A Little Space is described on Leeds Playhouse’s website as being ‘a powerful piece of physical theatre, which uses movement, imagery, sound and lighting to portray the needs, desires and fears of the characters’. That seems to sum it up a treat.
This form of theatre was a first for me and so all I can do is use my normal criteria to write the review. They can be summed up as concept and execution. There are obviously flaws in this system when you are dealing with something of which you have no experience or expertise but I write for the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ rather than the aficionado who will obviously seek out a much higher authority than me. By the way, the above phrase is one I recall from my ‘A’ Level Law days when we were told that it was used by Lord Justice Greer in Hall v Brooklands Auto-Racing Club to be the yardstick of what the public would regard as being an arbiter of ‘reasonable’ behaviour.
Firstly, the concept of the piece was simple but effective, in that it told the stories of five people who occupied flats in a tower block, and how they used their space and reacted with others, both inside it and outside. There are times when it looks as though connections between some of the tenants will be made but then aren’t, and others when a strong relationship is torn apart by the way in which their flat is used. More of that later.
The work has drawn upon the performers’ experiences which is a little worrying as some of the scenes are quite scary. There is a constant theme of threat throughout the piece with much use being made of a space beneath the stage, which is set as a studio flat. We firstly see a figure lift a hatch and descend under the floor only to manifest later as a spirit haunting the first featured occupant. The underfloor space casts an eerie bright green aura when floorboards are removed or trap doors opened.
The stories were told both in sequence and in tandem, if that makes any sense. The first vignette was of a girl entering her apartment for the first time and settling down at the table with textbook and paper to do some work but was constantly interrupted by ominous goings-on. There were strange noises and one by one the light bulbs blew until the place was in darkness. There was a standard lamp which seemed to have a mind of its own and turned on and off at random. Not a very conducive atmosphere in which to write an essay.
The second apartment, although still using the same set introduced us to a couple who had just moved in and were still very much in romantic mode. This situation deteriorated when the man of the house, who stayed in all day whilst his partner went out to work, discovered the television set and became addicted. The effect on the relationship was catastrophic and almost resulted in its total breakdown.
Finally there was another girl who ended up with a model of the apartment strapped to her body which I assumed to mean that she felt constrained within its walls, but, with help from the other residents she was freed from its confines and found liberation.
As for the execution I found it to be a little patchy. The music was superb and the lighting added to the menace felt by some of the tenants as well as lifting the mood in one scene where the stage had been turned into a park. Sadly there was no information available either by way of a fact sheet or a programme so I can’t mention those responsible by name. There is nothing on the website either.
The use of costume was effective by the employment of a simple article, namely a light brown coat of the kind removal men wear. The members of the ensemble, when not being featured as subjects, donned these garments, which signified that they were invisible, and moved the contents of the flat around the stage as if poltergeists.
The dancing was not as crisp as it could have been, it doesn’t take an expert to realise that when performers are executing the same routine then it should be done as one. The message came across though. Once again there is no cast list available. I suppose that it upholds the value of the work being an ensemble piece.
There were a couple of brilliant scenes in which the stage was turned into a television studio for Coronation Street after the telly addict had been sucked through the screen and into a netherworld in which he was acting a part in a short snippet from the soap, repeated over and over. I no longer watch Corrie but I believe that the dialogue in question was lifted from the soundtrack of the show whilst the characters mimed it.
The other effective scene setter was executed by the use of light boxes which had silhouettes of people and furniture on the front and became a tower block when piled one on the other.
As an introduction to physical theatre this was pretty good and did not fulfil my original fear of not being able to follow what was going on. I might, however, have trouble getting to sleep in my flat for the next few nights.
A Little Space is a Gecko and Mind the Gap co-production commissioned by HOME Manchester and The Place, London and runs at Leeds Playhouse until 7th March. See below for more details and tickets.
After its stint at Leeds Playhouse it goes on tour. For details please go to
All photographs by Tom Woollard