High Windows, Low Doorways (subtlenuance) runs at the Tap Gallery from March 19 – 30. Written by Jonathan Ari Lander, Noelle Janaczewska, Katie Pollock, Alison Rooke, Mark Langham, Ellana Costa and Melita Rowston. Directed by Paul Gilchrist.
High Windows, Low Doorways is a series of monologues loosely focused around the theme of spirituality. Like many of subtlenuance’s productions, it’s layered and complex. There is a lot in this show to mull over. I thought it was beautifully curated and well performed.
One of the things I liked the way in which the monologues often seemed to be in conversation with each other – not necessarily literally, but thematically. As a result, I thought the best way to write this review was in conversation with my theatre date, my friend Martin.
JODI: Hi Martin.
MARTIN: Hi Jodi.
JODI: So we’ve just been to see High Windows, Low Doorways. Tell me your initial impressions.
MARTIN: Um –
JODI: I won’t put the um in.
MARTIN: No, don’t put the um in.
JODI: Actually, I think ‘um’ might be a good place to begin. When approaching a subject as broad and intimidating as spirituality, our first instinct is often to say ‘um’.
MARTIN: Indeed. I was surprised by the lack of… religious content… or, content I would associate with ‘spirituality’ in my own concept of the term.
JODI: Can you explain that for me a little further?
JODI: Sorry, I realise this is a totally intimidating exercise. But then, religion is intimidating.
MARTIN: I didn’t identify the characters on stage as spiritual as such or the stories that they were telling as inherently spiritual. And I guess I was expecting people who were more religious in a day to day sense of the word. I think what we got was people explaining aspects of their lives that they loosely associate as spiritual. And… I had a very sort of spiritual childhood and half of my teenage years were the same and… um… yeah. I thought we would experience people who had more of a day to day connection with the spiritual. But it was something else.
JODI: Not being especially spiritual myself, I found the pieces I connected with most were the ones associated with spirituality and childhood – I went to a Catholic primary school and so a lot of that resonated with me very strongly. However, I’m not sure whether spirituality per se was actually what the focus was. I feel like more of it – and maybe this ties into you not feeling the experiences related as particularly spiritual – was more to do with ritual than with actual belief. Would you agree?
JODI: There’s a concept in Islam that I’ve always quite liked when applied to religion more broadly. They distinguish between islam – the vertical relationship between person and god – and iman – the horizontal relationships between members of a religious community. I feel like what was explored here was much more iman, and I feel like ‘spirituality’ would be much more islam – a personal, rather than communal experience.
MARTIN: Yes. And it is interesting to note that I think every story that was told in this piece of theatre involved someone’s relationship with a family member or friends – in one case, a teacher at school. They all connected with this theme of spirituality through people within their own social or community networks.
JODI: Totally true. One was about a guy and his grandma, another about a Lao girl and her culture, another about an oppressively discriminatory school experience… but not very much about gods or actual personal belief. And I wonder whether that was the thing missing. The only real gesture towards gods we got were hymns, and a lot of the time, they rang quite hollow for me. What did you think?
MARTIN: Yes, I thought of the hymns as theatrical embellishment – a nice way to break up the style of presentation. But not a moment of… spiritual connection or… prayer, I guess? In the way that I’ve experienced it from childhood.
JODI: That was what was missing, wasn’t it? That notion of prayer?
MARTIN: Yes. I would agree with that.
JODI: Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I find it quite interesting that most of the associations with this theme were ritualistic – that is, social – rather than individual or personal. I wanted that notion to be explored more, unpacked and unpicked, I guess. But in this medium, where you have seven different writers creating seven different pieces, I wonder how much room there was to do that.
MARTIN: I see that point of view. And I also – from my own personal experiences, feel like that [individually spiritual] aspect of religion is becoming more and more rare in our society. Personally, I feel that this reflects my own journey that I’ve taken in life away from that personal relationship with gods towards a more communal one.
JODI: I wonder what this says about communities. Do we in fact worship our communities in a religious sense? I don’t really know.
MARTIN: I think that my own personal relationships have replaced for me that thing that the religious aspect of my childhood fulfilled, so I would support that.
JODI: So would the show, I think. There was a lot of loneliness there. Would you agree?
MARTIN: Yes. There was a lot of the single person reflecting on memories of relationships but doing so in such a way that they felt like they were alone even though they were communicating to the audience.
JODI: Personally, I found the piece set in a Christian high school quite affecting, probably because I could relate to it – that basically was my school experience. Were there any that stood out to you in particular?
MARTIN: I did relate to that one as well, having gone to a religious school. I really connected with the story about a person who was having a bad year and kept finding feathers in various places and that moment where she just spills everything in a prayer in a Buddhist temple… I related to that moment where you just break down and spill everything as a last resort as an effective way of dealing with that kind of situation.
JODI: That one took me back to a moment when I was in Malaysia a few years ago and I did something similar – though nowhere near as dramatic. I remember being in a Buddhist temple and hanging a kind of wish ribbon on a tree and just really sincerely imbuing it with wishes about all these worries I had and… it seems quite minor in the scheme of my life, you know, but it was one of those moments that sticks in your mind.
MARTIN: I had a very similar experience in a church in Poland. I do remember it quite vividly… I do think it was a turning point for me. It might have been the last time I really prayed.
JODI: Which is why I found it so interesting that this show focused so much on ritual – rituals stay with us, even if belief does not. I think that was really the common theme echoed throughout, and it resonated with me.
MARTIN: Me too.
JODI: Any closing remarks you want to make about the show?
MARTIN: It’s interesting having a conversation about it because I feel like the impact for me has been felt more on reflection than during the performance. Maybe that’s a credit to the show.
JODI: I think it’s a thought provoking show – maybe not one that you’re glued to the whole time, but definitely one that you have to mull over afterwards. Thank you for chatting with me post-show, Martini.
MARTIN: Pleasure, McAlister.