Invisible Work

live scripted performance | 1984

Duration approximately 60 minutes

Two men sit side by side uncomfortably close. There is a sense of doubling, together with an intimate and indeterminate relationship, reminiscent of a comedy double-act. One of the men listens intently while the other carefully describes a simple but imaginary act, as if he is following the action as it happens. An imaginary glass is passed to the other man who cups his empty hand to take and hold it, but the imagined action ends in failure. There is an awkward silence as the man, lifts his empty, cupped hand to regard his trousers and the imaginary spillage.

They describe themselves with fictional bodies. They give each other conditions in a mental game of tit for tat. One imagines that their hands have become fused with the objects that they hold, while the other deals with the loss of his hands by constructing artificial ones that operate with leather straps connected to modified muscles. He makes a heroic effort to relearn playing the piano in his mind. Other hands are temporarily formed by use. Actions have to be rehearsed until the hands are sufficiently shaped to perform the task. Perception, too, is altered in this imaginary space. Looking at things exerts a pressure and they test objects to destruction by examining them closely. One of the performers describes pushing his face through the wall of the imaginary room and watching the neighbours sitting in front of their television.

The staging is stark and simple. A few objects stand in isolation, quietly resisting the suggestion of a domestic interior.

Performed by Julian Maynard Smith and Gary Stevens.

Previous performances
  • Acme Studios, LONDON
  • Goldsmith’s School of Art, LONDON
  • Museum of Modern Art, OXFORD
  • Midland Group, NOTTINGHAM
  • Assembly Rooms, EDINBURGH
  • Laing Art Gallery, NEWCASTLE
  • ICA Theatre, LONDON
  • Ikon Gallery, BIRMINGHAM

“…a powerful mood – half comic, half tragic – is built up. Whether someone is stretching to pick up a teacup or trying to fly, every goal appears to be out of reach. Yet what makes this so watchable is that the frustration of the characters is offset by the analytical description of their thoughts and actions, all spoken with chilling detachment.” 
The Guardian

“While not actually playing for laughs, it is extremely and nervously funny and the spectator is held in rigid, quivering fascination.” 
Performance Magazine

“goes beyond clowning and suggests a form of theatre that others may want to interest themselves in time.” 
The Stage