Words: James Ekron
Photograph: Iván Melenchón Serrano

There was eeriness to being surrounded by the physical theatre makers from Stellenbosch during their performance of “Unravelling” as they ring-fenced their audience, like boxers surrounding their opponent. The Grahamstown Monument’s B2 venue allowed the performer’s full use of the space in a 360 degree, audio-visual experience on which sought to “explore growing up, growing wise, growing old and growing frail.” Samantha Prigge-Pienaar has brought a performance of string and light, of contortion and control, to the National Arts Festival along with four performers more than up to the task.

The show explores the individual histories and peccadilloes of its performers by juxtaposing the body against slide shows of familiar settings, behind clothes lines where each item offers a different personality to be worn like skin to then tangle and cover the body in string, delicately and expressively weaved between the actresses. Certain moments were especially successful during the show, especially the minimalist approach employed to a single piece of looped string as it was used to show all the different forms it may take when in the hands of one talented performer. At one moment, a tie, next, a sash, a bow and arrow, a telescope.

Artfully handled, the interplay between the physical and the visual shadows thrown up against the wall by the centre spotlight made for an engaging shared milieu between artist and audience. Unravelling is not for everyone. The material is deeply introspective, somewhat adult, and not immediately discernible or affirming from the position of audience member. Much like a boxer who cannot seem to escape the dance of an opponent as they surround you, the show intrudes upon the self, leaving one with a feeling of both inclusion and isolation, in an excellent display of physical theatre.