Words by Zack Anthony Curran
High Performance Packing Tape at The Studio, Sydney Opera House.
Branch Nebula are a collective of performance makers who create unique experiences for a modern audience.
Their latest iteration, High Performance Packing Tape was presented at The Studio at the Sydney Opera House.
We were kept waiting outside the theatre until just after start time to ensure that the show was running as we were walking in. I love me some experimental theatre, so i was excited to see what this troupe were treating us to.
The show opened with solo performer Lee Wilson laying on his back, inflating an enormous rubber balloon. There was a microphone attached to the balloon amplifying the sound of his breath pumping in and out. This was then mixed, looped and delayed to create an eire soundscape for the first moments.
This was a super interesting way to start the piece but after about 15 minutes of watching Wilson struggle to blow up the balloon until either it burst or he passed out, i found myself shifting uncomfortably in my chair and wishing for the later.
Eventually, the balloon popped and Wilson proceeded to pick up some large boxes, stack them on top of each other and move them around the room. He then created a large tower and climbed to the top of the precarious object. The tower sort of crumbled and Wilson sort of fell. He got back up and climbed again, this time climbing higher and falling a bit more deliberately.
The performance continued like this with various other objects such as a tower of plastic chairs with balloons stacked between them and a large clump of fit balls which he used as a crash matt.
Wilson eventually moved on to the moment we had all come to see... A grown man unrolled 3 jumbo rolls of sticky tape between two poles, which took an eye watering amount of time, so he could then walk the line like a tightrope. It's is always impressive to see an extraordinary display of balance.
Just when i thought i was going to be put out of my misery, Wilson lit a smoke stick which filled the entire room with thick white smoke. People were coughing, it was super uncomfortable, mostly because we just didn't know what we were breathing in.
Out of the smoke emerged a completely naked Lee Wilson. Don't get me wrong, nudity can be an exceptionally powerful storytelling device but used inappropriately, it can quickly become a weird guy, wrapped in sticky tape with his big old floppy foreskin hanging out for no reason what-so-ever. I was horrified and even more so for the children sitting next to me.
One of the most challenging things about this piece as a whole was the fact that Wilson didn't engage with us at all. It was very much like he was in his own world, which is fine, but that world that he was in was just not very interesting. Chatting with Wilson earlier about the inspiration for the piece, he said that he used to have a job where he had to pack boxes and it was like Tetris. Well i can tell you, Tetris is a lot more interesting than this show.
With no music and just the occasional amplification from various microphones placed around the room to capture the sounds of the tape unwrapping or the boxes falling i couldn't help but feel a bit annoyed. This piece has the potential to be a really interesting and provocative commentary on how mundane modern life can be but with pressing environmental issues firmly present in the zeitgeist, it was very hard to forgive the pointless use and waste of all that plastic, rubber and cardboard.
Wilson firmly states that this is not "Physical Theatre" but is more "Physical Performance" and i couldn't agree more. Theatre would imply storytelling, engagement, heart and that wonderful magic that happens when you are transported to another world for those 2ish hrs. Physical performance is just that. It's a performance of physical activities and if that is something you like to see then you will love High Performance Packing Tape.