Geared towards raising awareness of human rights violations, Am I is most effective in its ability to turn its question back on the audience: who are we, and what part do we have to play in this violence? The performance is palpably intense and the sense of unease induced by the rather uncomfortable depiction of brutality is something that sticks with you long after you’ve left the theatre.
Am I is inspired by the story of Sophie Hayes whose boyfriend sold her into the sex trade. The depiction of dehumanising uniformity through costume conveyed the danger of falling into such anonymity, setting up the worrying notion that it could be anyone.
Perhaps the most shrewd directorial decision was having the sole male dancer – the trafficker – sit with the audience. While we watch the sex workers deal with the complex emotions born from the pains of invisibility, we become not only voyeurs of the violence but actually complicit in its perpetuation.
The male lead is taken on by the beautiful and imposing Wayne Wallen. The high points of the performance are the sequences that display the girls’ ambivalence towards their abuser, wherein sadistic aggression crosses the line towards erotic power. At times, Wallen’s character becomes almost sympathetic as they are all caught up in a corrupted cycle of reciprocal oppression.
Problematically, the latter group sections – in a bid to convey their presumably addicted states – came across as slightly sloppy. There was one dancer so behind everyone else that I began to wonder whether she was genuinely inebriated! In general, there were times when there was simply too much going on, prohibiting the opportunity for true theatrical climax, or even the chance for the audience to witness some development within the performance itself.
Am I prides itself on being a multimedia experience, but the use of film and sound let the rest of the production down. The cinematic snapshots failed to add much meaning to the production, and the music was verging on bizarre. While the use of silence could have been very effective in moderation, the sound of slapping bodies became exhausting. When the music did start – erratically – it failed to connect to the theatrical drama.
Ultimately, the absence of narration, assisted by the continued anonymity of the female dancers, led the production to further the very namelessness of the victims that they are surely trying to contend. While the premise of the production is a very commendable one, I left wishing that even one of these characters could have been granted some dimension, some promise of agency or even identity.