There’s an elephant in the room. A white one. Or maybe a moving mound of limestone, or Bootstrap Bill's tentacles stretching up from the ground. Eventually the audience gives up trying to guess, and allows itself to be drawn into this emerging white world.
Jo Bannon’s initial goose-pimple inducing apparition (is she really levitating?) gives way to a human-under-a-sheet ghost; a short-sighted, penguin-shuffling spectre hesitantly making its way around the stage. She searches and brings back a white kettle, a white iron; functional objects whose accumulation transform the black space to accommodate Bannon's albino aesthetic.
To broach a topic such as albinism - a congenital disorder characterised by the absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes - is to risk creating a fragile and polite state of witnessing. Yet throughout the evening, the performer lays out the subject before us like a white page, one that she’s willing to tear up and throw over us like confetti. An ironic glance, a head turn mid dodder discloses her self-deprecating humour that is both inviting and endearing. Her performance successfully pops the PC balloon, giving the audience permission to laugh.
The Big Reveal produces an unexpected sensation when it comes. Bannon's appearance feels oddly normal in this colourless habitat. Intense but childlike, her pupils peer out from swan-feathered eyelashes, block white hair wig perfect.
A soft, lilting voice we come to know as being her mothers’ fills the room with anecdotes. She reminisces about her daughter’s arrival. She came to be born when the Pope came to town. She was a miracle.
Bannon can’t resist a wry and playful nod to white’s divine association. Careful, ceremonious actions exalt the performance. Ironing a sheet transforms a table into an altar, a self-made mitre adorns her head and choral music is brought down to earth by the Holy Communion she fashions out of a Brennan’s cheese and crisp sandwich.
Her mother intones that her hair turned invisible when it was washed as a baby. Bannon bathes her snowy mane before our eyes but it does not disappear. Not like the other white elements on stage; the steam from the iron, the shaken talc from the sheet, the vapour from the kettle - each billowing cloud claimed by the darkness.
Bannon will not disappear. She stands before us front of stage, features proudly illuminated by the full white light. This is what I see but I feel I see her.
Anna for DRAFF
Alba by Jo Bannon runs at Project Arts Centre until June 10th. Image: Paul Blakemore
Posted: 10th June 2017