#5 Interiors

Theatre ( Mime, Animation ) Barbican Theatre

Barbican LIMF


Ensemble theatre for six players, a funny and tense dinner party in an isolated cabin in the far, snow-covered North. A dining room as a stage within a stage, and an outside narrator looking in with the audience. A fish bowl for humans.

Old man host, his grand-daughter, the reluctant boyfriend, the frumpy woman next door, the uneven couple, and the dark stranger. A one room play delivered without any direct dialogue. A study of wants and desires, a compassionate display of our failure to connect with the people around us.

Lola is young and sexually curious, keen on Christian. Christian is keen on getting out of town, much less keen on Lola. Paul is keen on Aurora, he's quite a simple man. Aurora is wild and free, in the moment, and not so keen on Paul, though probably afraid to be alone. Bola is the virile black man, enjoying a vibrant life of small pleasures. Sergio, the host, misses his wife and daughter, holds on to tradition and the last fragments of his memories.

Nothing much happens in the play, the group shares a meal and some moments together, only to disband at the end of the night. Interiors is a story about ordinary people and the ways in which our flawed internal processing drives our behaviour.

Everyone at the party has their thoughts revealed to the audience by the omniscient narrator, eventually personified as a white-clad character on stage. The narrator pre-empts the action, in the process gaining authority and casting an uneasy spell of pre-determination over the whole story. And yet the story doesn't go anywhere. In a way the narrator gives away too much, especially towards the end.

Deliciously, there's a constant threat of danger lurking below the facade of domesticity and the mundane events that actually take place. A sequence with a contact lens establishes that the group is capable of extreme collective action, completely void of emotion. Combined with the multiple copies of Chekhov's guns and an uneasy score, the ending could well have been much darker and still be completely coherent tonally.

The play is open for all kinds of interpretation. Things are not explained thoroughly, merely implied. The story is what you make of it. The audience can probably agree on what happened in the story, but when it comes to the reasons and motivations for them, no two viewers are likely to agree. We can't help projecting our own view of the world into stories like these.

Director Matthew Lenton was joined by actors Aurora Peres and Lola Aluko in the post-show Q&A.

Interiors is Vanishing Point's most successful show. Hugely popular, it's been on tour since 2009. This is the ninth cast.

The show doesn't really allow for great changes in the plot, but as the actors change, so does the show. The actors bring their own personality and character. And they bring their name as well: all of the actors apparently play eponymous characters. It's not clear if this is some kind of role play, or an alter ego scheme or what.

The play hasn't been seen in the UK for quite a while. Lenton remarked on slight differences there with international audiences. The British audience is better at lipreading, so the laughs are timed differently.

The pandemic didn't really affected the show that much. Rather, Lenton observed that for the first time, the show is definitely about the past. For example, the play make no sense with mobile phones. The play exists in its own world, and not noticing phones is in keeping with the spirit of the play. It's an evening around the table in the old style.

A question from the audience prompts Lenton to explain the setting. It turns out that the guns are for the polar bears, for we are in Svalbard. All Lenton's shows feature snow somehow. Outside is beautiful, and hard and cold. Indoors it is safe and warm. The people who survive the harsh environment are the social, civil ones.

The atmosphere and the idea for the play was developed by Lenton following his strolls through snowy Glasgow, looking into rooms through windows. He was there as a beguiled observer, as witness to the soundless plays of the city, all the poetic successes and failures of human connection. There's something of Jacques Tati's Playtime here, a comic voyeurism of evening domesticity.

Is the show about nuances of human relations? A play about the mundane, a study of the banal? Is the narrator living an extended suffering, unable to live? Lenton approached the matter from a different direction. Concept art is built on one idea, something clean and clear. Theatre is conceived: it's not about one idea, it's about constructing something that's open for interpretation.

For example, the narrator may or may not be reliable. It is implied with visuals that she is a ghost, but perhaps she is the Moon watching over the hopeless humans. Or maybe just a curious polar bear passing by. The old man has his reasons for doing things, but the reason is never spelled out. The audience has to piece things together in a way that makes sense to them.

Aurora has been on the show since the beginning. Lola is still doing a BA and joined the show only recently. How do you find the relationships? The story changes with each person. Lola found it wonderful to come to a show with such a legacy. Pragmatically it's all about hitting the fixed points, but between them the actors have some freedom.

The actors do not use their voice, and must not make any noise. The dining room, while sectioned off, is not a sound proof box! There's no whispering between the actors either. At the same time the actors are certainly disconnected from the audience because of the wall.

For Lenton the play is about getting into the head space of the characters. It's the interior of the mind that is being explored here. This led to the idea of the narrator. The narrator emerged from the devising where as director he gave directions over a screen with a microphone, "gifting" actions to the actors. Their task was to act out the given intentions. This disembodied voice became the ghost, that someone looking in.

Is it a random group of strangers, are the missing the intimacy of true friendship? Lenton counters that all dinner parties are a form of social performance. Social interaction is awkward, people fail to connect. It is exactly the inability to fulfil wants and needs that leads to disconnect.

Lola got the final word. It's a unique show, difficult to prepare for. One has to plunge into it and explore the interface between acting and putting the training aside, just being people. It's necessary to be open and playful with this silent play. Lots of things happen, but nothing really changes.