Domestica

Sammy Metcalfe (with Gloria March Chulvi, Iara Solano Arana, Malla Sofia Pessi)
Sleepwalk Collective
Home, Manchester (Theatre 2)

Domestica Credit: Alex Brenner

It’s sometimes difficult to encapsulate the character of a production, but here’s my attempt for Sleepwalk Collective’s, Domestica:

A bright but disaffected AS Level student (studying Art History and Drama) comes to feel that (a) everything in art has been done and (b) art changes nothing so (c) it’s all a waste of time. The student decides to put on a show, co-opting three fellow students to parade, elegantly, around the stage, occasionally striking poses from the history of art (such as Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”), while reciting mock-profound text into a microphone.

To be fair, the current fad to have an actor in situ as the audience enters (often to no purpose) is certainly ripe for parody. A woman dressed in a lime green gown, with stylised golden wings attached, sits at the head of a long table (think “The Last Supper”) which is draped in black. She is amusing herself with one of those children’s bats that have a rubber ball attached to a length of elastic. What’s the point? I think, to be fair, this is Sleepwalk Collective’s question, too. So far so ironic, but it’s all downhill from here.

The show is segmented into “panels” after the manner of images in an art history book. Each panel is dated (we begin and end in 2016 but, along the way, visit 1896, 1485, 1821, 1652) and the dates refer, by and large, to art works being loosely referenced. As each scene progresses (though "progress" is a questionable term, here) small numbered tags are placed about the set; tags of the kind used to draw attention to aspects of masterpieces in art history books… or indeed to locate empty cartridges at a crime scene.

By this time, two other young women (one in red, the other in black) have joined the first, and text is recited (sometimes mirrored by text projected onto the backdrop). This is about "us versus you", we are told. We are told not to expect "magical transformations", only "truth". What "truth" we are offered, beyond the truth that there are indeed no "magical transformations", remains a mystery throughout.

Domestica is a deliberate mishmash of allusions to western art from classical Greek times onwards. It signifies next to nothing—and indeed, that seems to be the message (although "message" is too grand a title for what Domestica provides).

Not quite delivering on its stated aim to bore us to death, the production determinedly sends up its audience: "all trying to figure something out, but there’s nothing really there."

There are some witty moments—all things come in threes: "we are three graces, three witches, three ghosts, three sisters… three little pigs." There are even one or two moments which, only for an instant, promise something worth pondering: did Mary ("the original God-fucker") ever wish she’d had a daughter? But this is not enough, not nearly enough.

Theatre 2 at Home is an appropriate venue for the avant garde and experimental, but even theatre with such aspirations cannot be allowed to sidestep the noblesse oblige of all theatre. Never mind the price of a ticket, an audience grants you something much more precious—a small portion of their lives. At a rough calculation—putting together performance time and travel time—tonight’s crowd have donated around 500 hours of human lifetime. They are owed more than Sleepwalk Collective pay them in return.

There is an epilogue whose message, quite literally is: “Shhhh… Go home.”

I add a prologue: “Shhhh… Don’t leave home in the first place.”

Reviewer: Martin Thomasson