United Kingdom Various Composers: Justitia, Jasmin Vardimon Company, Sadler’s Wells (Peacock Theatre), London 17.09.2013 (JO’D)
Cast: Paul Blackman, Luke Burrough, Mafalda Deville, Estéban Fourni, Christine Gouzelis, David Lloyd, Aoi Nakamura, Jasmin Vardimon
Production: Concept, Direction & Choreography: Jasmin Vardimon
Production Management: Ben Payne, Ed Yetton
Lighting Technician: Ed Yetton
Sound Technician: Kat Spreadbury
Stage Management: Simon Young
Set Builders: Miraculous Engineering
Computer Programming: Piers O Hanlon
The revolving stage of Justitia (which was first performed at the Peacock Theatre in 2007) is divided into three sections. They are a mixture of the real (in the form of a standard lamp and sofa) and the fantastic (chairs slotted horizontally through holes that are cut into one of the walls; light that comes through these in narrow shafts when the chairs are taken away). The movements of the seven, equally adept dancer-actors on the stage often reflect the circular motion of the structure itself: arms and head turning in one direction, legs or knees in the other. Nothing about the lives of the people they represent, it seems, can be pinned down; everything is fluid.
The piece begins with the sound of a typewriter in the dark, a sign that ‘Justitia’ is as much about words (and where they fail) as it is about movement. Words typed by a woman (who we later discover to be a court stenographer) appear on a screen. They tell story of the meeting and marriage between an English soldier and East Asian medical student in Hong Kong. This story is mimed at the same time by dancer actors representing the two people concerned. The happiness that the words imply is immediately undercut by the shuffling motions the man and the woman have to make on their entrance because of a rug that is wrapped around their feet. It is undermined again by the way the new bride wraps herself in the rug and is suspended from the edge of the revolving stage by her husband in what looks like a demonstration of her docility. What follows is, in part, an investigation into whether or not she later murders her husband’s therapist friend. Every possible scenario leading up to this event is played out, equally convincingly, by the two people involved. Through movement alone, they express different combinations of lust, anger, love, seduction and desire. Each scenario is interrupted at its climax by an objection from the lawyer defending the accused woman. It is impossible to know what really happened, what the relationship between the wife and the friend, or between the husband and the transvestite, transsexual or transgender neighbour, really was.
The second, less coherent half focuses on guilt as experienced by the members of the therapist’s group sessions. When one of them tells her story, it is through gestures, rather than words, that the rest show their horrified reaction. Towards the end, the wife gives her version of the events of the first half. ‘Is that what you wanted to hear?’ she asks. The fact that she gave it in her own language suggests it is the authentic version. Then she says, ‘What if it’s a lie?’ Dramatic power is only really restored, however, when the revolving stage itself becomes the protagonist. It turns to show the seven, now very familiar characters in different poses, as intimately as if they were on television, as remotely as if they were in a dolls’ house. On its final revolution they are all to be seen hung up on the protruding legs of the chairs, like so many dolls that have been ‘put away’.