Small Metal Objects

Devised by Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sonia Teuben, Genevieve Morris and Jim Russell
Back to Back Theatre
Stratford East Station
(2007)

Sonia Teuben and Simon Laherty

This is a fifty minute piece designed for any busy transportation centre or pedestrian concourse in which an audience equipped with headphones watches an enactment among the passengers and others hurrying before them. Premiered originally in Flinders Street Station, Melbourne, in 2005, it now finds a perfect setting beneath the glass canopy of the modern Stratford (East London) Station where passengers hurry across concourses, up escalators and down stairs to access tube, DLR, suburban and main line rail systems. With the audience placed high in the station's mezzanine they can watch trains coming and going and follow the pattern of the crowds, the hurrying hordes and those who loiter, those who appear to be having an assignations, those rushing home and those out for an evening still to come.

Among them are the characters in this piece devised by Back to Back Theatre, a company of actors considered to have learning disabilities, though that's no help in spotting who they are.

With a rather attractive music track to start with, and intermittently thereafter, you begin to hear a conversation between two men. A man who tells us that he's married but that if his wife wanted to leave he wouldn't stop her as she's not tied to him like a dog, and his friend - and they do turn out to be very close friends - who doesn't have a girl-friend and thinks he must be gay.

By then you have already found a few prospects who might be the actors and as often rejected them: they don't fit the voices or their gestures don't match the conversation. Could this be the gimmick: there aren't any actors there at all?

No, we are not being tricked. Eventually you spot them: a round shaped guy, too far away to see clearly what he's wearing but there's something odd about that coat. Yes, this is Gary (played cross-gender and cross-dressed by Sonia Teuben) and the thin guy in the sort of yellow anorak turns out to be Steve (Simon Laherty). There is dependency and loyalty here, a glimpse of a rather touching relationship. There's a call on Gary's mobile, some bloke who says Darren told him to call - that's all, he keeps repeating it.

Could he be there? There are so many people you can see with mobiles to their ears. As Gary goes up an escalator there's someone coming down the steps straight past him who - yes, mouth and voice seem to match. That's Allan (Jim Russell), but he can't find Gary and keeps asking people if they're him. There's a trade award event he's running and his got A$5k to offer for 'the gear' to make everyone there happy? Could Gary be a dealer or is this all a big mistake? Things begin to hinge on going to where 'the gear' is, but Steve wants to stay on the station and Gary won't leave him. Allan calls up assistance: a psychiatrist (Genevieve Morris) who offers first professional help and then more physical temptations, but Steve won't have it.

This is a relatively simple little piece that looks at the way people use each other. It is subtly played and might well hold any audience for its fifty minutes, but the added game of the location among real people in a real place gives it a little extra, quite apart from all the other scenarios you may invent for others among the crowds. It is the sort of work well-fitted to tour the plethora of arts festivals around the globe. I can't decide whether its novelty makes it appear more weighty or whether that novelty may be obscuring something deeper. Why Small Metal Objects? Maybe it is something Australian that I am too naïve or too innocent to know - but I wouldn't be surprised if somebody is already at work on a thesis about the mythical role of gender in transportational metatheatre or something rather like it!

At Stratford Station until 10th November

Reviewer: Howard Loxton