Performance Anxiety is divisive; powerful enough to divide friends, colleagues, lovers. I love it but my companion is reminded of her greatest fear – being locked in a dark room and sacrificed to vampires. Brian Lucas did look a little vampirish – prostrate on a centred rostrum, hairless and almost naked, resplendent in red silken bedclothes. Cabaret tables circled closely in around him as did the audience, the bravest filing past him into the darkest reaches of the vault-like Turbine theatre, the less brave taking the seats by the exit. It was all very atmospheric, it was all very claustrophobic but we hadn’t really been lured there as a sacrifice, had we?
The audience didn’t realise the performance had already begun playing with out own fears long before we had entered the room; While my date reflected on her dread of vampires, I uncontrollably chewed my nails in anxious anticipation, someone else talked overly loud and constantly – the chatter of discomfort, while others still sat frozen, staring and clinging to their drinks. If they don’t move, he won’t see them. It was Lucas’ behaviour that had driven us to this. We sat for what seemed to be an eternity, waiting for the show to start and he lay beneath his satin, tossing and turning, a slit-eyed stare here, and nervous under-brow glance there. He was disconcerting, he was creepy; he was a moving work of art. It was like a Ron Mueck sculpture come to life.
Floating somewhere between monologue, movement and performance art, it is needless to say that Performance Anxiety is not really a ‘play’ and it’s not the type of performance that will cater to everyone’s taste. It’s not easy to watch, it’s not
sensible and it’s not logical – but neither is the stress-addled human mind and Lucas serves up a lush experiment as he takes us on a ninety minute journey through his psyche, through his multiple personalities or characters (we’re unsure which is which), through their psyche, through our own and at the very least he impresses us with his stamina, his control and his buckets and buckets of sweat. Lucas is undoubtedly a very talented and committed performer and his characters realistic and spooky; he almost lapses coma-like into them rather than ‘turning on the actor’. Lucas’ ability to compress his tall, masculine form into the decrepit body of an old man demonstrates the liquidity of his presence.
This is entirely a one-man show but a scintillating soundtrack by Brett Collery is an integral part of the performance. Lucas and Collery were so well timed that it seemed Lucas was controlling the soundtrack himself through some sort of kinetic energy. The production design by Kieran Swan was simple, stark yet effective; in the opening transition, the red satin-like ‘bed sheet’ became an extruded skirt-like form that Lucas uses to great surreal effect, his strange body contorting through strange choreography, the naked lighting design confronting in the small space. The elements of this production so comfortably blended together that they were like the performers own skin.
A few unusual performances this year have disappointed by being restrained by traditional theatre environments; that is the audience sits and looks at the stage but Performance Anxiety is a great example of what it means to push on the edges of those conventions and could have pushed much harder still. By making the stage an exhibit in the centre of the crowded room, we transcended the traditional theatre experience and were challenged to our very comfort zones. It turned out that there was no vampire and the audience escaped from the Turbine theatre un-harmed to argue over whether Performance Anxiety was great or painful (I daresay both and it is meant to be). The only certainty is that no two impressions will be the same of this award winning show.