Trainers by Sylvan Oswald

Is art even art if it is comprehensively linear?

A confusing narrative; performed exactly how it is written and intended. A piece of performance art that used props as its main form of expression; that transgresses genders norms and imprints important political monologues upon its viewers.

Set in a future (or past?) civil war, the author explores human connection and why we are attracted to power. Taking a peek into the lives of queer revolutionaries, during an exact timeframe that could not be identified; it explored topics related to gender, queerness and societal boundaries that were unquestionably timeless.

The performance brought two actors to the stage, who epitomised the non-binary gender norms that the performance was written to celebrate. Whilst this love story presented a confusing, yet ultimately important narrative about the role we all have to play in society, it was equally an exquisite display of the human body and the power of movement and speech to portray human emotion.

The cast; Nicki Hobday and Nando Messias; are both visual and performance artists, which explains their selection to play these roles. Whilst Hobday is a theatre creator and performer, currently touring with renowned experimental performance company Forced Entertainment, Messias challenges and critiques gender, visibility and violence using performance art, dance and theatre. As well as being a researcher of queer theory, he is also the movement director for the Theo Adam’s company.

The writer, transgender theatre artist Sylvan Oswald, explores the way in which we forge individual and national identities through performance, theatrical essays and publications.

The overwhelming emphasis on space and props brought a dimension to the narrative that could only be so eloquently expressed by these two; who clearly have the necessary self-awareness of their bodies and their space.

Chairs and rolled up rugs represented characters and their deaths were marked by the careful placement of the upright object, being placed onto the floor in a horizontal position.

This use of pops and space were the brain child of the Director, Hestor Chillingworth, has won awards for his use of space from the small spaces commission. He claims ‘I like using mundane and functional materials [as sets/props] that anyone can lay their hands on, and the work often has a cartoon-esque, ‘too simplistic’ aesthetic.’

Held in the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, the space was white, light, small and intimate, yet the characters explored different landscapes using just their bodies and voices to set a scene for the audience.

The props seemed to have no cohesive correlation to the cast or the plot and added a humble-jumble that powerfully brought beauty to the performance. Director, Hestor Chillingworth, who has won awards for his use of space from the small spaces commission claims ‘I like using mundane and functional materials that anyone can lay their hands on, and the work often has a cartoon-esque, ‘too simplistic’ aesthetic.’

Something worth commending was the intricacy and perfection with which the duo performed their lines. On multiple occasions, they had to produce the same line, in complete synch with one another, and at one point with food in their mouths. The audience watched in awe as they produced powerful monologues, completely in time with one another; a feat I can only imagine is near enough impossible, unless the right chemistry, time and effort is made.

Trainers is on at Notting Hill Theatre until the 21st of March 2020 and adult tickets start at £18. More info and booking here.

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