Birmingham Telegraph on Scratch

An Affair to Remember

Martin London, The Birmingham Telegraph, 1999

The performance is already in motion as the audience files into the theatre. On top of a towering centre-stage box, two figures shift restlessly, waiting for the house lights to dim.

Balanced between narrative-based play and performance art, 20:21’s Scratch lasts for one hour only, going for maximum intensity. Is it autobiographical confession or pure fiction? ‘Spencer’ and ‘Romy’ dallied together on Valentine’s Day, 1998. Now they’re dissecting the experience, headset microphones picking up contrasting perspectives and simultaneous monologues, all whilst engaging in strenuous physical activity, hanging from the lip of the box, playing hide-and-seek around its corners, their images projected onto opposite sides by real time video links.

The dialogue, particularly Spencer’s, also contains the odd humorous aside: good for light relief, before the tension builds anew.

The diffracted sounds of LA’s DJ Scab surge up in volume, then recede, altering pressure-levels between the performers. The vinyl sources extend from collaged trip-hop beats to cathartic guitar explosions.

There are many clichés at play here: communication breakdown in the modern relationship already has a well-thumbed booklet of alienated moves in current physical theatre. 20:21 are, in essence, following the same path, but there’s a higher standard of script, personal tweaks to the characters, and some impressively rigorous acrobatics.

Spencer and Romy are not averse to slamming their bodies around, treading on each other or, in moments of high angst, smashing their wooden ladder hard against the box and floor.