“NOWHERELAND: THE EDEN” (Ray-O, Bangkok, 2022) A performance review
NOWHERELAND: THE EDEN — A quest of distance, authorship, and form
It was several years ago that I tapped into Ray-O’s “Nowhereland” myself. The thesis of his play was intrusive. It connected with the part where my truth lied and transformed how I saw the world to some extent. He is still obsessed with the human psyche, the quality that makes his work “NOWHERELAND: THE EDEN” fascinating. Ray-O has now collaborated with Party, a LAMDA-trained director, whose course has trained some of now West-end influential theatre directors. So it is edgy enough to make me want to immerse myself in the show. Eagerly when I was invited to attend, as they called it, “the prototype night.”
“Seeker,” as they called us, were led into the theatre, where there were white wooden sets with dozen doors. A group of actors circled, staring into the ceiling, mumbling to themselves the way hamlet speaks about life, dream, and death. Then, they dissolved, hiding deep in those shutting doors, inviting us to open, not knowing what awaited and what we would discover. Only the promise that it will eventually bring us back to “our presence” was made.
In each chamber, we found an actor indulging in their world.
“Why do they dare to decide what to do with their lives?”
“Why do they do what they love and still can make a living?”
“Why are they so happy with themselves?”
“What is your dream?”
“How can we live without believing in something?”
Asked them. The actors ask me and other audience in the room.
But things started to work out not until spectators finished warming into the show’s thesis. I observed that the show’s atmosphere came alive when we began to converse with the actors. But the raw dialogue was a mere guise of what happened under our skins. When space was fermented, the show penetrated us intensely.
“You look lost,” Says the actress.
“Yes, I’m lost,” Says me.
“Oh no,” Says her.
She tried to empathize with me, encouraging me to go out singing, dancing, meditating, or doing other “hippies’ shits.” Eventually, she got her phone out to make this lovely selfie with the hashtag “#befree #beyou #youareworthit”.
I couldn’t resist my redemption to respond to them — actor and what was happening. Ray-O somehow touched on my truth again, but this time not as deep. Why? Because it is somewhat formless — the show plays with our creative impulse, yet it ignores something, misses something, and maybe that thing is our intellects.
The show is not just about what is happening inside our hearts — remarkable though that was. Nor was it simply to do with the innovative marriage between immersive theatre and psychology that it claims in the advertising. It was the fact that the show dealt with the distance between creators and actors, actors and actors, actors and audiences, and audiences and creators. There are gaps between them on top of the show’s vague centralized theme. It reminds me of
“As, for example, when a group of actors and writers [in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre], wanting a play [on Vietnam] that did not exist, set out to make one, using techniques of improvisation and authorless invention to fill the vacuum. Group creation can be infinitely richer, if the group is rich, than the product of weak individualism — yet it proves nothing. There is eventually a need for authorship to reach the ultimate compactness and focus that collective work is almost obliged to miss.”
wrote Peter Brook in his “The Empty Space”. Though Brook argues that authorship brings about focus, it is limited to only what the author sees, thinks, and feels.
Nonetheless, if there is a script, the position in which the show is delivered is clear. The playwright might approach his writing from where they can write best about it. But this show is more complicated; everyone on the stage is a playwright. Everything is volatile, from what happened in each room — between each actor and audience — to their life experiences in relation to each posing questions to approaches each deployed in the devising process to their expressions.
What is clear is that the distance between actors and audiences is a blur, as the director put it interestingly in the show’s advertising spot. However, the subject matter on which the show wants to focus its attention is a blur too. What topics the show intends to criticize, emphasize, or discern: all these things were ambiguous. Interestingly, the show denies a linear approach toward theatre. I wonder if psychotherapists could dismiss the same when they need to make sense of their client’s realities. As the final moment came, what and how “the promising presence” looks and feels like is the question. Would I get the answer from one of their subsequent nights?