Written for Total Theatre
‘See me,’ a sea of ordinary faces asks us. ‘See me’ – two little words packed with such meaning. So begins Nicola Gunn’s At the Sans Hotel, a fractured prism of a performance looking at an increasingly unstable self. It ends with her staring out blinkingly at us, the same sweet expression on her face as she welcomed us in with. What happens in between is some fresh kind of madness, but it’s an insanity which hangs together in a Lynchian way, leaving a holistic stain on those who braved it all the way through.
Gunn delights in pulling the rug from underneath us and her persona is in a constant state of flux. She is breathtakingly personal and at the same time desperately contrived. Shocking us on purpose she looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth and then tells us about an obsession with masturbating in public. She draws complex diagrams about what this story is supposed to be about, turning her narrative arc into a sad woman’s face, and sitting behind it as it stares out at us and she stuffs herself with cake. A German woman sits behind a desk berating a film version of herself as she sobs.
If this sounds pretentious the genius of At the Sans Hotel is that it isn’t at all. Whilst asking dangerous questions and putting herself into uncomfortable places Gunn is also inherently likeable and down to earth; her ability to laugh at herself whilst maintaining the integrity of her exploration is masterly. It is this personability that remains a constant anchor in the middle of a postmodern squall. We may not always know where we’re going but we know she’ll see us through.
At the end one can’t help but wonder what it was all about, our minds desperately searching for reason and rhyme. There are no easy answers, but the way in which Gunn has played with form and identity is a constant source of rich contemplation for days after.