Written for Total Theatre Magazine
Almost as bewildering for its audience as it must be for its actors, Sebastian Rex’s Spare harnesses the latent discomfort we feel when confronted with ambigiously abusive sexual encounters. Cast completely at random every performance, all of Rex’s actors are required to learn every part. Dressed in a municipal white uniform that is redolent of mental institutions, the actors blindly select their parts from a pile of white boards. This experimental tactic is completely disorientating: all notions of an actor’s suitability for and association with a role are entirely displaced.
With 40,320 permutations, there is no risk of the cast becoming complacent. Indeed, this seems to be part of Rex’s aim: he wants his actors to be as uncomfortable as the characters they are playing. Confronting a series of potential rapes (an anagram of ‘spare’), Rex’s practice mirrors his material. Forgivably not completely flawless, the cast handle this trying task surprisingly well. The highly stylised choreography lends each character their own immediate identity and, as such, facilitates a curious and almost frightening sense of other-ness.
Spare challenges the logic of cause and effect, and interrogates the superficial sincerity of many of our everyday relationships and interactions; every false word we speak has the potential power to drive someone towards a dramatic decision. As the characters shirk their responsibilities, they mark the pure white clothes of their victims with handprints of black paint; the Police closes his vantage point and the Parent sinks into and slips through the comfort of an arm chair.
A brave and daring new approach to theatre, it’s fortunate that Rex’s skill as a director equals his ambition as a writer. Although the actors experience the occasional waver, and the complex direction of the storyline is initially a little more muddied than perhaps it ought to be, Spare treads over exciting territory. Subject and style are exactly matched: a sterile environment is conjured, in which every relationship is intentionally contrived. Constantly renewing itself, Rex’s perplexing Beckettian nightmare really demands more than one viewing.