March 06, 2024

Adelaide Festival – I Hide in Bathrooms

I Hide in Bathrooms
Astrid Pill and Collaborators

I Hide in Bathrooms, we are told, by an offstage voice, is “based loosely on a true-ish story” but it is also “made-uppish”. We know from the program notes that this excellent theatre work had its beginnings when devisor and performer Astrid Pill became preoccupied with the notion of the death of a life partner, in response to the experiences of people in her intimate circle.

But it is not a memoir, nor even a single story. It is a discursive riff on death in all its forms and the effect on those who are left behind. It is also a wryly satiric exploration of the ambiguous etiquette of grief and mourning – and the mixed messages that arise.

The first we see of the performer is her looming large in monochrome on a video screen, artfully designed by Jason Sweeney, and enveloped by Zoe Barry’s surging, disconcertingly roiling musical score. Then she muses on what it means when you lose your Other Half. Are you sliced down the middle, cut off at the legs ? It is both facetious and serious – who are we, and who are we entitled to be, when our beloved is no longer in the world ?

In another shape-shifting segue, dressed in widow’s black, Pill stands at a microphone, addressing us as attendees at a funeral. “I am not myself” she exclaims, weaving slightly as she brandishes a wine glass and reminding us again that this is more made-uppishness. Is she crying ? Is she supposed to ? What if she doesn’t ? Warned not to wear mascara, she nevertheless smears it copiously as if in some arcane ritual. I’ve been a widow for a week, she announces. Should she start casting around the room for a replacement partner? Putting it out there, so to speak.

Pill howls with grief – and behind her the projected text, which operates throughout the performance, implores “Please Stop” as if it is in poor form. She performs a variety of zany charades and the texts explain them. Death by labradoodle, death by stretching, by Instagram, by the Absoluteness of Love, death by bus.

The narrative bobs and weaves. Pill describes an experience. When I found him, she recalls, he looked like he was sleeping lying on the ground. She calls the ambos and they close his eyes. We draw close, sensing this might be some true-ish detail we can fasten on to. But it is not. She quickly follows with similarly plausible reports of a drowning, and a heart attack. Zoe Barry’s powerful score for cello churns and chimes, the repeated reverb bowing becoming urgent and disturbing.

Director and co-devisor Ingrid Voorendt (Pill’s long-term collaborator right back to the Ladykillers days) deftly ensures that the shifts and elisions are crisp and telling. The tempo is enquiring but never quite explanatory, or resolved. These questions of options, obligations, and possible free choices, hover like riddles and conundrums.

Renata Henschke’s set is intriguing. On each side of the stage are what look like large stacks of boxes draped in cloth, above the stage is a huge enigmatic lump – a boulder of Damocles perhaps ? Certainly something pending and inevitable.

The lighting, by Sue Grey-Gardner, is subtle and soothing, creating buttery cameos and splendidly serving the performance. When the cover sheets come off, revealing pyramids of perspex boxes filled with glass – vases, lamps, dishes and stemmed wine flutes- the stage is both subtly illuminated and made intimate, enhancing the sometimes poetic strangeness in Pill’s narrative.

There is so much to admire in this production. Its complexity and avoidance of platitude, its risk and ambition, make this a captivating seventy minutes. Astrid Pill is outstanding. Her choreography, her deadpan humour, her wit, and her singing. The droll, but moving, chorus from “The Great Pretender”, her lambent rendering of “The Lyke-Wake Dirge” and finally, the spine-tingling “You Gotta Walk that Lonesome Valley” all contribute to making this world premiere production another Festival success.

I Hide in Bathrooms is playing at Waterside, 11 Nile Street, Port Adelaide until March 16. March 6, 2024.

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