a little space
Square Chapel, Halifax
a little space is a collaborative production (appropriately, they describe it as an adventure) by Gecko and Mind the Gap. Together they lit up a decidedly dark and wintery Halifax. Created by Mind the Gap’s Charli Ward and Karen Bartholomew and Gecko’s Dan Watson and Rich Rusk, a little space is, at its most basic, a group of stories about the residents of an apartment block. However, this production is anything but basic.
It starts before we even realise. As the audience is directed to their seats, a young woman casually steps onto the stage and begins to rearrange the various pieces of furniture in a small apartment room– a table, an armchair, a lamp. She’s clearly enjoying personalising the space – she pauses for a moment to playfully drum her fingers on the table. The joy when she finds the optimum position for the armchair is infectious. You could be forgive for not even realising this is taking place, it’s all so unassuming. It could just be a stagehand making a few last minute finishing touches to the set. And these small series of actions get straight to the heart of one if themes of a little space, how do we carve out our own space in this world?
The backdrop is made up of a tangle of pipes that wrap around one another before shooting off in their own individual directions. She takes out a wrench and then begins to play a tune on these very pipes as the auditorium explodes with music and the five strong cast creep onto the stage to begin their opening dance. They weave through and around one another, much like the pipes of the backdrop, until they end up in a circle, almost – but not quite – holding hands.
The story, follows three key characters: A young woman moves into an apartment, seemingly on her own for the first time. A young couple, completely in tune and wrapped up in one another, begin to fall apart as one half tumbles down a rabbit hole of addiction as he becomes increasingly obsessed with the television in the corner of the room.
Again, it all sounds so simple, but yet the story is so ambiguous and open to interpretation that it allows a great depth and complexity to unfurl before our eyes. These residents aren’t given character names and they have little to no dialogue. They could be anyone, they could be saying anything. We’re treated to ghostly visitatons and flashbacks that hint at past traumas but these are never explained, allowing the audience to develop their own interpretations and emotional connections. The story is told in a series of vignettes that weave seamlessly into one another with flourishes of choreography and subtle shifts of the scenery as we move from one flat to another. At one moment, the production zooms in on the mundane – the young woman sits at the table completing word puzzles, the couple brush their teeth as they get ready for another day. In an instant, it shifts into the surreal as the floorboards open up and characters tumble through them into bizarre landscapes, of giant shifting tower blocks of lights, of characters navigating their way through a dark and scary world with nothing but a lamp to help them find their way. In a perfect illustration of this striking balance of surreal and mundane, one of the performers finds herself trapped in a miniature version of the set and begins to suffer a panic attack. Another character presents her with a mug and suggests she sits down and has a nice cup of tea, puncturing her nightmares with calming, reassuring normality.
This ambiguity is what really helps the production to shine. a little space is a veritable Rubik’s cube of a show, with shifting set design and choreography, with ever evolving permutations that set both the head and the heartalight. This ambiguity is a core value of Gecko theatre, using it to both inspire and move audiences and here the balance between emotional resonance and brain food is near perfect. It’s a heady mix that never feels cold and calculated due to the collaborative process, a process that has resulted in an warm, organic and exciting performance.
Oh, and that light? It’s almost certainly a character all of it’s own, as an assortment of lamps, torches and light boxes abound, helping to steer through the shifting atmospheres, at times horrific, eerie, adventurous, hopeful and joyful. It’s visually striking and places the control of these lights into the hands of the cast, allowing the lighting to be an extension of the own characters, as though cast and lights are extensions of one another.
No matter how surreal the production can be, at its core it is thrillingly human. The five strong cast of Paul Bates, Lorraine Brown, Alison Colborne, JoAnne Haines and Charlotte Jones are all equally superb. Their enthusiasm is infectious, steering us deftly through their humble but emotionally resonant adventure that is at times sad and at others delightfully hilarious. Their choreography is both abstract and emotional, their quiet interjections that sit just beneath the music are increasingly affecting. As one character reluctantly moves into her new apartment, she pauses amidst the drama and gasps, ‘Can’t!’ It’s a tiny, but powerful moment of vulnerability that provides a sharp insight into another of the production’s themes – in this busy world of high rise blocks and interlocking lives, we are always alone but together, always together but alone. At moments, this is a source of huge joy, but at others – such as here – it’s a startling jab of pain.
Fortunately, it doesn’t end with pain. Those hands that never quite held one another at the start of the performance? Ultimately, that’s the central conflict at the centre of a little space. We’re watching the inner and outer turmoils of characters who live together but feel alone and disconnected with the rest of the word around them. Will they finally connect and hold hands? I’ll leave that for you to find out. However, on my way home, Mind the Gap and Gecko had lit a spark in my chest that left me feeling compelled to stagger out into the world, to breathe in it’s beautiful light, form new connections and hold new hands.