Before living in Montreal I would come into the city every few months, always through the same doors at the bus station, where the same homeless man was stationed every time. He was the nicest guy, oddly joyful, holding the door open and greeting passersby as they barreled through, and I would occasionally put a far too small amount of change in his half-torn disposable coffee cup. Then one day he was gone. I chose to believe that he had made it off the streets, knowing all too well that his life had more likely taken a far less fortunate turn.
Upon watching Théâtre de la Trotteuse’s “Whip”, I was reminded of him… and of others like him that I may not have regarded quite as fondly. “Whip” is an honest look into the life of the disregarded and disenfranchised, a multidisciplinary collective creation delivered mostly without words (i.e. don’t be drawn away by the fact that it is advertised in French; “Whip” is definitely appropriate and accessible to an Anglophone audience). Because it is not a realistic, straightforward, narrative-based play, the following is just my own interpretation; every individual audience member will form their own narrative, one informed by their own opinions and experiences, and that is the beauty of experimental pieces like this one.
From a series of different scenes, dances and other movement sequences expertly stitched together, a vague narrative emerges: the unlikely romance between a homeless man and young woman who seems fairly new to life out on the streets. This is the through line that carries the piece, although at its heart “Whip” is not a love story, but rather one of power dynamics. It humanizes those who find themselves at the proverbial bottom of the food chain, and examines their relationships with each other and with the oppressive class system that keeps them where they are.
One of many truly beautiful moments is a clumsy attempt at physical intimacy in a very small and seemingly unwelcoming space. Watching the characters learn to coordinate their bodies with one another and with their surroundings, witnessing this encounter grow from something awkward into something remarkably graceful is quite magical.
Fair warning: “Whip” deals with delicate subject matters such as addiction, mental illness and violence, and illustrates the unfortunate reality of how those three things operate on a cycle, as well as the pain of watching someone you care about go down a destructive path that you know all too well. The result is incredibly powerful and important, but the fact remains that these people’s stories are upsetting.
Théâtre de la Trotteuse has described “Whip” as a “visual poem” and I think that is an accurate statement. The performers’ bodies, their costume pieces and the lighting create a series of images that are visually stunning, and evocative in the same indirect way poetry is. The main sources of imagery are the characters’ shoes: from stiletto heels to crocs, from brand new to held together with duct tape, these shoes communicate almost everything there is to know about the people wearing them in a way that words could not possibly do with justice.
If you enjoy movement-inspired theatre and don’t mind the absence of a clear, realistically delivered narrative, “Whip” is sure to please. The 90 minutes feel like far less, and the performance is captivating throughout. Though its word count is low, “Whip” speaks loudly and eloquently, and may very well be one of the most polished pieces of this year’s lineup.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor Violette Kay
Théâtre de la Trotteuse presents “Whip”
When: June 10 at 5:00 pm, June 12 at 6:00 pm, June 15 at 3:45 pm, June 16 at 10:15 pm, June 18 at 1:00 pm
Where: Studio Jean-Valcourt du Conservatoire, 4750 Henri-Julien Ave.
Duration: 90 minutes
Box Office: www.montrealfringe.ca | 514.849.FEST (3378)
Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival