Review: Eddie Ladd in Ras Goffa Bobby Sands/ The Bobby Sands Memorial Race at The Place

Performance: 10 April 2010
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Monday 12 April 2010

Eddie Ladd

On the darkened stage of The Place sits a rather menacing, twelve-by-six foot running machine segmented by seven red sensor beams. The dark, shrunken space guarded by beams immediately suggests containment; choreographer-performer Eddie Ladd repeatedly contrasts the unbounded freedom of amateur running with the confined prison regime of the notorious Maze prison outside Belfast, where Irish Republican Army prisoner Bobby Sands ended his life in 1981.

Ras Goffa Bobby Sands/ The Bobby Sands Memorial Race (the title is given in both Welsh and English) is performed to an electronic soundscore featuring interviews with former Maze prisoner Lawrence McKeown, Sands’ biographer Denis O’Hearn, readings of Sands’ articles and messages home, a Welsh poem and narration in both Welsh and English by Ladd herself. Ladd is from, and frequently performs in Wales, where the Welsh narration would surely be a welcome addition for the audience; here it forms a pleasant enough part of the soundtrack without adding much to the communication.

Unsurprisingly, running features heavily in the piece, both as a literal representation of Sands’ teenage hobby, and as an image of endurance over the course of his later life in prison. In the early stages of the piece, Ladd sprints briskly around the stage and leaps lightly onto the giant running machine to the spoken accompaniment of extracts of an article on running written by Sands. Despite the punishing pace of the machine, the ease of Ladd’s running here evokes freedom and self-determination.

Later, as the spoken narration describes Sands’ imprisonment in the new H-Block cells at The Maze, Ladd’s movements become much more constricted and hemmed-in. Sliding along the floor face-down, Ladd ducks under and around the sensor-beams, contact immediately setting off flashing lights and clunking alarm sounds. Ladd’s movements, limited by the beams, suggest confinement; but her agile workings against the treadmill also hint at defiance and resistance even in the early stages of the piece, the dancer’s body competing and fighting against the machine as it slides her continually backwards. Mimetic solo gestures and Sands’ spoken narrative tell us of beatings and maltreatment, precipitating the prisoners’ protests against the Maze regime which culminated in the two hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981.

The hunger strikes are visually represented here by a trail of salt on the treadmill, referring to the salt eaten by the prisoners to prevent rapid physical deterioration during the protest, and marking the surface like a timeline. Ladd begins confidently pacing against the thrust of the machine, building from a walk to a run as the first strike progresses, seeming to take it in her comfortable stride. As the strike continues, Ladd’s weakened body begins to break down, stumbling, limping and finally collapsing as the strike is called off.

During the second strike, which Sands led, Ladd’s body is visibly more exhausted – instead of running erect, the dancer crawls, grasps along the floor and forces herself around the treadmill. Seemingly lacking the energy to move independently, she pushes her arms and knees into place using her own hands. Ladd’s performance owes as much to physical theatre as to dance technique, and here she is highly convincing in her portrayal of a drained body trying to find the power to continue resisting.

Ladd works visibly closely with her technical team, who are seated with a control desk on stage rather than up in a distant lighting booth. Nick Rothwell performs a live electronic sound score in response to Ladd’s interactions with the machine and the sensor beams, setting off sounds whenever she crosses a beam. The running machine itself is as much a performer as Ladd, suggesting different moods, locations and events through the changes of speed and lighting controlled live on stage. The machine has an audible pulse of its own as it runs, one that eerily drops with the slowing pulse of the protester towards the end of the piece.

Finally, Ladd’s body has no energy, no endurance left and slumps limply to the side of the stage in what would become a defining moment of the Republican movement, galvanising Sinn Féin and bringing international media attention to Northern Irish politics. Undoubtedly (and as evidenced by the discussion in the bar after the performance) The Bobby Sands Memorial Race is a provocative work on a challenging subject matter. Whether our sympathies lie with Sands’ protest or with the victims of his organisation, Ladd’s solo exploration of resistance is potent; the performer’s physicality, palpable effort and broken exhaustion towards the end are absorbing and persuasive.

Part of Spring Loaded at The Place 10 April – 8 May 2010.
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Eddie Ladd Q&A

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