It's all so civilised at the start of Vanishing Point's latest study of the world through a lens darkly. A master of ceremonies introduces the night, and points out how what is about to follow was prompted by a photograph by Canadian artist Jeff Wall, and how his image of domestic destruction was inspired by a painting by Delacroix. After introducing actors Elicia Daly, Pauline Goldsmith and Barnaby Power, the MC stands behind one of two video cameras that film the next seventy-five minutes, which is beamed onto a screen above the stage that distances the live action below. The actors sit on the red sofa and chairs in what looks like an elegant looking chat show set, and they talk.
In something resembling a dinner party gone increasingly wrong, they talk of online videos and pictures of Bataclan and Syria, and how such images may or may not have affected them. As the talk goes on, meticulously constructed criss-crossing conversations become as infuriating for an audience as it was when American avant-garde troupe The Wooster Group recreated their experience of being on acid. Then, something remarkable happens, and it's as if the artifice and politesse onstage melts away so the real world flushes out all abstractions to invade a no longer civilised space.
Drawing from German artist Gustav Metzger's notion of auto-destructive art as much as crime scene investigation drama, the second half of Matthew Lenton's production, devised with the company, is a risky strategy in a theatrical context. More provocation than play, its exposure of all our liberal prejudices and fears in close-up like this nevertheless makes for an intense and discomforting experience.
The Herald, February 29th 2016