Performance collective Branch Nebula are looking to interrogate the boundaries of “theatre” including opening the form up to interdisciplinary fields of dance and sport and unusual urban modes. High Performance Packing Tape uses everyday materials to construct a homemade aesthetic and redefine theatrical expectations.
Performer Lee Wilson welcomes the audience to a scene of endurance: blowing up a balloon to popping point. An idea that simply captures the objectives of playful anticipation at work in this production. His other stunts incorporate cardboard boxes, packing tape, plastic chairs, rubber bands, and other ordinary objects that are reimagined in Wilson’s interaction with them.
One of the main attractions sees Wilson construct a tight rope out of packing tape wrapped around and around itself and stretched taut. Wilson completes the construction in complete view of the audience, as part of the performance, as a kind of act of transparency, eliminating the mystery or magical opacity of typical theatre. From here, Wilson is able to draw on his visual art background in the construction of unusual images of his body hung upside down, rigid with the strain, or dangling from rubber bands like some artistic interpretation of webbing or an amnionic sack.
Otherwise, the feats on display in this production vary from intensely juvenile, reminiscent of a teenage boy bored in his garage, and those more akin to impenetrable performance art. Of particular disappointment was watching a man dress himself in bubble wrap, tape a tape measure to a bit of tubing and swing it around like a whip behind a smoke haze and strobe lights. An almost unbelievable moment of performative self-indulgence.
There is something to be said about the appeal of the tension and release in such a production. The home-made aesthetic and giggle-inducing tricks promote an untroubled approach to the performance, an evening of easy relief. But Wilson’s manner of performance, with a complete disinterest in the presence or experience of the audience has a cold, cynical air about it; like an adult wanting to maintain a cool distance from the earnest joy of a circus. It only further compounds the quality of self-satisfaction permeating the production.
The sound design offered an interesting exploration of presence and absence in its composition of reverberated and remixed uses of diagetic sound: rubber balls bouncing off skin and cardboard, the fleshy creaking of packing tape, the organic cracking of crushed cardboard.
High Performance Packing Tape is a lo-fi combination of circus strength and performance art with the potential to celebrate the seams between theatre and performance, the underlying forces of entertainment, with mundane objects. Unfortunately, choices to alienate audiences culminating in Wilson stripping naked to swing from the ceiling, overshadow the interesting and evocative moments.
High Performance Packing Tape is running at the Sydney Opera House’s Studio from September 18th – 22nd as part of UnWrapped