Review by Nadia Freeman

Reading the cues of human emotion is an inherent trait that we take for granted. Some of us view emotion differently from others or can find it more challenging. Access, presents an opportunity to analyse this form of human expression more closely.

After collecting our tickets we are asked to wait outside Te Auaha Gallery. Inside the gallery are two chairs facing each other about two metres apart inside a white square taped on the floor. The instructions are straightforward. The performer is to take one chair and the audience is invited to take the other if and when they want. Once an audience member sits in the seat, they may select an emotion from one of six. The performer will then enact that emotion. The performance of the emotion will continue until the audience member rises from the chair, leaving the seat open for another person to hop in should they want to.

From this point, the performance slips into the hand of the audience e.g. how much we choose to participate and how we interact with the performer is key. The stage is set up so that we can walk around the performance 360 degrees allowing the audience to watch not only the performer but the audience member that has chosen to take the hot seat as well as the rest of us in the room. 

It is an insightful look into emotion and how we respond. As empathetic beings, it is not often that we get to be voyeurs to emotion. This performance allows us to stand a little separated from our usual compassionate response, but even so, some primal responses are elicited. For instance, I spotted some nuances that the audience members seated opposite couldn’t help but display. Like how natural it is to smile when someone opposite us is happy, one of the very first things we as humans learn in behaviour mimicking and therefore, how challenging it can be for a performer to maintain this emotional representation if it is not reflected back by the person they are engaging with. Or the nuanced indicators of our audience members even when trying to remain composed through the tension of muscles and hands squeezing chairs. 

I myself found it interesting how the indicators of Aggression have many similarities to Lust and left wondering how other emotions outside of the six we were able to select may have been represented by our performer, particularly more positive ones since many in the selection were negative.

I am curious to see where the team of Hamish Annan, Katie Burson and Rob Byrne take this performance in the future. Access has two more showings on Friday the 23rd and Saturday the 25th at 7pm.