The cold performance space at Éspace Libre reverberates with a crushing, industrial heartbeat pumped from invisible speakers. The crowd scurries about on the metal risers, rushing to find seats. The risers themselves fill the room with a ferrous, strangely cloying smell that threatens to overwhelm the bleak, converted factory and its bare, pit-like stage, and then – the sound of water rushing in the dark. In an industrial wasteland – a hidden spring. … sous silence, presented by Omnibus, is a visceral exploration of the cacophony of modern life, and moments of transcendent respite.
The production is carried – often literally – by four French mimes. There are no striped shirts or pancake make-up, but something in the stunning physical expressiveness of the four actors nevertheless recalls the literal miming of Marcel Marceau. The mimes reveal their unique presentational physicality as soon as the lights come up – the hidden spring was a man splashing water in a cup. A woman watches, leaning against the wall, yet one gets the impression that if the wall were missing, her posture would be unchanged.
For the duration of the performance, the entire world seems to depend on the mimes’ conjuration, even while they interact with representational video environments. At one brilliant moment, the actors flee from a small wave that laps across the floor, enlarged to look like a crashing tsunami. As the company leaps from projected rock to projected rock, the world takes on a miraculous three-dimensionality. It seems only natural, then, for performer Sacha Ouellette-Deguire to leap from his perch, dive into the rushing water, and swim entirely convincingly across the solid floor.
Dramaturgically, the show bears a greater resemblance to dance than to theatre. Its four movements – Battrage, Pression, Immersion, and Rivage – are projected on the wall at each transition. The titles act as lenses through which to view the movements, rather than descriptions of them. They link the abstract gestural scenes with the spoken snippets, and anchor both to the concept of water as a metaphor for the modern experience. In the absence of any singular narrative, this interaction nevertheless creates a comprehensible journey. The abstract physical vocabulary developed in the first section interacts with each of these titles, gathering meaning as the gestures resurface throughout the show.
The repetition of short verbal sections has the opposite effect, stripping words of their ability to retain their meaning in contrasting contexts. The production sometimes uses the interaction between the text and the physical environment to comment on the role of words themselves. However, the words more often overwhelm the actors, encouraging them to “emote” beyond the need of the passage, and even stripping them of their physical engagement. The exception was the beautiful concluding monologue by Pascal Contamine. He stands, joking with a projected river that has flooded the stage and forced the others to take refuge among the spectators above. Connecting the Rivage to the branches of the family tree, he pushes the connection between water and life beyond the individual, to all humanity.
… sous silence captures the essence of the theatrical – the ability to fashion a believable world from an empty space. Despite moments of overacting, the company creates a legible emotional experience from a largely abstract gestural vocabulary. The integration of sound, lighting, and projections complemented this rich world without overwhelming it, and forced the audience to contemplate the relationship between silence, noise and music, darkness, light and video in a novel way. Not silent, these mimes truthfully depict the struggle to find tranquility amidst the barrage of noise and the pressure of modern life, and the struggle to respect it once it’s found.
… sous silence finishes its run tonight at Éspace Libre, 1945 rue Fullum. For more information, visit the Omnibus website.