Kym Vercoe’s Seven Kilometres North-East is structured like the travels she has been on. Adventurous and purposefully vague, we don’t really know what is happening until we get there. The experience of exploring unfamiliar terrains is replicated in Vercoe’s work. We are at times bewildered and anxious, trying to make sense of everything that is exotic, alien and strange; and at other times, we discover people who tell fascinating stories and places that narrate histories, beautiful and horrific.
The plot of the piece takes us on winding roads, and bumpy rides. It is not the most comfortable of journeys, with challenges appearing at almost every turn. Vercoe does not aspire to make things easy to stomach. Instead, she places emphasis on authenticity, and a sense of reverence for all that she had met during her time in the Balkans. Her performance style is dynamic and colourful, which keeps us engaged. She has a warm enthusiasm that asks for our trust, and we stay on with her, subconsciously aware that our guide is peeling layers off an onion with a core that will be worth the trek. Indeed, the concluding moments of the show is as dramatic and powerful as any work of fiction that aims to hit you like a ton of bricks.
At tonight’s performance, three people walked out. The third chose to leave at a particularly heightened and tense section towards the end. The stage is on ground level, and at that moment, the performer was standing close to the audience and near the exit. The departer got out of her seat and walked deliberately in front of Vercoe and headed our of the theatre. It looked like a protest. Perhaps there are nuances in the politics of the region that are too complex for an 80 minute performance to encapsulate, or maybe Vercoe is making a statement that is shocking to some. For those of us who are afar, and frankly, only mildly familiar with the travesties in recent Bosnian history, Seven Kilometres North-East seeks to appeal on a humanist level. What Vercoe shares comes from the personal and it speaks to us personally. Larger contexts are not required, when telling tales of murder and genocide.
PS (10 Mar 2014): Some information has come through about the walkouts after the review above was published. The producers say that one relates to urgent work matters and another was the result of an audience member texting during the show and being asked to stop by someone else.