 11th October 2019.