The inaugural performance at the Pegasus of Anja Meinhardt’s physical theatre company, Justice in Motion, in collaboration with Oxfordshire Community Against Trafficking (OXCAT) takes a bold first step with Bound. With the intention of “building a bridge between social justice campaigns and the arts” Justice in Motion present a powerful and intimate piece blending elements of dance, dramatic performance, video and sound.

Three characters inhabit the stage, and the attention of the audience is first focussed on each in detail, but as the action progresses and the stories blend, the characters’ movements begin to shadow each other through their shared experiences. The performance of Emma Webb as a cleaning lady whose hopes of independence are shattered by the dreamless drudgery of her life, anchors the audience into the story. The source of much of the humour in the piece, her storyteller-like role frames the narrative whilst her performance maintains strong characterisation.

Meinhardt’s sensitive portrayal of the character named “Sad Eyes” by the cleaner was central to my enjoyment of the piece. The echoes of her former life surround her, using both mime performance and video to establish an emotional connection to the character through her relationship with her young daughter. Once thoroughly invested in the character, the audience is then submitted to a bombardment of sound and visuals, as the performer jerks and tears at her clothing. This was a rather distressing, and indeed powerful, scene that was undoubtedly successful in personalising the horror of human trafficking. This could easily have been overdone – the absence of any threatening characters from the stage (outside of video footage, and even then, faceless) took away the possibility any simplistic good/bad hero/villain reading of the performance, and left us with the victim alone. I particularly thought the video elements of the performance were skilfully handled – they helped establish an emotional connection without being overly-sentimental. Nor did they seem forcibly inserted or incongruent with the performances of the dancers but instead inhabited the same performance space without one dominating or ousting the other.

The most silent of all the characters, referred to as “Monkey Boy” by the cleaner, was a bit of an enigma. “Sad Eyes” had her letters and the cleaner had direct address to establish character and communicate to the audience – “Monkey Boy” was less able to do so. Despite a powerfully physical performance where his acrobatic, freedom-loving movements were caught and restrained by his continuous exhaustive work, I felt that I wanted him to have a bigger slice of the narrative action. Matt Mulligan possessed an element of vulnerability in his expressive performance that held up against the more obvious emotive qualities in the performances of the other two dancers.

Light touches of humour and the small scale of the production enabled it to handle the subject of human trafficking without being overwhelmed and losing the personal. This could have easily been a depressing production but, whilst undoubtedly emotional, I did not leave the Pegasus in a miserable state of mind. I don’t think Bound particularly enlightened me to the nature of human trafficking but it certainly personalised it – which is incredibly important when so many victims are being shamed and criminalised rather than treated with understanding and respect.

Eleanor Jones

8th October 2013

Advertisements