Pie by Gabrielle Griffin. Photo Heath Britton.
In the house of a purple gauze tent, a woman (Gabrielle Griffin, who conceived, devised and performs the work) counts money and squirrels it away in a box. Under the ticking of a clock, she pulls out a pastry dish from a draw in a wooden cabinet, its glass cupboards filled with eggs, and proceeds to make a pie. Out comes a puppet (designed and constructed by Rid Primrose) who checks the money in what is her box, and administers Griffin for the few coins she has taken.
What follows is Pie: a play I don’t quite know how to explain. Structurally, there is little in ways of plot. In fact, I am still not certain if the show was essentially following a structured plot, or if the scenes were simply thematically linked rather than lineally. Either way would be justifiable and fine in the context of the production, but it is the ambiguity that is not resolved, an uncertainness of time framing which has left me puzzled.
A word-less performance by Griffin is supported by her tender, skillful and considerate use of puppetry (there was one particular moment where the puppet climbs a ladder, and the swing of her leg up a step, a slight reverb and then rebalance in the hip struck me with such humanity it would be mundane in any other situation), but without a narrative or a history to the characters or their relationship most scenes threw up more questions than they answered. I couldn’t explain to myself what a Ferris wheel was supposed to represent; I was confused if pills were fertility pills or The Pill; I didn’t know if scenes were dreams or reality within this world.
I thought perhaps it could be the fact that reproduction isn’t a thought or an issue in my life at the moment. But I don’t think that precludes me from the understanding of the subject matter. It’s a work that would certainly be easy to have a response to if reproductive issues were front and centre of your life, but I don’t think that goes hand in hand with it being inscrutable if they are not.
Letting these issues go, though, the production sits within a attractive design, changing to create new interesting surrounds throughout the production. Through the gauzed tent design (Gaelle Mellis and Wendy Todd), the lighting (Mark Penningon) refracts in such a way to create rainbows of light glittering through the walls. The use of shadows, while sometimes enigmatic within the narrative, formed compelling images. Black and white animated projections (animation by Luku Kuku, projection design by Cindi Drennan) are at times clear in their intent and purpose to the show (sands through an hour glass), and at times not.
Composition and sound design (Catherine Oates and Belinda Gehlert) used a variety of styles, from the ticking of a clock, to the tango, to fairground music, to differentiae each scene. This sound aids in the movement and responses between Griffin and her puppet, and gently pushes the pace along.
At just under an hour, Pie doesn’t outstay its welcome: there is enough in the design elements and Griffin’s work with the puppet that the production is a gentile divertissement. Yet, I came away with the pressing question: if I didn’t know it was about reproduction, how long would it have taken me to have worked that out? In the scenes and the structure I unfortunately lost too much to really comprehend the story Pie was trying to tell.
Vitalstatistix presents Pie, conceived, devised and performed by Gabrielle Griffin. Design by Gaelle Mellis and Wendy Todd; lighting design by Mark Pennington; projection design by Cindi Drennan; composition and sound design by Catherine Oates and Belinda Gehlert; rehearsal director and dramaturgy by Kat Worth; puppet design, construction and consultancy by Rod Primrose; animation by Luku Kuku; outside eye and dramaturgy consultant Maude Davey. At the Waterside Workers Hall until August 6. More information and tickets.