Originally brought to theatres in 2006, Untitled Projects has readapted their performance of Slope at a time of great social change for LGBT groups in Scotland. Slope follows the lives of French 19th Century poets, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud and their infamous violent, drunken yet loving affair and its consequences, faced by Verlaine’s wife, Mathilde. The performance offers current issues of homosexuality and compares them to the 1800s – has anything changed? Same-sex marriage was only passed this year and we forget only 34 years ago same-sexual activity was legalized. It’s hard to imagine a world where this is not accepted and people can’t live freely.
The play begins with a racing start which is heightened by a constant ticking clock which is a slightly clichéd concept to explore time. The first scene is almost forgotten due to this pace as it never really gives the audience a chance to fully grasp the characters or their relationships. This may have been intentional in order to enhance playwright Pamela Carter’s idea about the current issues of societal judgment, however, this leaves a distant feeling. Carter’s text is overshadowed by the surrealist, directorial approach to the piece which references Dadaism, Pina Bausch, Contemporary and Performance Art making the simple and effective idea now slightly bizarre. This does offer something new and steps away from traditional chamber drama, however it is questionable as to whether it truly works.
In association with KILTR, Slope streams the performance live out with the studio to a wider, virtual audience. This adds to the claustrophobia of the characters, where even their most intimate moments are caught on camera. The audience act as the ‘other’ cameras, as director, Stewart Laing, places them in the round, meaning each member of the audience has a different angle and perspective on the whole performance and the characters are surrounded by judgmental eyes. The cameras are refocused throughout which draws intensity to and explores the space in a new and interesting way.
Owen Whitelaw, convincingly shows Verlaine’s inner conflict with his sexuality and his self preservation for respect in society, he is in a state of denial for his love for Rimbaud and shows a real harrowing struggle. Jessica Hardwick is strong as Mathilde, however at times overemphasises the martyr character. Real credit must be given to James Edywn’s portrayal of Rimbaud who exudes the reckless bad-boy character, trapped by love and consumed by desire, driving himself and Verlaine to destruction.
There are moments of innovation and unique ideas in the performance, however these are surpassed by the nature of the piece itself. The main themes are of extreme importance to today and the company explore the stigma attached to homosexual rights in a thought-provoking way. However, almost too much is explored … sometimes less is more.