I Hide in Bathrooms is a challenging performance to pin down. Highly autobiographical, yet obviously packed with moments of pure fiction. A monologue leaning heavily on the power of physical theatre. Humorous yet melancholy, blunt yet atmospheric. Performer Astrid Pill (who also devised the original concept for this work) commands undivided attention as she embodies the tangle of human reactions to mortality and loss of a romantic partner.

As the performance opens, Pill’s face is projected in black and white on the backdrop. She is grieving, a feeling she equates to missing half of herself, but at the same time she’s nervous, about to step out in front of a crowd of people and speak. It’s a moment in which the audience is suspended between truth and fiction, unsure how much is performance and how much we are seeing behind the mask.

Pill steps onto the stage, champagne in hand, dressed for a funeral. She’s the epitome of the widow’s “brave face”, giving a performance of a performance – the kind designed to put other mourners at ease, as she suppresses her feelings behind a mask of humour so as not to expose the maelstrom of grief within. She’s acutely conscious of society’s expectations of how she should mourn and the appropriate time delay before seeking another romantic relationship.

Text flashes across the backdrop, a collection of awkward and tactless clichés offered in response to death, the misguided comforts of people at a loss for words in the face of such shattering bereavement. And then Pill is on the ground, acting out a series of deaths – from the commonplace to the preposterous, the mundane to the surreal. The imaginative range of life-ending scenarios are all embodied under the looming weight of the massive boulder suspended from the ceiling, this metaphor for mortality never highlighted yet making its ever-present statement.

The performance shifts and Pill’s character is recounting the experience of finding the body of her partner. The backdrop text implies she is an unreliable narrator and the story shifts; it is a different death, a different relationship. We are swept along, unsure what is biography, what is fiction, what is metafiction. This unstable ground is the foundation of the performance, with Pill dextrously sliding between tiny vignettes, all of them circling grief at the loss of a life partner, peeling back the skin on the act of mourning, and examining both the personal and social expectations and taboos around death with an unflinching gaze.

I Hide in Bathrooms is an intriguing and surprising meditation on grief. Photo: Sam Oster

Changing gear in the second half, Pill lifts the ghost-like sheets that have been draped over piles of boxes on each side of the stage. They are stacks of perspex containers packed with glassware, objects representing memories that call the dead back into being. These mementos begin to glow, and the performance takes a dream-like turn, reflecting the enduring nature of grief – the isolation and deep melancholy of long-term adjustment to loss after the support network loosens its embrace.

While Pill is phenomenal as the solo on-stage performer, this unique piece – a world premiere presented by Port Adelaide-based Vitalstatistix as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations – is the joint creation of a team of artists and theatre-makers. Skilfully directed by Ingrid Voorendt, the experimental performance was devised by a brilliant line-up of creatives including composer and sound designer Zoë Barry and video designer Jason Sweeney. A superb collaboration, the video projection and soundscape take on the roles of supporting cast, complementing Pill’s performance with essential additions of humour and atmosphere.

This is a performance at once funny and discomforting, facetious and thought-provoking. As every audience member will have experienced the loss of someone dear to them, there will be at least one moment in this 70-minute piece that hits hard.

I Hide in Bathrooms is an intriguing and surprising meditation on grief, the relationships we have with lovers and the concept of death itself.

I Hide in Bathrooms is playing until March 16 at Waterside Workers Hall, 11 Nile Street, Yartapuulti / Port Adelaide.

Read InReview’s interview with Astrid Pill here, and more 2024 Adelaide Festival coverage here.

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