If I were to describe the performance in the most basic terms, I might tell you that Cloth was essentially half an hour of a young woman playing with, wearing, dancing around and rolling around in a bed sheet to a soundtrack of upbeat accordion, pared-down vocal tracks and lingering silences. However, to do so would be to sell the piece short on its emotional intensity and its brilliant ability to narrate a story through evocative physical theatre.
Cloth is the debut show of Edinburgh-based one-person theatre collective Eve Klein and Sons and was performed in the Barron theatre. It is difficult to imagine a better venue for the piece; the black box theatre proved a striking contrast to the piece’s eponymous white cloth and the theatre’s intimate size facilitated the establishment of the relationship between Klein and the audience.
This relationship was of particularly importance to the performance. From the first moment when the protagonist walked onto the stage and unfolded the sheet, she gazed directly at the audience, inviting us to witness this deeply personal exploration of what happens in beds. This started with a cosy sleeping routine, during which the protagonist curled the sheet around her – standing, then on the floor, then standing again – before immerging decidedly bleary-eyed and bed-headed. Next followed a comical scene where the sheet became a shower. “Noticing” the audience watching her, Klein flashed us an embarrassed smile, which was an amusing touch. Much of the performance broke the fourth wall, forging a connection with the audience and reminding us of the privileged insight we were being given into the most intimate of human emotions.
What was commendable about the performance was the way in which these emotions were conveyed through the physicality of the interactions with the sheet. The sheet was a source of childish amusement, transformed into a variety of outfits including a nun’s habit, a wedding dress and a Greek robe. It provoked fear, spread out on the floor where it dared the protagonist to dip in a toe, and then amazement as she discovered that shaking it at one end would cause ripples. However, most poignant was the portrayal of more complex emotions where the sheet became less of a prop and more a cocoon that hid and revealed the body, occasionally leaving a foot or a hand exposed in sequences that evoked a growing consciousness of the sexualised body.
In a predominantly visual theatre piece, words and music were all the more effective for their sparseness. Lively accordions accompany the more comic scenes whilst at other times, vocal tracks and crescendo lend drama to the more intense emotions displayed. Much of the performance enjoyed a silence which needed no words or music to complement the physical display.
Klein’s performance was praiseworthy. She mastered the subtlest of facial movements in a way that was utterly captivating and believable. From one moment to the next, her character went from coquettish to self-conscious, amused to bored, in a way that evoked the complexity and contradiction of the human condition and captivated the audience’s attention. Klein’s talent particularly shone through in one sequence in which the cloth seemed to take on a life of its own, wrapping itself around her face and body until she threw it down, and then slowly folded the sheet whilst singing her haunting swan song: “Must my trembling spirit fly into a world unknown.” The sheet lay once again folded on the floor in the same manner as it had at the beginning, but after its many manifestations and meanings, I don’t think anyone saw it in quite the same way.
An original idea executed with skill and sensitivity, Cloth was thought-provoking, engaging and a thoroughly enjoyable half an hour of physical theatre.