In 2014 I made a show in Limerick with Tamara Saulwick called Wake about a woman mourning the death of her mother. Endings is also about the experience of losing a parent. Most great artists are hunting an unanswerable question, and I think her work does that expertly; with this show there’s evidence of a deepening relationship to grief over time. She describes the origin of it as an image that struck her years ago of a turntable combined with the idea of moments of ending; the constant spin, and then the sound of the needle when it reaches the end of the record. Since beginning the project she lost her own father and began to weave that personal story into it all, combined with audio from interviews of other people’s experiences. So what we hear in the space are accounts from a dozen people maybe, some in the room as their parent died, some not. Each describes the intimacy of the experience. It’s about the quality of voice, live or recorded, and how it can become an instrument through delicate and confident staging. When you think about it, probably the most appropriate instrument to translate that essential human experience of loss.
Walking into the space upstairs at Project Arts Centre at the start of the show, any muso would start breathing a little faster seeing the variety of beautiful, old tech on stage. To begin there’s a duet between four turntables, live mixing lines from different interviews. As Tamara points out later, they look a bit like old hospital machines, a tense aesthetic, and feed us voices with the crackle and warmth you would expect. In the darkness behind, twin six foot reel to reel players with a length of tape stretched wide between them wait for their moment. It’s a loop, waiting to be recorded. Different voices get different machines. Tamara and Paddy [Mann] wheel them into position and let them speak. It’s a ballet, or an opera maybe. At the back Peter Knight controls an ancient effects station that is also looping on tape. The score for the design is so elegantly shaped, it leads us from one moment to the next, occasionally making space for troubadore Paddy to fill the room with mournful and beautiful guitar song. The lighting design marries with these other elements to create an incredible focus between light and dark.
Why is it so much more satisfying to hear a voice from an analogue source? Maybe it’s the idea of a sound wave physically etched into the groove of the record? Maybe you remember your own voice on tape? I think it might be the imperfections that make each a unique object. The material of it feels substantial in a way that digital recordings can’t. And that could be a good way of understanding Endings more generally... it is a performance of substance. By digging into one of the most universal human themes Endings becomes an homage to the voice of memory and loss. Presenting us with archaic technology it is also a comment on how our modes of hearing and listening have changed. The care, engagement and attention required by a reel to reel or record player is absent in any of our relationships with modern technology. But the play seems to present the idea that our most important stories deserve that attention.
Speaking after the show, Tamara commented that she was a bit nervous about bringing a show about death to Ireland since ‘we do it so well’. But to be honest I’ve never seen anything quite like what she has made. It’s full of swells of emotion and chaos, personal and distant voices articulating the endings that each of us carries either as fear or experience.
Maeve for DRAFF
Endings by Tamara Saulwick ran at Project Arts Centre as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival until the 14th October. Image: Heidrun Lohr & Sarah Walker
Posted: 16 October 2017