I don’t think I understood Lands. Or rather, it’s a piece so complex and confusing, operating on different levels simultaneously, that it’s still difficult to get one’s head around. It’s difficult, too, to tie it up in a neat conclusion. Whatever it is saying, theatre company Antler have created a starkly individual, quirky piece that, if anything, has its audience gripped for its hour duration.
The premise is fairly simple: Leah Brotherhead is starting a new puzzle, next to her a perfectly completed one. She is meticulous, describing into a microphone each piece number and what is featured on it. Next to her, Sophie Steer bounces up and down, constantly. It’s an impressive feat of endurance, one that becomes almost comic when it becomes evident that Steer can’t leave the trampoline. She just can’t.
Just like there is one actor on the ground and one in the air, Lands seems to function on two levels. The first is basic, and allows the piece to be all we see on stage: Sophie cannot get off her trampoline, and Leah wants her to get off so she can finish her jigsaw puzzle. On the second, more complex and symbolic level, there are the multitude of themes at play, particularly territory and our desire to encroach on others’ space. Even having seen the show, it’s difficult to explain what Lands is actually about, or what its conclusion is.
What does the trampoline represent? Is Steer’s constant unconvincing assertion that she is fine push the concept of territory into new realms of agoraphobia? Does Brotherhead represent a mental health professional, an unsympathetic state leader, or is she just a regular woman who just really wants to finish her jigsaw puzzle? Perhaps that’s my main issue with Lands – everything bubbling underneath is brilliant, but it is perhaps a little too inaccessible. It rejects closure and errs too much on the side of ambiguity, to the point that it becomes a minefield of ideas, none of which achieve prominence.
The ending of Lands is sinister, taking advantage of its theatrical medium to freeze Steer out of the picture. This final moment is chilling, surprising, and showcases Lands at its best, creating a new territory out of light and sound. Lands, then, is clearly a very intelligent piece, devised and directed with meticulously by Jasmine Woodcock-Stewart. It’s fascinating stuff – but for all its complexity, I couldn’t help but feel that Lands could just do with a little more clarity.