Antiwords by Spitfire Company, performed at Summerhall Old Lab as a part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 26, 2015
Two women saunter on to the all black stage, which was initially populated by a lone table, two chairs, and a couple of buckets on the floor. Each performer carries their own large, bronze colored sphere underneath their arms and hold a net containing a glass mug and a beer in their opposite hand. They stand at the front of the stage, looking into the audience, making eye contact and occasionally smiling. The contour of their bodies hide beneath loose fitting white under shirts, suspenders, and wide black slacks. In unison and still holding the oversized brass spheres under their arms, they set their nets down, and each pull from it a beer bottle and secure the bottle between their legs up near their groin, the bottle’s neck pointing out and slightly up. They pull out a long rope necklace from under their shirt with a bottle opener dangling from its end. With one hand, they pop the bottle open and, the bottle still clenched between their thighs, lift the glass mug from off of the floor, situate it below the beer nozzle, and tilt their pelvises forward allowing golden liquid to flow and froth into the empty mug. Glasses full, they lift, salute, and empty the drink into their mouths in one long draw (one performer finishes before the other).
In Antiwords, the performers consume one frothy drink after another, switching character roles as they switch seats, going back and forth between macho instigator and sheepish prude. They don identical, oversized bronze colored bald heads that sink down to their shoulders, obscuring their own heads and necks. With identical costuming, similar builds, and covered faces, the performers rely on their physicality to present character and difference. With each switch of seats, the performers wholly embody the new character. If it wasn’t for the fact that they would lift their mask to drink the next beer, I would have forgotten which performer was which.
For the most part, the audience plays a traditional, passive role in the play but there was one moment during the show when the prude character silently begs someone in the audience to finish their beer for them while the instigator character is off stage. Someone in the front row took the beer and gulped it down, and the audience applauded them. In that moment, the social system represented on stage was translated to the audience, but I think the kind of pressure and reward was different. For the audience member to drink for the performer, it was an act of mercy, not one of bravado. Both instances involve the pressure to participate in a social event or to satisfy an expectation, but the character in the play drinks to avoid confrontation where an audience member stepping in to drink is the willful participation in a confrontation.
By involving the audience, the play, which was already performing the reality of inebriation by using real alcoholic beverages, extends and reflects its own reality on to those subjects filling the theater’s house. The person in the front row who drank the beer tastes it, feels its effects on their body which suddenly shares not only a physical space with the action of the show but also a chemical one. By echoing the actions on stage into the audience, the audience is afforded a real version of the artificial actions being performed by the actors. They can compare their own cultural subjectivity to that of the show’s and their subjectivity within the performance event.
At the end of the show, both performers, ostensibly at least a little drunk, slump in their chairs, bronze heads removed, and rest waiting for the lights to fade. One performer pops open another beer and gestures to the other performer with it. Upon a chuckled decline of her offer, she proceeds to sip the bottle, perhaps in relief, as the show gradually and gently concludes.