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The Sleepwalk Collective - Amusing Themselves To Death

Entertainment and boredom mean a lot to The Sleepwalk Collective, the 
Anglo-Spanish ensemble who brought one of the most beguiling 
experiences to the 2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As The Flames Rose 
We Danced To The Sirens, The Sirens placed audiences into an intimate 
arena to become a sounding board for one woman's cry for help amidst a 
very private apocalypse. If that sounds bleak, Iara Solano Arana's solo 
performance was leavened by a brittle, deadpan humour that made light 
of her predicament even as she invited the audience to join her 
onstage. Stylistically, The Sleepwalk Collective, under the guidance of 
director Sammy Metcalfe, had stumbled on some after-hours mash-up of 
live art, stand-up and self-reflexive tragi-comedy.

This year the company return with Amusements, another solo show 
performed by Solano and directed by Metcalfe that takes things even 

“We became fascinated with what our relationship with entertainment is, 
and what we want from entertainment,” Metcalfe explains. “With 
television and laptops now, you can become completely absorbed in 
something that's a contemporary form of religious or shamanic 
experience, and that's a fascinating phenomenon. There's also an 
obsession with boredom, which is one of the great social problems of 
our age, trying to find the desire to do something that takes you over 
completely in as way that can deal with your own boredom.”

Metcalfe and Arana have opted for a performance which sounds just as 
stark as its predecessor in terms of a lack of onstage movement. This 
time out, however, in a show that is largely sound-led, The Sleepwalk 
Collective have opted to equip the entire audience with headphones.

“Music is really important to this show, says Metcalfe “We listened to 
Steve Reich the whole time we were making it. Having the audience wear 
headphones means that the sound has a physical presence, so you get 
forty-five minutes of having someone else's voice in your head.”

As with many of the companies in this year's Summerhall programme, The 
Sleepwalk Collective were formed at Rose Bruford College. The European 
Theatre Arts course which Metcalfe, Arana and the third founder member 
of the Collective, Finnish performer Malla Sofia Pessi, came together 
on, was a particular inspiration.

“It's very theory-led,” Metcalfe says of the course. “It really 
encourages you to interrogate whatever you're working on. I think we 
wanted to be a physical theatre company for a while, but then we 
decided that we just wanted to hear someone talk, or not talk, or hear 
music, and that surprised us.”

Between 2006 and 2008, the company developed work bi-lingually, first 
in London, then in Spain, where they found an affinity with dance 
companies. A five-hour durational piece, Why They Are Dancing, and Who 
Are They Dancing For, saw Metcalfe perform alongside Arana in 
headphones, while a follow-up, Nothing Left To The Imagination, was an 
exploration of emptiness that could last between fifteen minutes and 
twenty-four hours. As The Flames Rose picked up awards last year at 
festivals in Kosovo, Bilbao and Birmingham, and Metcalfe now regards it 
as the show that The Sleepwalk Collective found the company's 
minimalist voice.

“Lots of young artists now, the sort of artists who come to the Forest 
Fringe, are dealing with the fact that they don't have any resources to 
work with,” he says. “They work with what they've got, and that's what 
we do as well. I suppose a company like Forced Entertainment are the 
grand-fathers of all of us in a way. They created a set of 
circumstances that could work in a particular way, in which, if you've 
got nothing to work with, you make a virtue of it. It comes from a punk 
attitude, I suppose.”

Amusements will nevertheless be the first Sleepwalk Collective show to 
use full theatrical lighting. If, in punk parlance, this might be 
misconstrued as selling out, Metcalfe is aware too that the company has 
to keep moving forward.

“We're starting to think about what we want to do next,” he says, “and 
that's really quite frightening. All we know so far is that the next 
show is going to have at least three people in it, possibly four, and 
coming after two solo shows that's quite a big step. We don't want to 
keep on repeating ourselves, but I suppose the trick is trying to find 
how we use the limitations of the solo shows in a new context. So what 
we do next could go anywhere, really, though I think at the moment the 
way to go is to keep imposing limitations on the way we work. 
Limitations are good.”

Amusements, Summerhall, August 11th-26th, 5.45-6.45pm
The Herald, July 30th 2012



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