We find ourselves in a gallery, however with the cosiness and warmth of a living room: wooden stools and navy-blue pillows set the scene. The audience sits comfortably in a circle, and the performance unfolds in proximity, so close that we can hear performer Gabriela Serani breathing.
There are two chairs. Serani scans the audience with interest. She observes amused young couples, nervous grandparents and regular theatre-goers and requests one person to stand up. Someone voluntarily stands up – she interjects, “Sorry, I didn’t say you.” Eventually, a young woman gets up, makes her away towards Serani, and sits directly opposite her. Serani extends her arms forward, requesting to touch. She is perhaps measuring the weight of one’s arms, or merely establishing an uncomplicated human connection with the palm of her hands. At this point, I look around the room, and wonder if this interactive performance would be a dash more interesting had she chosen an elderly member of the audience instead? Someone less available to touch.
“I am scared of you; you might be violent,” Serani announces with seriousness and eyes wide open, but she lets out a smile, and her words sound warm and scary at the same time. Talk to me and I slap you plays with the dichotomy between text and emotions: Serani reaches out for help but sounds aggressive, she apologises for hitting a member of the audience but doesn’t seem to be genuinely sorry.
She declares a list of things that make her feel frightened, such as animals, dentists and heights – all while standing on a chair. Her determination and seriousness never lead me to believe her. Instead, I laugh with curiosity. She seems to be always in control but portraying a vulnerable side of herself. She is hilarious with her public interactions. She requests love and guidance from anyone but quickly ditches any audience suggestions. Serani’s character perhaps mirrors a society made up of brief encounters and trivial connections. Nevertheless, she is susceptible and sometimes sincere: a victim of confusion and control but a loud voice with an open heart, moving the elderly and young in chairs for casual chats about violence and a dance.
Serani is a master of manipulation, making the audience members the focus of this performance. Participants may feel embarrassed or vulnerable under Serani’s watchful gaze, but she carefully offers a space to begin fleeting but meaningful relationships – for both participants and performer to explore, express and connect. It feels like one of those rare occasions of an unexpected outpour of love for a stranger.