I had the privilege of snatching a little preview of ‘Barely Visible’ a few weeks ago – a new theatre performance incorporating a 100-foot pole into an exploration of the queer experience. Part-dance, part semi-autobiographical monologue, Rowena Gander (the sole performer) stretches out to the audience at the very seams of the space, her defiant and often ironic words pushing past the barriers of the fourth wall and into the audience’s consciousness.
It takes a few minutes for the audience to settle into the exchange that they learn, encouraging their response- by the end, gasping freely at Gander’s incredible dexterity and fierce strength, with scatters of applause. There are moments we, as the audience, feel suspended with Gander, raised into flight, but a smart remark, an elegant descent, and laughter punctuates the air, and the audience is back on known ground- not airborne after all.
But that’s the greatest strength of Gander’s performance- for there is an understanding that though Gander’s ability to articulate her body will, likely, far exceed our own, she speaks of an experience that many share. “Dirty”- the snarling recorded voice lashes out in the darkness. She looks up, face smeared with mud. She smiles prettily, puts on make-up and totters on invisible stilettos, a posture that starkly contrasts her usual easy, confident gait. This articulates not only the queer experience, but that of women, of ‘other’. The show portrays that expectation impressed upon us to fit into acceptable ways of being. Rowena emulates this, the restriction is painful and she struggles to stand, to be. Then she punches out of those constraints, quite literally, flying above the audience.
We take a collective breath. For though we can’t all move with the intelligence and skill of Rowena Gander, there are always ways for us to break out, fly- to expand beyond expectations that we otherwise might have allowed to restrain us. It is a reminder in itself breathtaking to behold.
‘Barely Visible’ Creative Team
Dircted by Elinor Randle
Performed by Rowena Gander
Original sound score by Noel Jones
Lighting design by Phil Saunders
Produced by Claire Bigley – Please contact Claire for all booking inquiries – [email protected]
This work is supported Arts Council England and by Unity Theatre as part of their Open Artist Callout.
Photography by Andrew Ness
‘Barely Visible’ is touring around Liverpool, performing at Edge Hill University on 15 March and Square Chapel in Halifax on the 6th April (more performances to be added).