Entering Smock Alley theatre we are lead to a holding area for a few minutes before being brought to The Empty Space, a large square area all stone walls and the scent of damp jumpers. It is no longer empty; instead it is filled with a tall metal frame underneath a white sheet. Behind the thin white gauze we see a lighted lamp. The light grows, or we grow accustomed to the darkness and we see a child, or a beast, a wild silhouette on all fours. We can’t see its gaze but we know that it’s intent on the lamp. The figure reaches for the lamp but is thwarted by an invisible force. The figure gets agitated. It cannot get to the light, but it cannot abandon its quest. We see more of the beast, its head of hair is thick and matted, and its body is barely sheathed in drab, colourless cloth. We feel its pain as it begins to writhe in the agony of the unattainable. Then the sounds begin. Whispers and flutters at first and with them other bodies appear, drifting in and out of the light, shadows on the edge of our consciousness. The lamp begins to swing and still we are transfixed. The main form jerks and shudders as the sounds grow to noises and then a racket. The whispers are whistles and bangs and thumps and scratches as the figure runs crawling in and out of vision. Still the light swings and still the other body’s prowl. The figure is tormented, the noise is a now a din, the light grows and grows and then, and then... We are led upstairs. The noise ends, the light ends and we are left to find a place on a metal gallery, now overlooking what we had just been trying to gain a clear view of.This is Slat, the zenith in predictably unpredictable modern art installations. The play is an overall commentary on life: the despair and difficulty of survival, the harshness of others and our incapacity to express ourselves as we desire.The piece is based around one actor Maki Watanabe, who delivers a striking performance. She is the child beast, obscured by darkness, and she doesn’t let up for a second. She leaps and bounds, rolls and screams, sweats and spits. There is one instance where she climbs the metal construct to meet our bewildered eyes on the balcony. She creeps along the barrier, strands of her dishevelled hair stuck to her forehead. Her tongue droops out of her mouth as she battles each one of us with her stare. This is one of the great theatre experiences, something I can tell others in order to cap all other strange stage stories with. The rest of the play lacked this kick, though there is plenty scream.Other than this moment, there are a few haunting images that are not to be discarded: when Maki Watanabe is crawling along the floor, or opening up like a flower under a single stream of illumination. The lighting of this play is remarkable; it’s not often that the beam of a bulb contributes so much to the atmosphere and meaning. Lack of words forces you to consider the nuances of light, movement and sound, which are well controlled and neatly done in this production.It is challenging, but only to an extant. The audience is put to the test, the discomfort of the setting and the torturous shrieking but it’s still quite safe. Something is missing. We are brought to an early climax and then it just keeps on going. The tempo rises and falls and we are in a way brought along with it, but we are left strangely dissatisfied. I almost wanted it to be freezing cold or to be standing on nails, something to transport this from a spectacle to a confrontation. Slat, like its protagonist, is reaching for the light. But for some reason we cannot quite see its grasp is resisted.

Reviews by Elizabeth Cox



The Blurb

A unique collaboration between some of Ireland’s leading visual, music and theatre artists and internationally renowned performers; slat is a visceral performance piece inspired by the phenomenon of feral/wolf children and their struggle to exist when confronted by the ”normal world”. It explores the dichotomy of nature versus nurture, the language of survival, and how our most primal of senses would act in their rawest states.

Featuring the mesmeric movement of Japanese Butoh dancer Maki Watanabe, design and installation by Alice Maher and Paul Keogan, live music and sound design by Trevor Knight, vocal/electric guitar Rebecca Collins, percussion Robbie Harris, vocal and accordion Julie Feeney and choreography by Gyohei Zaitsu, slat is an intense and unique synthesis of music, dance and live-art.