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Erica Field, The Physics Project Erica Field, The Physics Project
photo Marina Wedge
We often think of technology as ultimately impersonal, and of having a dehumanising effect upon the soul. Cyberspace may create a perceived intimacy—of conversation and communion, even real time vision—but it occurs without skin and touch. It offers the flaneur’s consolation, of being ‘in’ the world but not ‘of’ it; of being a perpetual eavesdropper, voyeur or passerby. And yet in Leah Mercer and Amantha May’s The Physics Project, technology also makes it possible to bridge time and space; and to bridge the metaphysical gap between the old certainties (of knowledge in God) and the great postmodern void.

Two women—one in Brisbane, one in New York—are grieving the loss of people they have loved. The Brisbane woman lost a close friend a decade or so ago and the American woman is haunted by reminders of her mother who died 12 years ago. We learn of these twin narratives in a complex latticework of live performance in Brisbane interspersed with ostensibly real time live streaming broadcasts from Amantha in New York, who is ‘watching’ the show from her loungeroom. A fictionalised extension of her self is performed live; while this fictional self in turn imagines her parents’ courtship in the Yucatan in the 1960s. Mercer directs the piece and relates her own narrative through a woman living in a revolving box on stage who, via video projection, ventures desolately into the crowded and increasingly faceless urban sprawl of the Brisbane CBD.
Hanna Wood, The Physics Project Hanna Wood, The Physics Project
photo Marina Wedge
It takes some time to locate precisely whose story is whose, and what is fiction and what is memoir. The piece is, in many ways, a meditation on the elusiveness of truth and of narrative closure in the cycle of human life and death. Attention to this complexity, though, is richly rewarded as the audience is slowly given the pieces with which to fill in the jigsaw. It is as though Mercer and May provide the borders and it is up to us to complete the picture in any fashion we choose.

Both women are looking for order amid chaos. They turn to maths and science as a means of finding consolation for grief and absence in a world where the range of options (for personal faith) are as infinite as the universe itself. The American finds comfort in mathematical equations; the serendipitous patterns that occur in the infinite configuration of pi seem to hint to her of meaning and order within randomness. The Australian turns to Confucius and Einstein and their theories of time and motion to conclude that the past and present get closer together as time escalates, so that there is ultimately a place where all of our experience converges, and we are reunited with everyone we have ever loved.

As technologically daring as the logistics of this fascinating theatrical rumination are (scenic design complements of Kieran Swann, lighting by Matt Logan, and video by Conan Fitzpatrick), the piece is surprisingly touching. Margi Brown Ash brings her trademark warmth and wisdom to the stage as the narrator who assures us it will all be all right in the end. Pre-recorded telecasts from the American Woman’s (real!) father add a fond patrician gravitas to her narrative. We are reminded too—in case we were needing further proof—that technically it is ‘yesterday’ right now in the live streaming from New York and that the light we see reflected in the stars at night belongs to suns that have already died. The past and the future are constantly with us. The Physics Project is a unique, transporting and surprisingly consoling theatrical experience. One hopes there is an afterlife for this work too.

The Physics Project, creators Leah Mercer and Amantha May, performers Margi Brown Ash, Erica Field, Hanna Wood, Emily Thomas, Errin Rodger, Amantha May, William May, Gracie, Georgia, musicians Gavin Henderson, Sam Kahle, Michael Gray, scenic designer, Keiran Swann, lighting Matt Logan, video Conan Fitzpatrick, composer/sound Robert D Clark, costumes Beck Clark, Megan Wlliams; QUT Loft Theatre, April 6-8

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 14

© Stephen Carleton; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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