TOM at Sadler’s Wells online
A row of men sit in a regional train carriage, all with different but equally glum expressions, their eyes fixed and unseeing. They are dressed differently, but they all have the same face. The train leaves the countryside and pushes through rows of dull buildings to reveal a clump of nondescript grey towers. One of the same-faced men, dressed in a grey skirt, starts dancing. He pulls and twists his arms, spinning on the ground, but no one acknowledges him.
Wilkie Branson’s TOM combines digital and analogue animation alongside cutting edge cinematography, a mix of techno and acoustic music with a dash of white noise, and breakdance to create a visually stunning piece about sadness, loneliness and isolation. The film shows both the literal and mental journey of the central character Wilkie Branson, who gives his face to all of the adults in this performance. It’s physical as most of the sequences take place on his train ride from his shack in the country to the colourless city, and psychological as he struggles to break free of the prison that the city seems to represent.
This 60-minute performance explores the inner noise behind our blank public faces. In one particularly striking scene, our protagonist stands expressionless in a lift while his topless double screams, banging his head against the wall, shouting for someone to notice. This is part of a fast-paced montage in which one of our characters runs through a platform, while another shows three performers breakdancing in the midst of rush hour. The music, the pacing and the shots all create a sense of urgency and claustrophobia, while the topless screaming double seems to represent the character’s depression, an almost primal emotional side to his deadpan public self.
There are also themes of isolation; this could point to this specific character’s struggle, but it also seems like a criticism of city culture, a comment on how people sit on the tube, eyes staring into space, never acknowledging each other. The almost colourless urban setting has an apocalyptic vibe. The fact that almost all the people in this film are the same person could point to this specific man’s struggle to find his identity, but it could also be a comment on how, even though we may sit in our own worlds isolated from one another, we are really the same.
The music is always timed perfectly to the feelings of the film. Though the dancing is impressive, the animation and cinematography are the real driving force of this production. The animation is largely based on real-world objects and has an almost video-game feel to it. The colour scheme is dulled, with light greens and greys, to reflect the sombre mood of this piece.
TOM could be described as a journey of depression, of screaming behind blank eyes, trying to break free and finally finding the ability to rip apart your own mental prison. It is a very emotional, complex and visually stunning piece which will resonate with anyone who has ever felt trapped – whether trapped in routine or trapped in their own mind.