The opening sculpture of white chairs is striking; the slow, hesitant entry of the four female protagonists slightly less so. Port in Air’s performance builds slowly, in ways that are sometimes wildly beautiful and lyrical, but at other times more weak and prosaic. It’s an experimental mix of sound, singing, speech and physical theatre – with a thread of philosophical questioning, as evinced by the strangely evocative title that signals the narrative rather than the telling of a conventional story.
The sculpture dismantled, the chairs become props for all kinds of movement and comedy. A lot of the performance features quick-fire speech from all of the characters, and again this sometimes hits the mark: there are lovely comedic riffs on possession, and whose chair is it anyway? But the voices were a little rushed at other times, and some of the singing lacked the kind of depth and gusto that pushes the performance out into the audience.
And yet this show has its moments. When the main vocalist gets into her stride, sampling a voice that becomes rich and confident as the show progresses, it’s something special. Four male performers join the company, and provide a great counterpart for reflections on violence and relationships, power and conflict – this show is not afraid to tackle big philosophical themes. They don’t quite dance Kant, but they do take on Edmund Burke and the search for the sublime: the mountains they seek to climb should terrify, should they not? Or is it beauty we seek? But I am just terrified, says one of the cast. They veer from the universal to the personal easily and pointedly.
They are trying to do a lot – there were parts of the show that lacked impact – so perhaps they should concentrate on the more powerful segments, and certainly concentrate on projecting their voices more strongly. They are performing in English as a second language, and when they revert to German their speech is much more effective.
The finale, though, is majestic in sound and in vision. It’s great to see theatre that isn’t afraid to experiment, to mix sound, light and movement in staged landscapes and moving tableau. And some of the pieces shine out with energy and perception into the human condition; they’re not afraid to go straight from the sublime to the comic.