In the beginning was the end

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I was told to open up drawers and let my hands wander. I raised an eyebrow at what this could mean for dreamthinkspeak’s latest production In The Beginning Was The End.

Drawing from Leonardo Da Vinci, The Book of Revelations and the world of Mechatronics, this site-responsive performance leaves you torn between admiration for science and technology, and despair for mankind’s obsession with development. There is plenty of uncertainty as art disciplines clash and blend with one another, producing too many conclusions than there is time to consume. However a hint goes a long way to discovering a truth.

The performance company dreamthinkspeak, created in 1991 by Tristan Sharps, is known for its promenade pieces – a medley of film, music, installations and live theatre – staged in marvellous structures. There have been productions in a disused print factory in Moscow, an abandoned hotel in Kuala Lumpur and a former treasury building in Perth. Presently, In The Beginning Was The End plays out in passageways beneath London’s Somerset House and King’s College.

It begins in a sombre boardroom where a fourth wall literally breaks away to reveal a research lab. The frantic scientists marshalled us through, “Schneller, schneller!” one yelled at me in German. I hastened until the area was clear.

Mindful of the suggestion from earlier, I rummaged through filing cabinets only to discover dusty phones ensnared in their own cords. It was a laborious task with seemingly futile results. A scientist skittered from counter to counter, mumbling to himself. I toyed with the mechanics before me, lamely pushing at buttons. I was eager to encounter what had made dreamthinkspeak so critically acclaimed because, so far,  I didn’t feel any sparks.

Then a subtle glow in the dark research lab caught my eye. I moved closer to study the small diorama of a lit tunnel with two figures walking away. I had unknowingly glimpsed a moment in the future. In the beginning was the end.

I moved on, exchanging dark hallways for a brightly lit corridor, Fusion International’s open house. If earlier was a surrealist prologue, this is where normalcy claims the spotlight – as suspicious as it was. Each room revealed a newfangled machine set to make human lives easier. But, as an ascent to the corporate headquarters will reveal, the machines have not been living up to their promises causing a stir of customer malcontent. In the complaints room, this cycle of mass production has driven its employees to madness. One by one, they stripped off bland suits, bras and underwear, discarded in heaps by their desks. Liberated from Fusion, they paraded through the hallway to climb a sweeping staircase.

Then, a haunting change of tune.

We looked up to see the employees peering down. As the music eased into a crescendo, a coil of naked bodies slowly unfurled from the spiral staircase, descending in solemn procession. It is their dismal fate to repeat the process. I couldn’t bear to witness the scene for another round.

What followed were brilliant displays of technical theatre wherein each piece documented a single disturbing aftermath. These were strong standalone pieces but, considered altogether, offered too many unexplored truths. It was thematically jarring.

Visually there were powerful moments, especially in the final passage. I was alarmed to find myself in the exact setting the diorama had presented. A young man made up for the second figurine as we both walked towards the other end of the tunnel. It is indescribably eerie to become a part of a prophecy I thought I was removed from.

There is the jolting truth that mankind’s obsession with development and admiration for technology is nearly indistinguishable. History has provided numerous hints of eventual demise because of this, and In The Beginning Was The End puts these on explicit display. Are we ignoring the clues, the glowing dioramas, leaving us destined to arrive at the very same predicted path that I was on?

by Erika Soliven

dreamthinkspeak’s production of In The Beginning Was The End is at Somerset House, London until March 30

About The Author

Glass Online arts writer

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