While We Were Holding It Together
devised by Ivana Müller
Dublin: Project Upstairs
October 1 – 4, 2008
Presented as part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival
Featuring Katja Dreyer, Ricardo Santana, Karen Roise Kielland, Stefan Rokebrand, Bill Aitchison
Touring: Through 2008
“I imagine you are all bourgeois,” says one of the living statues in the tableau vivant formed by five actors on a bare stage. Yes, it has been a long time since tableau vivant was considered all the rage in society, and the audience is gently reminded of this by evocations of the older historical period from time to time, among other ponderables presented by the actors, who otherwise stand stock still in various evidently increasingly uncomfortable poses. In fairness though, the audience neither is, nor is assumed to be the indolent bourgeoisie getting on with a luxurious party while the living statues provide mild titters. They are an active part of this theatre exercise, their presence required, connoted, and addressed.
While We Were Holding It Together is a very entertaining short theatre piece devised by Ivana Müller, with text by Müller and her five actors. It’s little more than an exercise in some ways, but no less enjoyable for that. A little exercise does the brain no harm, after all. There is also physical exercise involved here though, as the audience can see to a greater and greater degree as the show goes on and the actors limbs begin show the strain of ‘holding it together’. Their evident pain, also addressed in the text, becomes part of the sense of discipline which is essential to making this otherwise fairly abstract piece work at all.
The actors ruminate on various subjects, generally prefaced by the phrase ‘I imagine’. So, for example, one stands at the back with both arms bent at the elbow and held out from his body, his legs slightly apart. At first, he is a bear, then he imagines he is an oak tree, then a businessman in a Bangkok hotel standing over a schoolgirl in a uniform. Another actor is on the ground, his legs folded under him, his body leaning forward, one arm extended. Is he a dancer about to leap into the arms of his partner, a beggar asking for money, an accident victim appealing for help? In all of these cases, all of the images work for the relevant pose, but each suggests a different context. The act of imagining the scene suggested rather than what is visible requires work on the part of the audience as well as the performers, and by addressing the space between these, Müller and her cast stimulate a wide range of emotions and intellectual responses.
In an attempt to add some variety, the voices begin to move around (with the aid of pre-recorded material), and, with the aid of some fadeouts, so do the actors: stepping into one another’s poses in a series of brief scenes before returning to the basic tableau. This particular element of the show is less stimulating than it might sound, though, as the gimmicks distract from the purity of form and thought which have been the focus to that point.
This kind of theatre is not for everyone, but it strips away a great deal of the metatheatrical clutter and returns the audience and actors to a kind of pure consideration of the body, the voice, space, movement (or lack thereof), and the mind which is very worthwhile. “I imagine we are all bourgeois” the same actor later adds to her earlier remark as a correlative, and yes, we have to grant that, but, as the very final remark also reminds us “We are in this all of us together.” Quite so.