By Steph Lam
On the 29th of November, Ant Macari performed a one-act performance piece ‘Eustace’s Loop’ in University College’s Norman Chapel, as part of a series of commissions by the Hazel Donkin, Castle SCR Arts Secretary, to engage local artists with the Castle’s historic spaces.
The performance is an experience that reminds us what a privilege it is to have such a historic space within University grounds, and how often it risks being overlooked in the rush and bustle of term time.
Dressed in a Roman soldiers’ costume, Ant Macari performed ‘Eustace’s Loop’, a one-act ‘metaphysical theatre’ piece lasting fifty minutes. The idea of the piece is based on the story of the Roman solider Placidus, who sees a vision of Christ between the antlers of a stag whilst out hunting, then is afflicted by a series of events in which he suffers like Job. Finally though, he becomes one of the Christian saints – Saint Eustace.
Ant Macari adapts the narrative from this popularized version of St. Eustace’s vision to revolve around the central four pillars of the Norman Chapel. By basing the narrative on the idea of a tape loop, Ant manages to draw out the mystique and history of the pillars and the Chapel in his performance.
Instead of depicting the traditional calamities that Placidus has to endure, the story features God’s voice asking him to go on a ‘quest’ and to speak to the pillars at the four ‘cardinal points’. That is, the pillars of the Norman Chapel.
In the story, they are said to hold ‘the wisdom of the ages’, and Ant (Placidus), presses his ear to a different pillar during each repetition of the story, and each pillar answers him differently. The pillars’ ‘answers’ come from Ant holding a different micro-cassette tape player to the back of each pillar as he presses his ear against each one. The effect is of a vocal conversation between Placidus and the pillars.
The basic narrative is repeated four times in the performance, with Placidus approaching a different pillar for advice each time. The repetition is a process that helps the audience clarify the events of the performance, because the words of the recorded conversations are sometimes made unclear by the echoing in spaces of the Chapel. As the events are clarified, the performance becomes more engaging and immersive.
Eventually, the sheer experience of seeing a legend, myth, or the stuff of history being performed in the atmosphere of the Chapel leaves a lasting impression of the spiritual and historical dimension of the Chapel.
As a site-specific piece of performance, Ant Macari’s piece is reminiscent of the concerns of Ben Jeans Houghton’s installation that was in the Chapel for two weeks last year and asked the audience to feel the strength of the pillars. Ant’s performance instead directs our attention to the ‘wisdom of the ages’ that comes from the pillars but both pieces of work ultimately draw out the spiritual power of the space.
Photographs: Susie Green