JOYCE MCMILLAN on THESE DELICATE THINGS at the CCA , Glasgow, for The Scotsman 17.11.14.
3 stars ***
LIKE THE PLAY presented by young Constantin at the beginning of Chekhov’s The Seagull – and roundly laughed off stage by his actress mother and her friends – Josh Armstrong’s latest show for Theatre Cryptic, inspired by the work of the American photographer Francesca Woodman, enters realms of myth and symbolism that are notoriously difficult to express in theatre.
These Delicate Things offers a first act in which a middle-aged woman carefully examines and cleans a series of beautiful white bowls kept in a glass case, while a man who arrives at her house offers her a huge dead eel, which is rejected; and a second act in which a young woman with a head turned to leaves, then to feathers, then finally sheathed in plastic, moves and twists in the same glass case. Both acts are played out against the backdrop of a large screen image projected from a small table on stage, on which the male performer moves organic fragments and everyday objects; the whole performance takes place at a deliberately glacial pace, evoking forces of nature far beyond the scale of brief human lives.
If the action is enigmatic to a fault, though, there’s no doubt about the exquisite quality of the music that shapes and paces it, played on stage by the all-female Astrid String Quartet; both Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 15, in the first act, and Gavin Bryars’ String Quartet No. 2, in the second, create slow-moving, singing, and simmering landscapes of sound, thoughtfully mirrored in visual imagery and movement which seeks, in a deliberately solemn style, to evoke forces beyond our usual field of vision, with which we must harmonise, or die.