Grief and love are corollaries, but the stories we tell often isolate them from each other. In I Hide in Bathrooms, theatre-makers Astrid Pill, Ingrid Voorendt, Zoë Barry and Jason Sweeney dive deeply inside the interconnectedness.

Set to premiere at Adelaide Festival, the solo theatre work is performed by Pill and excavates the connection between love and death from three perspectives: that of a dying person; that of someone who is widowed; and that of a person entering a relationship with someone who is widowed.

“The catalyst for this show is personal experience,” Adelaide-based Pill tells InReview. “But it’s not actually about me as such… it’s not a narrative play for a start. So it’s not one story.

“I think what I was initially interested in, in terms of performing it, was actually the perspective that I sit in, which is someone who’s come along and started a relationship with someone who has been through that experience [of losing a partner]. Because that’s not something that you see very often in popular culture.”

Developed over more than three years and presented by Port Adelaide-based Vitalstatistix as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations, I Hide in Bathrooms is shaped by the diverse artistic interests of Pill, Voorendt, Barry and Sweeney, who have worked across genres including music, dance, writing, video production, soundscapes, visual art and – of course – theatre.

Using intuitive development techniques like setting and responding to tasks, the collaborators explored their conscious and subconscious responses to love and grief.

“It’s very creative and it’s very fun,” says Pill. “There’s a plan, but because there’s not a lot of judgment that happens in those stages, it means you actually come up with a lot of things that you probably wouldn’t come up with if you sat at a table and were tapping away, making a script.

“And often the stuff that comes up is… strongly linked to humanity. Because you’re drawing on all of this knowledge that we have in our bodies and our brains, we find the absurd moments or the really deeply moving moments in those sorts of processes.”

Astrid Pill (centre) with collaborators Ingrid Voorendt and Zoë Barry. Photo: supplied

The form of I Hide in Bathrooms reflects its collaborative and genre-blurring development. While it does sometimes follow a character – “we call her the ‘widow weirdo’,” says Pill, “she’s sort of an inappropriate widow” – it also moves fluidly through other worlds and personas.

Pill says the work coheres through tonal shifts that are reminiscent of music or dance works and which lead the audience via their emotional, rather than intellectual, responses.

“The structure of the work isn’t so much about the narrative. It’s more actually about the rhythm and the pace and the feeling of a work,” she says.

“There are moments in it where the character isn’t there. And there are particular vignettes, I suppose, that sort of move in and out… I’m not playing myself, but I’m also not really thinking in terms of character.

“Dance theatre is a really good form to reference, because when you see a work of dance theatre, you’re not really thinking about, ‘oh, that person’s playing this character’. It’s more performance personas.”

While experiences and ideas of romantic love and grief are at the show’s centre, work-in-progress audience showings have demonstrated its adaptability, with audience members organically finding their own resonance within its layers.

Pill has spoken to people who recognised the experience of grieving a parent in I Hide in the Bathrooms. She says it will also chime with anyone who has gotten caught in the gap between our cultural representations of love and the sometimes far less shiny realities of it.

“We’ve really investigated in this show those romantic notions that we have and also the delusions around romance,” she says. “You know, [the idea that] I’ll never love again if I lose this person.

“Or even the delusion that it’s not going to happen. People don’t want to even admit that at some point there’s a possibility they’ll die or someone else will die.”

With humour and care, Pill and her collaborators gently question our reliance on the myths of love and death that hold us in a stranglehold of unrealistic expectations. I Hide in Bathrooms brings us a little closer to accepting that grief and love are two parts of the same experience.

I Hide in Bathrooms will be performed at the Waterside Workers Hall in Port Adelaide from March 5-16 as part of the 2024 Adelaide Festival, which opens on March 1.

Read more 2024 Adelaide Festival stories here.

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