A thrilling dance around memory

29 June 2019

Review: Marshall Stay, Floor Thirteen ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 13 July ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Phoebe is trapped in a lift. But that’s not the worst thing that has happened to her that night, she confides to the operator, whose disembodied voice is there to rescue her, keep her calm, and keep her talking.

As the conversation unfolds, Phoebe’s recollections of the night, and the events leading up to her entering the lift, become clearer, her thoughts circling around and avoiding the topic until the final moment of revelation. Written by Elise Wilson and directed by Marshall Stay – both recent WAAPA graduates – Floor Thirteen is ultimately an interrogation of the fickleness of memory and the stories we tell ourselves about our own mistakes.

Designed by Stay, the static set is the dimensions of a lift, with transparent screens instead of walls, allowing the audience to see the distressed woman trapped inside. In this way, the viewer is a voyeur, another disembodied witness placing sometimes empathy, sometimes judgement, on her confessions.

Against this goldfish bowl, scenes from Phoebe’s night are performed by supporting actors/devisors Tamara Creasey, Courtney Henri, Christopher Moro and Jordan Valentini. Their re-enactments of the events of the night – a court case won, an after-party, a threat, and a lie revealed – are performed by the cast with stunning physicality. Their sweeping and circular, pacing movements are paralleled by the dance around the truth that Phoebe’s brain performs just as swiftly. This circularity is reflected in the script, which focuses on a few key events, returning to them again and again as more details emerge.

Floor Thirteen
Sweeping and circular pacing movements mirror Phoebe’s dance around the truth. Pictured is performer/devisor Jordan Valentini. Photo: Marshall Stay.

A soundscape of voices (also designed by the multi-talented Stay) is used to great effect, with the supporting characters never speaking themselves, but rather mouthing the words with great precision as Phoebe interacts with their conversations, or directs them herself through her recollections and re-enactments. The recorded voices are always slightly distorted – sometimes sounding as though they are underwater or almost drowned out by other sounds – so their meaning is partially obscured. Slowly, what at first appears a simple story of being trapped in a lift becomes a tale of high drama, subterfuge and danger.

By the end of the 60-minute show, I was left wondering about the cyclical nature of memory, and how things that happened a long time ago can feel incredibly recent, whilst last week is a distant memory. How long was Phoebe trapped in the lift? Was it an hour? Or was it simply a few minutes that felt like longer as she started to think about the things she wishes she could forget?

In her program interview, writer Elise Wilson explains that such inaccuracies of memory – sometimes so powerful that they create an entirely false narrative – are known as confabulation. It’s horrifying to imagine that you can’t rely on your own memories to confirm an event; that your own brain would betray you so completely. In the character of Phoebe, we witness this occurring firsthand. Phoebe’s own actions are so morally questionable that it could be hard to have much sympathy for the character. Performer Kylie Bywaters, however, portrays Phoebe’s wrenching self-pity so effectively that we do sympathise with her, despite her behaviour – and her situation becomes so much more desperate over the course of the performance that I could feel my pulse racing in the final seconds.

Not for the faint-hearted, Floor Thirteen is an engrossing, thoughtful and energetic production, a fascinating study in human nature and the unreliable nature of our own recollections.

Floor Thirteen plays until July 13.

Pictured top is performer/devisor Tamara Creasey. Photo: Marshall Stay

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Author —
Miranda Johnson

Miranda Johnson is a curator and writer who has worked for various contemporary arts institutions, co-founded Cool Change Contemporary and co-hosts Fem Book Club at the Centre for Stories. Miranda’s favourite aspect of the playground is getting the chance to meet as many dogs as possible.

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