>morphia series by helen herbertson and ben cobham

>reviewed by ma shaoling

>date: 12 jun 2004
>time: 8pm
>venue: esplanade theatre studio
>rating: unrated

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


MORPHIA SERIES is not a dream that lasts for 18 minutes, though it can indeed only belong to dreamers. The performance is open to twelve of us as such, led in two at a time. The mysterious introduction continues inside the dark theatre as we follow a beam of torchlight to our seats, carrying offerings of dessert wines and pastries. We can hear one another sipping. A voice then whispers, "It's only a dream" - not to mark the beginning of the dream, but to mark what we remember of the dream when we wake up.

'The memories we elude catch up to us, overtake us like a shadow, a truth appears suddenly in the middle of a thought, a hair on a lens…' - Anne Michaels (Programme Notes).

Freud writes in 'The Interpretation of Dreams' that the difference between what we have dreamt and our dream-thought implies that 'the psychical material has undergone an extensive process' of what he terms 'condensation' in the course of the formation of the dream. (pp. 381-383)

MORPHIA SERIES brings to light this process, whereby the dream that we remember when we wake up is only a fragmentary remnant, or more precisely, 18 minutes of the totality. In other words, we cross into Herbertson and Cobham's world after waking up from our own.

Herbertson's silhouette takes on the only visible form in her performance space - a small, black box variously lighted at different stages of our perceptive field. At first, we do not know from which viewpoint we are looking at her figure, until she starts to mould her fingers and twitch slowly from side to side. All this while, the whispering voice continues. Haunting and completing the pictographic script, we hear the words "a cold, frozen landscape."

But we can no more trust what we hear than what we see. Herbertson becomes her own sound, making slicing movements in the air, automaton-like. Just as we are able to gain a clearer impression of her body, the lights dim and there is at once an alienating distance between our consciousness and our memory of the previous scene.

>>'MORPHIA SERIES is not a dream that lasts for 18 minutes. Instead it brings to light the process whereby the dream that we remember when we wake up is only a fragmentary remnant, or more precisely, 18 minutes of the totality.'

It is the perceptive system, which is without the capacity to retain modifications and is thus without memory, that provides our consciousness with the whole multiplicity of sensory qualities. On the other hand, our memories […] are in themselves unconscious. (Freud, p. 689)

MORPHIA SERIES is such a tease because it is the briefness of each sequence that heightens our recollection of it. When the lights come on again this time to reveal a glowing silhouette in red juxtaposed with the cooling sounds of waves, it is all the more like the experience of waking up with a vague recollection of having dreamt the night before. We can read in her body the text of our dreams, a phantasmagoria of our consciousness.

The subsequent series do not relent. The white floodlights overtake us once more, and this time the voice tells us that the body is looking for a home to reside in. Herbertson moves stealth-like in her abode, touching the little space that is given to her. Gradually, the voice seems to be addressing us, "We'll have to arrive without having to bump into any corners."

But we must be hearing wrongly, because at this point the conveyer belts below our seats start to move forward. Without a choice, we are zoomed in to her body. She is almost bare. We can smell her skin almost with the taste of our dessert wine. "Who is this person so strange and at once familiar?" We recognise her muscles and wrinkles, such strength, age, youth and fatigue. Now, a whisper is heard again, but because of our proximity we can almost suspect it to be coming from ourselves. We feel that we can no longer be the only ones watching. Surely this framed person is mobilising her own stares. While we look on, unable to comprehend why or what we should be doing, Herbertson starts to muse upon her subjectivity. Her arm slithers like a snake, examining prey before consuming it. She gazes down at her hand, touching it gently at first before slapping violently at its sinewy veins. She then shakes violently, as if to get out of herself in order to join us in watching the spectacle.

Her resistance can only be futile. Our seats are moving again, this time retreating further back into the unconscious. The air is cold, like the outline of the box; the lone figure inside it, and the persistent whisper still trying to locate itself. We are robbed of the sensorial excitements evoked by the series. The space is just space now, dark and remote. The distance establishes itself, giving way to silence. But in exchange we retain what it feels like to be sombre - if only for a moment. For there will be no experience of dreaming if we cannot be awake to remember it.