Upside Down by Alessandra Fel
Updated: Jun 2, 2018
Camden People’s Theatre, Tuesday 25th November 2008
‘How did we get here?’ asks the male performer at the beginning of Upside Down, lying on the floor with a chair, as if he is sitting down but subject to an unnatural kind of gravity. ‘From the table’, replies his companion, a woman clutching a suitcase who is also prone on the ground, but looks as if she is flying. In the long pause between his question and her answer, the couple are suspended in emotional limbo, caught in static and displaced poses of the everyday. Behind them, the table also lies upturned on the floor; it does not offer much of a solution.
Thus begins a 16 minute journey into the demise of an ordinary couple, as explained through the physical tics and patterns of their daily routine. They kiss, they touch, they sleep, and their movements slip into a familiar mould. But the mould itself is slipping: what begin as tender moments of physical closeness dissolve inexorably into the strained symptoms of two strangers uneasy in shared space.
Without losing the fluidity of their cyclical routine, these two performers turn sparky flirtation into weary habit, into resentful physical reflex. When they say 'I love you' for the fourth or fifth time, the words have become meaningless and mechanical. A few minutes later, the couple are on the floor again, and the male performer asks, ‘How did we get here?’ Because of the flow of the performers’ movement, and the inevitability of the couple’s decline, the audience finds no satisfactory answer to this question, even when it arrives for a second time.
Upside Down was extended for the performance at Camden People’s Theatre, as part of The ScenePool festival of theatre. In the extended part, the performers lift themselves out of the visual echo of the opening scene – the two questions ‘How did we get here’ originally stood at the beginning and end – and spin into a more personal journey for the male performer. This means that the seam is easy to spot – the moment when the symmetry of the piece is broken. But what Upside Down loses in symmetry it gains in a kind of legacy: the second part extends the fantasy lives of the individuals involved, building thematically on the dreams the couple repeat while they still function as a unit. At first the performers speak their private lives as they go through the motions of everyday- the man dreamt about his parents, he says, as he swings his briefcase and marches to work. But later they stop speaking, and their movements become more abstract; the man lifts his briefcase onto his back, as if to symbolize burden. Fantasy and reality merge as the piece progresses, and the couple's relationship becomes inscribed in their dreams as well as affected by them.
Weaving sparse and repetitive language into skilful physical theatre, Upside Down is a melancholy fairy tale with an unhappy ending. As its title suggests, it displaces gesture and space so that normal relations twist out of recognition. In doing so, it coils away from cliché, even if it is built from an old fashioned male/ female standard – the man is driven by pressure and work, the woman dreams of escape as she waits at home. But as a whole, the work is drafted in fluid choreography that defines the effects of a couple’s relationship without explaining its root cause. The result is a compelling momentum that pushes the performers from romance to break up, and defines the natural divergence of separate lives. Like all misery, this couple’s unhappiness seems prosaic, gradual, and destined to come.
Written by Mary Paterson
Upside Down is performed by Alessandra Fel and Miguel Oyarzun, with music by Robin Holloway.
Upside Down revised version @ Arcola Theatre London 2010