Guest review by Tom Ward.
Rituals For Change is the fourth piece by two-time Fringe First Award Winner Emma Frankland. Exploring ‘the body and the felt experience of change’ from a semi-autobiographical perspective, it falls somewhere between theatre and performance art. Frankland’s work consists of a series of visually striking images, presented to the audience via a ritualistic lens that is then framed by her unique transgender perspective.
Utilising the concept of journey to inform both her form and content (personal and metaphysical), Frankland creates a cyclical style that moves in chapters (or rituals); first Salt, then Earth, Ink, and finally Clay. Each aspect of the performance has the effect of keeping to the subject matter, as well as organising the show’s complex social-political viewpoints in order to make the work easier to follow. Images are allowed to live and die – at one point tarot symbols are born from the large pile of soil centre stage, before being erased to make way for new symbols, and therefore new meanings. We see each image meticulously prepared and demolished, which makes the piece feel wonderfully organic.
Each act and movement is performed with such purposefulness that the audience’s attention is brought the tiniest of details, making them active participants throughout. This also provides Rituals For Change with the pace that allows us to soak up each aspect of Frankland’s scenography; she generously allows the audience to take their time. And it is much appreciated.
It is refreshing to see a performance that does not rely on ‘character’ in the traditional sense. Of course, the audience are shown a constructed version of Frankland – it is after all, only semi-autobiographical. We are met with a smiling, winking performer who creates connections with individuals. She is inviting us, which allows her to elicit the audience’s sympathy, crucial to a piece that is then embodied and not solely intellectualised.
“We who listen …we who leave this room changed”.
To explore the theme of change through a trans-perspective is bravely interrogative and relevant. Using rituals and their inevitably sacrificial nature to do so pin-points accurately the physical effect change has on our everyday lives – what is left behind when change occurs? What has to die in order for something else to be born? While Frankland’s form may be deliberately ambiguous, the text is direct.
“It will be painful, but it will be worth it”.
The desired effect is clear but this unfortunately makes the piece clunky at times. Coming out of a slowly paced image (at one point Frankland covers herself in clay that she makes in front of the audience) and going into a similarly slowly delivered piece of text makes her dialogue occasionally unengaging.
Frankland creates a feast of the senses in Rituals For Change and while the intricacies of her point are unclear at times, there is much satisfaction gained by engaging with the (sometimes) confrontational material she presents to her audience. Sometimes it is better not to have all the answers given to you. It certainly is in this case.
Writer: Emma Frankland; Abby Butcher; Eilidh MacAskill; Myriddin Wannell
Performer: Emma Frankland
Producer: Abby Butcher
Composer: Keir Cooper
Rituals for Change plays Battersea Arts Centre until 24 June 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.