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Keep Breathing/Like You Were Before – STK

Posted by on 03/05/2011 • Categorised in Art,Theatre

I really love taking non-theatre-people to theatre. Not that there’s in essence ‘non-theatre-people’. There’s just a lot of people who don’t go see/do/to theatre. But hopefully you know what I mean; nothing in the world feels like theatre does, and it’s such a thrill to bring people to that.

I took an old school friend, and non-theatre-person to see the double bill of Keep Breathing/Like You Were Before at Stoke Newington International Airport (STK) (as part of the excellent London Word Festival) this Thursday. Two intimate, and at the same time widely reaching pieces, gentle, but at times painful. They did what theatre does best; make you remember yourself, and your body, your breath, and the people you’re made up of.

Like You Were Before by Debbie Pearson is a simple piece of storytelling about her moving from Toronto to the UK several years ago. Murmured words on video are played out in front of us, as Pearson traces herself, her movements, the gaps, the places where she used to be; physically, vocally, narratively. Following on video her last days in Toronto, Like You Were Before stumbles through an awkward dance, private conversations, a swig of vodka, details that only she could know. A gentle piece that focussed on the peculiar and inimitable relationship between female friends, conveyed with a sense of being let into a box full of memories, but with the holder’s occasionally snatching certain painful ones – as she fast forwarded, paused, and skipped sections – away. Simple, and everyday; in the best kind of way.

Keep Breathing is a new piece of work from Chris Goode. This (I believe) was the first outing of this work in progress commissioned by the Drum Theatre Plymouth about breath – and the things you can do and say with it. Simply begun as the question ‘say what you would like to say to the world, anything that you can say in one breath’ sent out to 6 people. Keep Breathing traced the journey of this question, through responses, conversations, meetings, and the questioner’s own thoughts, reactions, tellings. Held in a particularly conversational style – but supportively guided by the structure of the questions and Goode’s beautiful little linguistic refrains – Keep Breathing was a passionate tale about the things people put their breath to, and Goode’s realisation that much of his own work is scored by it. This realisation is made doubly poignant by revelations about his mother’s struggles with a respiratory illness.

As we were walking to the venue before the show, my engineering-PhD friend asked about theatre: ‘does it not feel, I don’t know, I don’t mean the word pointless, but to put all that work in, and then for it to end, finish, and there not be anything afterwards?’ I muttered something about life, and existence, and beauty not always being defined by usefulness.

My friend’s question was directly and indirectly answered by both Like You Were Before, and Keep Breathing. Debbie’s murmured traces connecting her past and present selves, Chris’ piece about life, death, and moments built of shared, collective breaths. Keep Breathing finished with an audience member (Debbie, in fact) blowing bubbles as Chris presented a spoken montage of the hour passed, as each image flashed before our ears, a bubble had a brief, beautiful little existence. “Breathe in, breathe out… It’s alright, isn’t it?”

I took an old school friend, and non-theatre-person to see the double bill of Keep Breathing/Like You Were Before at Stoke Newington International Airport (as part of the excellent London Word Festival) this Thursday. And I was proud to do so. They were perfect.

Like You Were Before by Deborah Pearson from londonwordfestival on Vimeo.

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