In the United States, 20 people are physically abused by a partner every minute, and 1 in 4 women in England and Wales experience domestic violence once in their lifetime. These disturbing numbers indicate the injustice that takes place at home, in private, and the lack of voices that are never given the chance to speak before it is too late. Straight from the West Coast, Unseal Unseam, by A White Boy Scream production, is an artistic performance showing at Venue 13. It comprises of many art forms, where the experience is, unbelievably, palpable, leaving audiences emotionally exhausted by the end of it. (Well, that’s how I felt anyway!)
Director and scenographer, Shannon Knox provides a mash-up of improvised music, opera, film, art installations, voice techniques and graphic imagery. Sound designer William Hutson, and videographers Giuliana Foulkes and Asuka Lin work with Knox to make it all happen. This immersive experience makes audiences feel so many things, including anger and hatred for the male figure in the film who causes physical pain to our vulnerable victim Judith.
Composers Sharon Chohi Kim and Micaela Tobin have dished out parts from Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung. The Hungarian and German composers have one thing in common, which includes melodrama and atonality; it is the way that their intense and highly atmospheric music feel real and seem to happen before your very eyes.
Being a big fan of Bluebeard’s Castle made it easier for me to see some parallels between the abstract objects used in this performance and the many rooms Bluebeard’s wife enters before her ultimate demise in the opera. In a similar way, the stages of objects are utilized with deep effect. Armory, Blood Garden, Domain and Lake of Tears are just a few of these stages written on a piece of paper in real time, by the man behind the screen. At the same time, different types of torture take place on video, from wrapping aircraft cable around Judith’s head to painful teeth flossing – the tortuous type that leaves blood on your lips. This grotesque list goes on.
Judith – the innocent victim – is performed by Tobin with stage wife Sara Sinclair Gomez. Both in long dresses, they move across the stage as the performance moves with the cycle of domestic violence. They produce beautiful vocal sounds in one duet, which goes back to Shakespeare’s Othello, specifically Desdemona’s Willow Song – it is the point where she knows her aggressive and jealous husband is about to murder her. There is a poignant scene where Sinclair Gomez looks as if she is suffocating Tobin. This reminded me of the harrowing moment the Moor attempts to kill is pure wife.
From start to finish, there’s five contact microphones active on stage, which heighten the sounds and echoes of each object: coins dropped in a jar, five foot long chains bashed onto the floor, sand poured onto the table and two butter knives repeatedly stabbing a white panel. The experience is uncomfortable and unsettling. Audiences won’t come here for a good time, they’ll come to learn and experience something new. Unseal Unseam is a political piece of art about domestic violence utilizing a kaleidoscope of artistic skills, sound techniques and philosophy to bounce onto. It’s worth making a loud noise about.