Thursday, November 20, 2014

'Mummy' by Amy Gwilliam at Mimetic Festival, 18th November 2014

Watching someone rummage about in an attic for an hour doesn't sound like the most immediately tantalising prospect in the world.  Yet Amy Gwilliam's one woman show makes this process into a miniature psychological epic; complete with fierce battles against memory, delusion and procrastination.  

Skinny, spectacled and sporting a tousled blonde bedhead Gwilliam has a striking stage presence.   Her bony body is all angular jutting elbows and knees, her face rubbery and expressive, all capped off by two hugely expressive eyes that make you feel like you're caught in high-beam headlights.  She makes for an elastic, almost cartoonish, figure; one moment embodying a confident, independent woman in her late 20s and the next regressing down until we can spot the mischievous ten year old she once was.

The Spartan attic set comprises a handful of boxes labelled things like 'Elizabeth', 'Books', 'Home Vids' and 'Fancy Dress' together with a desk and an incongruous looking laptop. She's up here in an effort to find a calm, quiet spot to write the conclusion of her thesis, due in the following morning.  But with rain hammering down on the roof and the detritus of her past lying all around, she's easily distracted and falls into an archaeological investigation of her life.

Along the way she'll play hits from her parent's old record collection, dress up in her dead mother's clothes and become dismayed when she realises that her father has thrown away all her old Spice Girls merchandise.  More importantly she'll exhume the ghost of her childhood imaginary friend; a cheeky Australian goat named Cliff.  This all adds up to an episodic trawl through a life, with dramatic tension created by the pressure of an impending deadline hovering over her.

With this focus on procrastination, the appearance of dead relatives and the faint hints of craziness that run through the show, there's whiff of Hamlet at play here.  It's a very faint whiff, but it's there.  Sure there's no sword fights, murders or poisonings, yet the dramatic pressure of finding excuses to avoid doing doing something important, wrapped up with familial turmoil echoes similar pressures found in Shakespeare's play. That said, Hamlet never popped on velour leggings and a sequinned shawl and danced around to Madonna's Ray of Light.

There's a lot of consistent thematic meat to enjoy in Mummy; the thesis that's not being concluded is about formalising the process of death and dying, taking Cleopatra's efforts to immortalise her memory as a focal point.  In the attic Gwilliam is of course surrounded by the quasi-forgotten flotsam and jetsam that accumulates around a person - coming to playing Lara Croft as she raids her parent's tombs.  

It all ties together into the dual meaning of Mummy (as in ancient Egypt) and Mummy (as in mother); allowing us to get to grips with death and how objects can retain memory even after their owner is six feet under. This realisation layers in a decent amount of pathos, underlined by Gwilliam's emotionally accessible and vulnerable performance.  This, combined with some excellent lighting and sound cues makes for an occasionally powerful experience.

That said this is a work in progress and it's not without flaws.  The episodic structure means we move between dramatic ideas without a huge amount of continuity.  Not every segment of the performance is as successful as the rest; it takes a while to get into gear at the beginning and a fourth wall breaking bit of audience interaction is well played, but doesn't really gel with the rest of the performance.

Nonetheless I enjoyed myself.  I found it easy to get sucked into this dusty (well, talcumy) psychological microcosm.  Notably, every time I stopped to note that I thought things were getting a bit dull, something interesting happened mid pen-stroke and I changed my mind. Right now it's a good piece; with some judicious editing and the willingness to 'kill your darlings' it could be a great piece.

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