Nicola Gunn holds us in the palm of her hand throughout this extraordinary one-person performance.
Using the metaphor of a sitting duck and then personifying one at the end of the piece, Gunn manages to enthral the audience with her fluid style of delivery and her fabulous physicality.
The crux of the piece is the presentation of a moral conundrum. What should a person do when one witnesses an act random cruelty? Gunn narrates the story of seeing a man at the side of a lake throwing stones at a sitting duck. This sounds like a simple scenario but from this momentary observation, Gunn pieces together a performance piece of 70 minutes where questions are formed, feelings are evoked and our human behaviour is subject to scrutiny.
Layer upon layer thoughts, ideas and opinions about human behaviour and the choices when confronted with difficult situations is the theme. The idea thread of stoning a sitting duck is not forgotten, but do go prepared for the tangential – all manner of interesting facts, figures and asides are thrown into the script, from the life of actor David Suchet to the academic works of Peter Singer. Gunn’s writing captures the random and inappropriate thoughts that cross our minds everyday; thoughts that move from the sublime to the ridiculous in an instant.
Gunn’s work can be labelled autobiographical fiction. Her work is personal and profound at moment and frivolous and camp the next. This is the best thing about Gunn’s work; her ability to fashion these extremes.
Gunn keeps churning out well-crafted work, her most recent piece A Social Service at the Malthouse, was clever and poignant but included three other actors. In this one though, she shares the stage with a solitary ghetto blaster, a fun throw-back to the 80s. This large sound system sat on downstage right and pumped out electro-pop music with pulsating beats to which Gunn and collaborator Jo Lloyd matched choreography. The moves were swift, then flowing, fast and then sublime. A motif was her outstretched left foot and hand pointing to an imaginary object while displaying a deadpan, almost despondent face. This pause in movement was simple yet hilarious.
Gunn’s tricks kept on coming: she addressed us upside down and through her legs, climbed over audience members, gyrated in one innocent audience member’s face and slid around on her stomach covering most of the area of the Arts House stage.
The choreography (Jo Lloyd) became a character in its own right, the moves alternated between being fluid and then convulsing. Gunn is so heavy weighted at times, then transforms so quickly into someone who is nimble and light as a falling leaf.
By far the most memorable things about the piece were its design elements – lighting, AV and costume. The bare cyclorama was lit during the second half with pastel colours. Projected on the cyclorama were Gunn’s shadows. Her movements were cast on to the cyclorama giving it that puppet-like and foreboding feel. The choreography in shadow amplified its quirkiness and highlighted the body’s ability to convey meaning.
The final section of the piece was a darkly lit homage to the living animal, the duck. Using a beautiful headdress and a satin-like, multi-coloured cape, Gunn slowly created shapes that were quite grandiose and serene; quite reminiscent of Japanese Noh theatre.
All in all the piece asks what constitutes a good person and how do we endeavour to become a better one. It is so refreshing to view this sort of one-person show. It was an excellent example of performance art with the perfect balance of story, humour, movement and wonderful design elements.
Nicola Gunn/Sans Hotel
Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster
November 11th to 15th.
Arts House, North Melbourne