Stories of a Crowded Room via the Gulbenkian

Connor Sturges reviews Earthfall’s new and interactive performance, Stories from a Crowded Room, which visited our very own Gulbenkian Theatre last week.

The amount of information I was able to find about Stories from a Crowded Room prior to the performance was minimal to say the least. Whilst queuing for the show outside the University of Kent’s sports hall on 21 October, however, it seemed like this was purposeful as we were told we would receive programmes, but only after the show. Despite being unsure about this at the beginning, it made a great amount of sense at the end.

Stories from a Crowded Room focuses on a wide range of themes, including rebellion, relationships and loneliness, and although each of the themes had been woven into every section of the performance, there were undoubtedly moments where one was key and emphasised through the mix of dance, drama and live music. This was all delivered seamlessly by the ten strong group, consisting of two musicians and eight dancers.

The theme of loneliness stood out and was performed perfectly, making me, and I won’t hesitate to say the audience as a whole, emotionally involved in the show. Each element, from the projection of words and images onto the large white sheets that covered the structure, the talents of the cast and the use of slow and the soothing music accompaniment all equated to an emotional response from everyone there. This theme was seen most clearly when one character, Parsons, chased after his fellow performers around us, leaping in the air in a desperate attempt to catch them; only to fail on every occasion, calling their name in despair.

Choreographically, the performance was intriguing and captivating. The contemporary dance shifted numerous times between raucous and gentle; consequently lifting the audience up and down constantly, and creating an emotional roller-coaster of sorts. Rebellion appeared towards the end, with the performers creating a barricade through linked arms, shuffling back together at an increasing pace, whilst one of them remained on the other side, pulling in audience members while screaming alongside a heavy rock beat and flashing, colourful projections. In contrast, the performance also consisted of gentler routines, which were nonetheless engaging as couples grouped to tell stories through the medium of twisting, entwined limbs. I’d argue the only downside to the whole show was that being on one ground level, there were sections that not all of us could see, leaving me frequently on tiptoes trying to steal a glimpse.

Undoubtedly, the strength of the entire show is in its layout and use of space, and how we consequently didn’t just feel like audience members, but participants in the lives that were portrayed. Stories from a Crowded Room is the most immersive and interactive performance I have seen by a long shot. Don’t expect a comfy seat or to be standing still; expect to be touched and moved and breathed-on throughout the entire 60 minutes whilst remaining in the tent-like structure that is touring the country. Overall, Stories from a Crowded Room will have you leaving on a high with a ‘carpe diem’ attitude. This is definitely a performance not to be missed!