BIAF 23: Gutter

  Photo: Neil Hainsworth

A host of television screens, a series of cameras, a table, a chair, a tremendous application of sound and music, and both mime and movement from the suited and not always booted Kevin Coquelard. That's what it takes to bring Off The Rails Dance's Gutter, by Eileen McClory, to life – and the life we see is one lived, breathed and felt within the structural demands of the fast-paced and high maintenance lifestyle of modern media. It's a lifestyle full of potential, one that Gutter does not disappoint in its exploration of – it is a piece which simply bursts with energy, ideas and humour amidst the motion exhibited by a hypnotic Coquelard, visibly dazzling its audience throughout the entirety of its fifty-minute running time as both invaluable commentary and taut, tantalising entertainment.

Coquelard plays the Host, a representation of the presenter one may see on their television screen every day and an examination of the multi-faceted nature and applicability of public profile. He has different ways of greeting people, different camera angles focused on him, differently projected backgrounds behind him, different tunes to accompany him and different shoes to put on, but similar routines to adhere to. Routines which performative and visual expression can only go so far in dressing up. Said routines are also the core of his "voice", which is delved into by Coquelard, McClory and the production team as a means of natural evolution grappling with enforced imposition. Coquelard's movement, a virtuosic combination of the light, the nimble, the sloppy and the raw, equates to the unease expressed by the Host's individual aspiration in the face of his idea of professionalism.

This persistent reinvention of the self for the sake of projecting dependability, and the lengths to which one may go to retain it, drives both Coquelard and Gutter – both performer and viewer are drawn to this combination of the machinic and the organic, creating an experience as funny and enjoyable as it is chilling and contemplative. I'm reminded of the warmth one can't help but feel at seeing what looks like pride on the Host's face when he hears something like the classic news programme themes we woke up hearing during the early hours of the morning – the kind of themes which give one the belief that they can aim high at the start of a brand new day. We also hear The Price Is Right theme at one point, and the delight of recognition – repeated later with the use of many terrific compositions, be they classical or modern – is tempered by the reminder that even the affable and gently commanding presence of someone like the great Leslie Crowther could only draw audiences in certain surroundings during a certain time. It's like preparing to be enjoyed, appreciated, respected and then, tragically, forgotten – the thrill and futility of constant activity in the public eye, what motivates it and where it may eventually lead.

In a big way, Gutter appears to be about the identity of the people pleaser, in this case one who appears to find it difficult to turn down an opportunity in the hope that he will always retain the recognition and respect his efforts warrant. It's about life as, and dedication to, beliefs as a series of causes, and quietly, sensitively hints that stepping back and reassessing goals is as appropriate and as important as repeatedly adapting to pursue them. It's about good intentions that might be forever in servitude of a much larger audience and a series of screens which can just as easily give our performer the feeling of being taken away from a titular gutter as being sent back to it. It's pretty spectacular.

Simon Fallaha

Gutter runs at Belfast's MAC until October 29 as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival 2023. For more information, and tickets, click here.