Melanie Wilson has strange powers. She sucks up time like juice through a straw. I could have sworn we were only watching her new show at the BAC for fifteen, maybe twenty minutes at most, but when we checked our watches on exiting almost an hour had passed.
Wilson has worked with The Clod Ensemble and Chris Goode (in ...Sisters at the Gate), but she also creates her own work. Her new show Iris Brunette is influenced by Chris Marker’s La Jetee, a French short film composed of still black and white images about apocalypse and time travel on which Terry Gilliam based Twelve Monkeys.
It is designed to be performed to just sixteen people at a time. The General Office at the BAC has been lit like the inside of a chapel or a phosphorescent cave and the audience sit in a circle, facing each other, while Wilson perches among us on a folding stool. From here she tells a story with a whiff of espionage to it: there are lots of snatched encounters in cafes and a strong sense of coming danger, of some kind of war or devastation. The setting for her tale is deliberately elusive, part of both the future and the past.
A spotlight picks out each audience member in turn. We are the characters who people her strange story: a cartographer, a sea captain and so forth. There is a degree of audience involvement with Wilson positioning herself in different places in the circle and speaking to people in friendly tones, soliciting their advice and playing games. Some respond with geeky good humour, others in unnerved silence, suddenly very interested in their shoes.
Throughout the piece there are periods of blackness during which we hear a soundscape of café chatter and strange clanking noises like the sound a descending elevator might make. Wilson’s own voice narrating, both recorded and spoken, also forms part of the aural backdrop. Clad in a black dress with a long watch chain around her neck and the light playing across her sculptural features and her dancing, delicate wrists, she is a striking guide through this odd, other world.
Iris Brunette is at times impenetrable – when asked about it by someone the next day I really struggled to explain what it was about – but it was never less than hypnotic, a disorientating and memorable show, a transporting experience, that left me all of a quiver, looking at my watch and wondering.
These words also appear over here.