The Yard Theatre, London – until 11 March 2017
A random collection of props surround a sacred circle of light, the protective performance space for Julie Rose Bower. In here, she can recreate sound, loop it round and round with a dulling monotony. She can remember the terrible experiences she has had, replay the sounds in her mind and never have to step outside, back into the world and face the events of her past. The Foley Explosion uses the familiar, the everyday, to recreate something that no one should ever have to experience.
Bower is a Russian spy; she is conversing with Rasputin and Guy Fawkes; she is the Geiger counter at an airport that may or may not have picked up the deadly dose of polonium residing within Alexander Litvinenko. But she is also a woman, in the midst of wires and keys and shoes, safe within her technology that can recreate those highly evocative noises and transport us into other worlds.
When the foley stories are re-enacted, slowly built up into a picture rich with sound and atmosphere, the simplest of actions sparks a memory. But in taking the time to mix these harmonic colours, the cadence of the show is disrupted. On the one hand it’s fascinating to draw back the curtain and understand the composition of the production; on the other it takes time, removes the pace and takes the sheen off the end result. There needs to be a higher level of precision, a better first time round rate that creates each individual piece of the puzzle perfectly straightaway. The show becomes less of an explosion and starts to fizzle out.
Ultimately we build up to Bower’s final story, the Moscow theatre hostage crisis of 2002 – Chechen separatists storm the Dubrovka Theater on a cold autumn evening, laden with explosives strapped to their chests. Four days of hostage negotiations and terror in the capital before the Russian special forces gassed the premises to eliminate the threat. Bower was a university exchange student at the time – shocked and horrified that her friend and his family are among the hostages. An explosion that could have been, had the Russian militia not taken such drastic action, performed with clinical precision, devoid of concern for human life. Bower builds the picture to its climax before jumping out of her circle and dancing around, an attempt to move away from safety and come to terms with events. But the build-up isn’t sufficient, the true retelling of these events falls short.
Foley is an ingenious technique and The Foley Explosionas a technical exercise is fascinating to watch. Ultimately the overarching story needs to build more to deliver the impactful finale that the show demands. If anything, the lighting plays a starring role here – colours that contrast and complement, instantly evocative of every situation without pause, delay or any false starts.