JOYCE MCMILLAN on TESTIMONIUM at the Tramway, Glasgow for The Scotsman 23.11.12.
4 stars ****
IT’S NOT EASY, it’s not accessible, and a few audience members at the Tramway left during the performance, never to return. Yet all the same, this show created by two founder-members of the legendary Chicago experimental group Goat Island, and featuring their new company Every House Has A Door as well as a fierce three-piece garage band called Joan Of Arc, strikes me as a remarkable piece of performance art, full of a strange inner poise and poetry.
Testimonium is inspired by the work of the American objectivist poet Charles Reznikoff, whose unfinished work Testimony involves a response to the transcripts of dozens of criminal and industrial injury cases heard in America between 1855 and 1915. If the strong, sad backbeat of the show lies in this historic record of personal and economic violence, though, its style shifts thought-provokingly between the meditative geometric abstraction of its choreography – involving endless meticulous rearrangement of simple props around the space, in a tribute to Spinoza’s idea of a link between ethical and geometric integrity – and the rough-edged, surreal lyricism of the songs, belted out at such a volume that the audience has to be issued with ear-plugs.
The show is perhaps a shade overlong, at just under 2 hours including an introduction, by dramaturg Matthew Goulish, which seems strictly unnecessary; and it has its pretentious moments. It revolves, though, around a performance of terrific dignity and integrity from the actor Brian Saner, who reads and recites the courtroom testimony; and in the end, this strange collision between text, music and meditative movement comes to seem like a sorrowful and insistent search for the pure vibration of truth, in a world full of incitements to lie, and to fill our minds with the ugly bluster of falsehood.