Review by Stephanie Lee
Queer pleasure and sensuality lie at the heart of Anna Breckon and Nat Randell’s Set Piece, a highlight of this year’s Rising festival. It was sexy, hilarious, and filled with drama- the perfect storm for a captivating piece of experimental theatre.
As the title suggests, the intricately detailed set by Genevieve Murray is the centre piece of the performance. The work effectively consists of one key scene played out three times in different ways. The scene consists of four queer women having a drinks and cheese catch up with plenty of alcohol and drugs. The incorporation of live cinema and repeated dialogue gives the feel of a drug hazed mix of fantasy and reality, as each new rendition of the core scene plays out a different circumstance. It seemed intentionally unclear whether what was happening was real or someone’s imagination running wild, which made the work all the more captivating and intense.
The live cinema aspect of Set Piece was extraordinary, elevating the work with a beautiful blurring of theatre and film. It was hard to decide where to look at any given moment because so much was visually stimulating, and I sometimes missed comedic moments as my attention was drawn elsewhere. However, this overwhelm of imagery made the experience of watching the work exciting and fantastical. It was like watching both a film and the film being created at the same time- illusion and its construction side by side.
Performances by Dina Panozzo, Nat Randall, Carly Sheppard and Maude Davey were fantastic, each complimenting each other brilliantly to create dynamic, humorous and often steamy scenes. Each actor had a distinct characterisation that felt extremely well crafted and almost hyper-realistic at times with the main comedy of the work coming from awkward interactions. Some of the pictures created by the ensemble were truly hilarious, with a lesbian fantasy sequence enacted by Carly Sheppard and Dina Panozzo backgrounded by Maude Davey’s character on the toilet and Nat Randall’s character fumbling around on the floor trying to pick up ice cubes.
It is clear that Set Piece had assured, considered direction by Anna Breckon, as every single moment and movement by each performer had been sculpted carefully. There seemed to be an almost filmic level of detail applied to the details of the work, creating cinematic sequences that were a joy to watch.
While the work mimics the classic dinner party relationship drama play, it adds a queer lens that upends assumptions and feeds into the ordinary. Two co-workers played by Carly Sheppard and Dina Panozzo engage in sexual relations leaving their partners played by Nat Randall and Maude Davey in the other room. However, the work resists creating drama out of it, with Maude Davey’s character seemingly all-knowing and unphased and Nat Randall’s character sad at being left out but unangered by it.
Set Piece is ultimately a mixture between a comedy and tragedy, gaining in excitement before petering out as the high wears off and then starting the scene again. It blends film and theatre in an exciting way by adding a constructed artifice of hazy fantasy like imagery to the ordinary picture of four people sitting around drinking wine and eating cheese. It’s the combination of reality and fantasy that captivates, producing highly comedic moments in unexpected places and yet being undercut by the disappointment of the ordinary.