An important aspect of Ramps on the Moon day hosted by New Wolsey Theatre at Pulse Festival, as part of the theatre’s Agent for Change programme, was showcasing high quality work that offered an opportunity for the audience to consider impairment-related theatre, language and communication and aesthetic access. Review by Liz Porter.
Hardy Animal written, created and performed by Laura Dannequin with creative advice from Dan Canham, was supported by ACE, the Wellcome Trust and Bristol Old Vic.
A stark solo performance, simply staged. A dancer recounts her story of living with chronic pain and how this has impacted on her body and life as a dancer – a tale of human fragility and resilience.
She retraces a brutal journey of loss and hope and looks at our need to create meaning in a baffling world – where often there are no answers, just misunderstandings, judgements and ignorance. It is a constant battle with internalised and external emotions searching for routes to reach out and survive, exploring ways to manage the pain and finally coming to a place of understanding, acceptance and recovery.
The audience needs to work extremely hard, faced with only Laura on stage and a constant stream of words (spoken and recorded) with very little movement. Each movement is small and painstakingly and deliberately worked out.
Initially we sit in darkness and concentrate on her words, a reflection on the unseen, the hidden and the unknown, gradually evolving into a black box spotlit with small sequences of shadow work as though Laura is examining her half naked body in a mirror and a final lecture, as though we are medics, perhaps?
Did it work? It was more poetry than theatre, and the venue wasn’t convincing. I kept wondering what it would be like presented in a museum, because it felt like we were examining a specimen. However, the piece has stayed with me.
Hardy Animal conveys a strong and important message around hidden impairment and I bought the book afterwards. Pulse were right to programme this work and I can see it working well in festivals such as SICK Festival perhaps with a Q&A afterwards to discuss the issues the piece raises.
Hardy Animal was supported by captioning and audio description. As there was little movement I didn’t feel description through headphones was necessary as a visually-impaired person.
However, Laura had factored in some initial description of her stance at the beginning and I preferred this. She could have taken the approach further, as she clearly enjoys working with layers of words. I felt this could have been an effective device to play with and hope she will give it some consideration.