Trigger Warning

– by Elyse Simich


Trauma is the re-experiencing of past memories as profoundly disturbing physical sensations and emotions. In her latest piece, Trigger Warning, Sally Richardson has written and directed this part verbatim, part instrumental piece to examine a similar idea.

Inspired by the experience of her friend, a survivor of the Balkan War in the 1990s, this contemporary performance explores the mindset of those who constantly relive traumatic experiences.

The performance space consists of a black floor and black walls. A microphone sits front and centre. Instruments lay on the floor. The sound desk is visible.

The show starts with Hayley McElhinney talking into the microphone. She tells us this is not her own story, but that it’s “her” story — the story of the woman who survived the war over 25 years ago. Hayley uses her voice to convey emotion. As her monologues progress, her vocals get louder until she begins shrieking near the end of the show. Without using any costuming or props, she seamlessly changes characters and switches between memories.

It is a very raw and emotive performance.

The lighting, operated by Joe Lui, is one of the most symbolic elements of the show, particularly the spotlight during the monologues. When she is remembering the soldiers, only half her face is lit to show her fear. Towards the end of the performance the lighting becomes uncomfortably bright, filling the whole space. She’s discussing the lack of identity bodies have after death, and the combination of lighting and sound makes the scene very unsettling.

Cat Hope is the musician/composer and operates the sound desk. In some scenes she is the focus as she sings and plays the electric bass guitar. Her score explores the key themes of grief and loss. It’s rhythmic, and raw — often with a melancholy undertone. As Hayley’s monologues begin to build in intensity, Cat’s score becomes crashing and screaming — escalating to a piercing crescendo. The sound is all mixed in real-time to create an unfiltered performance. Different sounds trigger different memories.

Sound is used throughout the whole performance. At one point a loud, rumbling, crashing sound is used to give the audience the illusion they are falling out of a plane. The theme song to “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” plays in the background of another scene, with the sound quality of a record player. It symbolises innocence as the character recounts her childhood during the war. As the description becomes darker and more disturbing the music becomes scratchy and jumpy — the speed changes as the song is fast-forwarded and rewound.

The show keeps cycling back to one particular scene, where the main character’s husband and children are killed. This is the central point of the performance — it both begins and ends on this memory, it is also visited during the middle. This conveys the recurring nature of trauma, and how these experiences affect a person for life.

Hayley is dressed all in black; there is no set and only minimal prop use. This all adds to the authentic and “unplugged” nature of the show; it is a very raw and emotive performance.


Photo credits: Facebook

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