Last week there was an eclipse and a new moon. There was a cool, rich, sharp darkness bedecked with hard stars and a distant sense of a new season being imminent. Into this flawless backdrop walked Mikes' Pearson and Brookes, for the National Theatre of Wales, with 'Storm 1; Nothing Remains the Same'.
I drove down from Aber along a snaking and unfamiliar road, remembering other Pearson induced drives in mystery buses, until finally erupting into an eerily deserted Ystrad Fleur, in search of Paviliwn Bont. A little back and forth occurred, with a rapidly collecting pool of other vehicles doing the same, trying to locate the entrance. I parked in the dark. I walked to the venue door, also in the dark, guessing my route. The welcome was warm though, friendly and bilingual without attitude. The space was stark but bright, hot tea and insufficient chairs kept the gathering audience chattering as the small reception grew steadily packed to the eaves.
We eyed each other, curiously. Some attendees were clearly well trained from the days of Brith Gof, having brought their own cushions and being wrapped in homespun wool and Wellingtons, grinning broadly with steady anticipation - unlike most shows, where there is usually an air of witheld expectation pervading the waiting space like second hand smoke, for Storm 1, the wait was as if before lightning strikes: breathless and clear.
Brookes wandered amongst us, then called attention, explaining a few technical details. Yes, we were to be mostly in total darkness. Yes, the crew would still be able to see us thanks to infra red cameras (cue laughter). There was a trust in his delivery, a trust in the audience, which I found reassuring. This was the confidence of experience, balanced on innovation.
We were herded down into the performance space; a bare and pristine sortof shed. My neighbours have ones just like it, only filled with tractors and hay. This one, had seats locked together in serried rank, with headphones (proper cans) over each back. Places were unlettered and unumbered and there was no obvious stage, thus we all found a place much more quickly than is usual. Such was the tightness of the seating that unknown neighbours could invade one's space very easily, so I took a moment to identify somewhere where my sides would be uncensored - and settled down to wait.
Headphones on. White noise. Background chatter. The occasional cough. A giggle. House lights reduced. Shadows took over. Darkness made itself comfortable. Then Pearson's voice began to narrate...
Storm 1 was an adaptation of the first two books of Ovid's Metamorphosis; the creation of the world according to Greek myth. This was how things were before The Big Bang.
The blackness we were in, was disorientating, especially when sounds began to weave around outside of the headphoned narration. It was a little like being on a fairground ride. A little like a radio play. A little like the editing suite of a film. The hairs on the back of my arms began to rise.
Yet the voice was warm, melodic. Despite the desperately alien environment being described, the sound was deeply human, with swallows and breathing. It felt safe. The world came into being with cracking and leeching, soaring and pouring, elements that were unrecognisable with gods whose names were shown rather than told. It was loud, so very, very loud. I moved the headphones off one ear, as Brookes had suggested one might. It helped. There was a storm in one ear and the story in another. The other people vanished into one mass, apart from the warmth of an elbow, touching. We became the primordial soup of every audience, ever.
I found myself wanting to close my eyes. Why for pity's sake, it made little to no difference! There were a couple of flickering red lights that seemed to move the way aeroplanes do in the night sky through a window when one cannot sleep. The nonsense of their movement captivated my eyes as my skeleton wracked and vibrated with the ebb and flow of a world being created. I swear that my sternum felt the birth of every continent. I was being massaged by myth.
The difficulty of the content in Ovid's account was no hindrance to the storytelling; giants came and giant's went, races were shiny like superhereos and equally flawed. Man was a dark joke, a disaster movie all of his own, cackled at by the one voice who knew everything.
To say that this was all rather atmospheric, would be to underplay the effect. It was utterly mesmeric. So, so, simple: an empty warehouse, some chairs, some headphones, some noise and a story. The glue that held this together, was I feel, that smoke before the curtainless curtain. It was the calibre of an audience who knows how to, erm, audience. We didn't have to 'stay with it' until anything picked up or became unpacked, we simply had to stay-with ourselves; for we were the colour and the pace to what we took on board. This was liberating. No emotion was foistered upon us either, we had to populate the telling with our own feelings.
My feelings were a little mixed. I was acutely aware that we had somehow slid over some very challenging content, mostly female in context. This was a male story ("As it always is..."). Many deities and their dramas were relegated to the background, the roar of women's voices was perhaps the storm which hurtled around the sitting listeners like a force we could only feel an echo of, being dry and safe in our little personal worlds. It worked, it definitely worked - and what is included and what is alluded to is always a battleground in these situations. However, I still hungered to hear the other side of this, the way I had hungered for the wife's opinion during Everybody Loses. I sortof felt excluded as a consequence, pushed out into Ariel's liar. Not part of the plot.
Then... almost unexpectedly... the symphonic shell faded away and the 'sound of God', stopped.
A female voice, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, stepped into the quiet. My immediate reaction, was one of resistance. Who was this interloper?! I wanted my familiar timbre and rythmn, the neutral tone, not this personal, accented, buoyant biographer. Not a sudden... female, with a man's tale.
There was no escape though - and her story was intriguing. Within moments my inbuilt, hypocritical, resistance to change was uprooted - and I leaped into the story of Phaeton and his father's fiery chariot.
At this point, I noticed that the celing had grown shadows; that meant that there was light somewhere - but before I could conclude where, the wall next to me began to rise. It had a door in it, the whole place wasn't actually levitating (although I don't think that it would have surprised me if it had), and as the shutters lifted a vision of flame filled the frame. A tree, burning. Burning so beautifully, with such grace, it was an elegant summation of all we were being taught.
I couldn't drag my eyes away from the delicate horror of that one, flaming, tree; a dead inferno which didn’t cremate, whilst living trees watched on from the other side, like our reflection - and equally quiet.
The tree continued to dance in wonderfully constructed pyrotechnics, moving with the narrative in a way that added great dimensionality without being predictable (I found out afterwards that the Pyro manager was listening to the same audio as we were, influencing the flow of fire according to what felt right in response. Hence there was a slight delay and not everything was danced along to, which made it natural and interesting, as oppose to being a fixed illustration). I listened to the tragic tale of Phaeton, caught like he was in the intoxicating flames, thinking of a famous geomyth paper about the meteorite the story may have been speaking of (Rappenglück, et al, 2010). The audience came into partial focus in the flickering glare, which blew occasional welcome warmth our way from what was otherwise a bitter draught.
When the shutter came down, I felt bereft - yet grateful to no longer be bitten by the cold. Soon afterwards, the story... just... stopped. Time had been meaningless until that point, there had been no way of gauging how far through we were with nothing but one's inbuilt clock to suggest the passing minutes. The not-quite-blackness hung over us as we slipped back out of silhouette and briefly returned to oblivion. Then the house lights slowly lifted, like rectangular stars. There we all were, sat side by side, blinking and silent. The cans were quiet. People lifted them off and some looked around. Gradually, one hand clapped. Then another. Then another until the applause rang out like falling stone. There was nobody to focus it at, again just that trust, an assumption that we were being watched all the time by the cameras who had glimmered distantly like hovering eyes throughout.
We filed out. It was still, oddly, rather quiet. Meeting gazes felt intrusive. I attempted to linger in the foyer - but it felt wrong to have this sense of otherness invaded - and so I left, first one out into the empty evening.
I clambered into my battered old car, turned the heat up high, trundled slowly out through the sleeping village and sprung my stereo into life, slotting any old disc in. This is what I heard:
So perfect were the lyrics that I am going to end this not-really-a-review with them, adding only that I went back two days later to experience it all again, only in company. It was less profound, yet still delivered a transformation. This is what art does, it changes who we are in ways that we cannot quite comprehend. I am already mourning the fact that I couldn’t take more people and also can't go to the second in this series of sixth different performances - but I encourage anybody who has read this far, to please go in my place. Go - and then tell me all about it.
I am in the air now I am in your lungs I am written I am spoken by a million flaming tongues I'm the lens through which you see I'm the process I am the key...
I am in your future I am in your past I'm the echo of your footsteps I'm your shadow cast I'm the heat you radiate I am the fury and the fate I am each beat within your heart from first to last I'm your action without thought I am the instinct born inside you I'm the bones from which you drape I am protective skin to hide you I'm the pull that the earth exerts I am the rain that stings and the snow that blinds I'm the architecture of your world and mind I am the dawn of ages I am the days seen through I'm final entropy I am inside of you I am the clouds that cover Your way into the blue I kiss with life to give All this in spite of you.