The arts festival should revolve around what we see and hear, writes Mary Haakenson. The Glasgow International International Poetry festival should definitely champion what’s happening on the ground with the people, not the static, misshapen pieces that we see getting dragged into venues. These pieces do not escape with protest signatures stamped on them – they do not escape the brutal disregard they are getting.
Gender Flipped, a surreal, thoughtful, one-act group poem, is the most overt example of what’s in store for attendees of the 2018 festival. Lead by Lewis Wynter and Eliza James Blackstone, with a strong cast of supporting cast, it includes misconstrued quips and confusion wrapped around Rainsford, a garden gnome that is secretly a robot. The word half-hearted is thrown about liberally in this piece. This isn’t an intention – it’s a process. It’s a trial and error cycle of feeling uncomfortable and then finding new ways to respond.
Gender Flipped doesn’t attempt to stick to a single format. It can follow from one trope to another, taking place in a non-linear collage that is largely concerned with a pair of shoes. They fit the scenario of the story. They’re the misfortunes of misfortunes, the pattern laid by events, events that go on and on, meaning that the idea itself has lost focus in the face of continuous jabbing, gnawing at the edges of a plot that won’t be explored.
An Agnes Martin and Don Paterson-like gem: Kati Sitomer in a production by Tunde Adebimpe at the Calton Hill theatre. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian
A Rainsford that is either fairly well-realised or completely travesty isn’t hard to find. Kati Sitomer, as Rainsford, carries in her bent backwards a piece of a classic poem called Hen Who Goes Down on the Beach, by Emily Dickinson. The good and the bad are imitated; it’s the words that sing.
There are a lot of images in the piece. There’s a tunnel scene; there’s a bat. There’s a whiff of hysteria. There’s an Agnes Martin and Don Paterson-like gem: Kati Sitomer in a production by Tunde Adebimpe at the Calton Hill theatre. Sitomer, a softly spoken Chilean born in London, conjures the sights and sounds of a pair of sad world-weary eyes. She’s framed in a Tim Burton aesthetic, a sense of black and white broken into fractured symbols that collapse upon themselves.
Do some of the lines work? Some don’t. You’re left with a fidgeting panic of not being sure where to look next. The power of this show is a searing lightness, the simplicity of slow turning on a light, seeing that someone is falling to pieces or that someone will be being catapulted to the next neighbourhood.
Wynter, Blackstone and Lewis may be the ones who appear in the on-stage buzzer but they are not the only people who will be ragged. There are people who will see this and see hope, and who will read it as a piece written by people who think everything’s being fucked up. But, the artistry of this piece, long worrying about the language, long wanting to find something more reflective about this particular environment.
The structure of Gender Flipped is tentative. It can leave you at a loss, be in danger of making us feel paranoid. But the people producing this piece are so interested in what it’s like to be made, to be doused in a glass of cold water, to feel empty and afraid and it just be a wake-up call. They love you because they have to; they’ve been made out of paper.
In a Gender-Flipped Revival, translated by Ian Grice, runs until 8 July at the Ustinov theatre, Edinburgh.