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Double Negative

Chopped Logic's new show is nominally about sex trafficking, although you will learn almost nothing about the so-called 'new slave trade' from it. Rather, combining words, choreographed movement, and a deftly evocative soundtrack by Steve Rafter, it reveals itself primarily as a meditation on loneliness, recollection and identity.

John (Lawrence Werber) lives alone in a house that he once shared with his now-departed wife and daughter. When two Chinese 'chefs' move into the house next door, he becomes increasingly obsessed by their strange comings and goings, compiling photographic evidence to present to the police. But before he can conclude his investigations, he finds one of the house's other occupants, Mai (Jenevieve Chang), a young Chinese woman who speaks no English, on his doorstep.

As a spectacle it's both frustrating and quietly absorbing. Susannah Henry's installation-like stage design - a series of floating screens that open and close and over which items of clothing stretched on hangers hover enigmatically - creates a space redolent with the mysteries of domesticity and individual memory.

In some respects the storytelling is deeply flawed - the inconclusive strand about John's 'disappearing' daughter and her eating disorder feels out of place, and the justification for having four people on stage, not to mention a puppet, isn't always clear either. But the production, which is both written and directed by Dorcas Werber, has a delightfully organic-yet-controlled way of unfolding, subtly juxtaposing sudden eruptions of violence and no less suggestive silences to offer a tender portrait of two lonely people groping towards a friendship of sorts without the glue of a common language.

Robert Shore, Time Out - 29th October 2007
Double Negative
"IF only these walls could talk" - in this case the walls certainly do talk and the tale they tell makes for uncomfortable viewing.

John seems to live his life through his camera, whether capturing strangers leaving a near by hospital or reliving his past through family photographs. What really puzzles him, however, is what is happening at the house next door? As the walls begin to talk and reveal their secrets John's involvement with the house becomes more complicated as his window is shattered by a brick, shortly followed by a young woman who speaks no English.

As the walls further divulge truths we learn the horror the woman has gone through and the dark truth about the 'business' being conducted next door. We also learn the tragedy of John's past and the loss of his daughter.

In a production that cleverly combines puppetry, physical theatre, and drama, the cast deliver emotionally charged performances. This is a show that doesn't deliver the answers to the audience on a plate, layers are slowly revealed that require the audience to consider their meaning, a process that continues even after leaving the theatre.

Perhaps not a show for those who like their drama neatly packaged with a defined story arc, Double Negative is though an impressive piece of theatrical story telling. Yes, the ending may be ambiguous and many questions may remain unresolved, however, it does stimulate thought and allows the audience to consider their own response to it. A powerful and thought-provoking piece.

GLEN PEARCE, Evening Star
The kind of work that falls within Total Theatre's remit often proceeds by conjuring alternate realities - fantastic worlds which reflect our own only obliquely or ironically while commentary on real lives and headline issues is left to the playwrights. In this quietly intelligent piece, ChoppedLogic seek to switch that around, presenting a multi-layered work which applies its rich theatrical aesthetic to a story about sex trafficking hitting suburbia.

Double Negative plays in the round, with Susannah Henry's assured set and Cis O'Boyle's beautifully weighted array of domestic pendant lights creating an immersive field that Steve Rafter's detailed sound design unites and extends: and this sense of cohesiveness and control underwrites the whole piece. Director Dorcas Werber's nuanced text, only occasionally overstretching its lyricism, is a fine example of 'new writing' adapted to equally new methodologies. The performances are excellent, with Lawrence Werber outstanding as the lonely curtain-twitcher whose quiet life is rudely interrupted; the touching sequence in which unexpected visitor Mai confronts a boiled egg for the first time is exquisitely played.

Ultimately, though, the piece is just too cool and collected to really convince. We never confront the horror from which the house-guest has fled. As a poignant culture-clash drama, the piece excels: but it creates little space for anger or argument. The meticulous smoothness of its internal fluidity leaves nothing jagged to stick in the mind once it's over. Double Negative absolutely reconfirms the promise of ChoppedLogic: but there's room to be braver and bolder next time out.

Chris Goode, Total Theatre, Spring 2008
John has lost his wife and his daughter, Kate, and even his neighbours have died. He rattles around the house, laughing too heartily to cover the silence. He has his photographs that show him where he came from, and he has his camera to point through the net curtains at the world outside. But when the empty house next door is rented to what John thinks are Chinese chefs, and he starts photographing their comings and goings, the outside world invades John's lonely existence. First in the form of a brick through the window; then with the arrival of Mai, a young Chinese woman who has been trafficked.

Chopped Logic's new piece reminds us that this is a company of real potential, if they can continue to get the right kind of developmental support. This is still rough and ready, but it has a distinct tone and voice and it knows precisely the effect it is having in the way it melds the physical and the visual with text and a soundtrack. Designer Susannah Henry creates a complete environment, transforming Oval House's main space into something akin to an installation. It is a hide-and-seek house of hanging Chinese style screens and English suburban lampshades, where cultures collide, past and present meet and the physical and the mental co-exist. Steve Rafter's sound design gets right inside your head and refuses to leave.

Not everything is fully embedded in the piece. Kate's anorexia (mirrored in John's feeding of Mai) sometimes feels like a story only half told, but I like the fact that the show isn't afraid of ambiguity; and as live action and puppetry, and past and present bump against each other there is a genuine sense of hidden lives uncovered that might otherwise be lost forever.

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian - 23rd October 2007
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