Unfamiliar

Victor Esses and Yorgos Petrou
Casa Festival
Arcola Theatre
to

This year’s CASA Festival celebrating Latin American dance, film, music and theatre which opened last night in Dalston will present ten theatre pieces, two dance programmes and a dozen films, a choir, workshops, lots of music and six parties before it ends on 27 July.

It kicked off with this performance piece in which Victor Esses and his partner visual artist Yorgos Petrou look at their own relationship and their situation as a married gay couple planning on parenthood.

What they offer is a construct in which they talk into microphones, play prerecorded dialogues of their conversation and introduce montages of other voices. It begins with an intimate exchange recalling how they got together: alternating questions of “Do you remember…?" Each of them tells the things that they love about the other, personal details, physical features, their taste, their vulnerability.

Yorgos tells us, “I lived all my life in the shadows; I want to belong now.” And a demand gay people be treated like everyone else runs through the whole performance.

Victor compares the way his family have treated their relationship compared with those of his siblings: not including Yorgos in invitations, not even mentioning him.

They look at the way this project began, how it developed. Exploring the wish to be fathers and how it might happen, they go on to consider the effects on growing up with two fathers might have on their children.

While they have been able to marry and formalise their relationship, they remember how much homophobia still persists, that in some countries being homosexual can be punished by prison or execution.

This hour-long performance doesn’t explore new ground but being rooted in the personal makes it especially forceful. Its self-revelations could perhaps help change attitudes but those who need to hear them are unlikely to be listening. I would guess that the audience in the Arcola’s Studio would already be sympathetic.

How effective then is it as a piece of theatre? To me, there is something alienating about people talking to each other through microphones. These are not actors with trained voices, perhaps they need them (though they can only make them louder, not clearer), perhaps there is an intention to emphasise how much even our intimate lives are now conducted remotely through technology. The close-up amplification of the opening does suggest a sharing of secrets and the stillness of the performers during some prerecording sections was striking, though their munching their way through a picnic while another tape played just divided attention.

Those passages when there was live interaction were most effective, rolling on the ground to parallel thought patterns, or especially an actual kiss and tight embrace, which of course was the more potent because of the artificiality elsewhere.

To go by their eyes, what you get is performances of absolute honesty but I couldn't help feeling that reading the script for oneself would mean you could get every point and would be just as dramatic.

A note on the title, by the way, it is also meant to me un-familiar in the sense of un-familial, for this is indeed about families, what constitutes them, who is allowed them and how we are treated within them.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton