Image copyright Jeff Busby
There are theatre performances that horrify audiences - and some leave audiences horrified at themselves. Australian theatre ensemble Back To Back Theatre was previously at Stratford station in Small Metal Objects, where the audience was the spectacle, visible to the public while the actors blended in with the commuters. However, the audience for Food Court is mute, passive, sitting in the dark, watching astonishingly brutal bullying and victimisation in polite silence. Complying with classic theatre arrangement makes Food Court especially moving, memorable - and very, very horrible.
Based on an overheard food conversation, Back To Back Theatre draw on the power, control, guilt and abuse inherent in the exchange to present Food Court. Nicki Holland and Sonia Teuben open the show discussing what they eat. They agressively verbally abuse Sarah Mainwaring then take her out of the shopping mall to the forest to continue humiliating her, until nearly killing her. The extraordinary element is that the actors are identifiably 'other' - they move, speak and look 'other' due to their disabilities. Teuben and Holland's hatred for Mainwaring is deeply uncomfortable to witness, like an extended roleplay exercise exploring how it feels to be victim, abuser or observer.
The actors perform behind a full-height screen, lit with projections, rendering them as silhouettes or blurred figures like CCTV footage, a medium made familiar through the James Bulger case. Throughout, The Necks play, without a score, improvising a provocative, minimalist aural background that reflects and enhances what's on stage. There's no break in the music and each performance is unique, drawing exclusively on what the trio detect on stage and in the auditorium. The simple set-up of piano, double bass and drums evokes layer upon layer of threat, menace, fear and aggressive, perplexing energy. It's not easy listening, or watching but as a challenge to the senses and to one's sensibilities about disabilities, Food Court achieves a devastating blow.
Food Court at Barbican Theatre until Friday 25 June. The Necks perform in concert on Saturday 26 June. For information and tickets, go to the Barbican website.