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Sabbagha’s new piece strong but repetitive

There’s No Room in This Bed explores the intricacies and power dynamics of personal relationships through physical theatre, animation and spoken text. It plays with ideas of secrecy and images of veiling and containment recur. The spectre of HIV/Aids haunts the work, which was conceived and created by PJ Sabbagha, creator of The Double Room. It has a six-person cast.

The opening is strong with Athena Mazarakis taking up the focus, surrounded by the cast, spitting air at her, from which she recoils. The action is repeated, creating a leitmotif of sensuality and disgust. It is in these more difficult, awkward moments, that the work is strongest and in this sense, Gerard Bester’s performance, as the mournful yet comic outsider, is the most effective.

There are also strong moments of visual poetry, such as the dancers’ hands fluttering against their bodies like moths against light bulbs, and a letter falling from the ceiling and bursting into flame when Bester reaches for it. Nathaniel Stern provides a backdrop of gritty animation of houses and beds — the objects and intimate places around which relationships evolve.

The structure of the work is highly repetitive, though, vacillating between sombre blue modes — accompanied by Martin Watt’s piano playing passages of Reich and sparse, Impressionistic improvisations — and vibrant sequences accompanied by the Greek and Eastern European music of George Dallaras and Goran Brecovic.

The extreme contrast between these phases is an uneasy one, but used far too often for it to retain its effect. The more passionate, frenetic and overtly sexualised scenes also have an air of cliché about them. These flaws contribute towards a somewhat incoherent aesthetic, which leaves the piece battling to find its voice.

While There’s No Room in This Bed deals with issues of vulnerability and exposure, it touches on personal narratives and cultural issues only to withdraw from them. However, the textures of disappearance and exposure lend intrigue to the piece and the closing imagery of the dancers disappearing through a hole in a red table provides a lingering effect.

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Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon
Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon is a lecturer in anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand and a research associate of the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa.

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