Monday, 12 July 2010

Ontroerend Goed - The Smile Off Your Face (review from Edinburgh Festival 2007)





I actually wrote the following review of Ontroerend Goed's The Smile Off Your Face three years ago, when I saw it in Edinburgh, at C Venues, as part of the Edinburgh Festival. If I'd written it today, I'd probably have written it slightly differently; as it is, I've left it untouched. I only posted it to my Facebook at the time, though; time it got a more public airing, particularly as it's pertinent to another review I'm about to write. Looking back over it, this contains spoilers; the edited version says "Just buy a ticket".

Quite simply the most surreal, most sensual, most utterly extraordinary 20 minutes of my entire life. I read the first couple of sentences of a review, realised that I needed to literally RUN to buy a ticket that day and did without bothering to read the rest of the review. The premise is simple: you are blindfolded and bound to a wheelchair and...things happen. The audience capacity is exactly one, so I sat in the waiting room with a slight feeling of trepidation which, as previous 'victims' came out in floods of tears, was mixed with nervous excitement. (The show isn't playing any more in the UK as far as I know but I'm about to spoil it so you might want to look away if you think you might hunt them down...which you SHOULD). Anyhow.

Blindfolded and with my hands bound, I was sat in a wheelchair and wheeled through a curtain into the unknown. For the next 20 minutes I was subjected to the complete range of sensual experiences and invasions of privacy. Faint music sounded from all directions. The a clock ticked just beside my right ear, then my left. Sudenly I was aware of the feeling of warmth, followed by the smell of cinamon just under my nose as I was wheled round. Apart from the faint ticking and music, there was no sound - it was impossible to tell if there was one person beside me or ten - or any at all. Sudenly I flinched violently; the unmisakeable sound of a cigarette lighter being lit beside my face. Not a pleasant experience when you're so vulnerable and my emotions were dominated by fear and paranoia at this point. Then I was encouraged to stand up and I felt a pair of hands touching my face, exploring me, feeling my shape. My hands were led to explore the other person's face. Who were they? was it someone blindfolded like me? Was it an actor? Or was it someone who was genuinely blind? I realised that I would leave the theatre with a lot of questions either answered or unanswered. Then another figure led me in a dance. I was sat down once again in the relative comfort and safety of the wheelchair. Or so I thought.

Suddenly I was violently thrown backwards - the wheelchair had no back. A girl was lying on top of me, arms around me, nuzzling me, dominating. Erotic? Hmmmmm. Alarming? Most definitely. She began a whispered conversation in my ear. Personal, yet abstract questions; every one of them seemed so profound I had to pause each time to come up with an answer that seemed inadequate in the circumstances, each time. Then she was gone as quickly as she'd arrived. As the first time anyone had spoken to me in the whole process, I was astonished at how quickly she had become my only friend and I felt lonely once again at her departure.

One disconcerting aspect was that it was impossible to work out how far I had been wheeled - it felt like a long ghost train. Soon another girl was talking to me, a new conversation, and once again I had to place my complete faith in her as she fed me various flavours. Then she said 'now I want you to see me' and for a second the blindfold was lifted to reveal a girl sitting, goddess-like, on a golden throne in a blaze of light, dressed entirely as Father Christmas.

Finally, feeling exhusted, came the climax. A young man spoke to me and took the blindfold off. He was sat staring into my face, about 6 inches from my visage, with electric blue eyes. Slowly he asked me to explain my experiences in a sort of 'debrief'. Then he asked me to give me the widest smile I had ever managed, and hold it. His own face gave me a strange, distant smile. I beamed at him enthusiastically. We stared into each others eyes, until I realised that there were tears rolling down his face. Slowly I was wheeled back through the arena - it turned out the whole thing had taken place in a tiny room.

Astonishing. I left exhausted and with my emotions in complete turmoil.


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