“Talk to me and I slap you” begins with a tantalising hook

Talk to me and I slap you begins with a tantalising hook – the title itself. It provokes and invites, hinting at a moment of gentle teasing or a possible spark of violence. Someone will get slapped. But nobody will get hurt.

The premise of the performance is simple but uncomfortable: a woman, two chairs, and you. The interactions itself lightly mimic a push-and-pull type relationship – the solo performer Gabi Serani questions and interrogates you. You’re afraid of her, but you want her to like you. She brushes you aside and dances with someone else instead. You’re forlorn. Serani plays with objects in the room, her own body, your physical body. You follow her, but hate doing so. You defy her and hate it even more. The moments shared between “a woman” (Serani) and “you” (an audience member) are intimate but in a public space. The interactions are intimidating, awkward even and yet, also enlightening and tender.

At one point, Serani groans, “Dance is exhausted, it’s not dead.” She stands tall, her hands reach out to her sides, before bending her elbows and angling her body to another position. She continues her monologue while circling the chairs, proceeding with these sharp, graceful motions. She expands her chest and extends her arms before collapsing into a concave figure, like a weary ballerina’s attempts in Second Position. She later plays a role of a choreographer, ordering certain audience members to follow her movements. The production’s deliberate take on dance highlights the notion of physicality, we become these different people, or images of a type of person, in particular spaces.

Most certainly, Serani is enthralling: as she gazes upon every audience member, her raw intensity is felt throughout the room. Her piercing stare is hard to avoid. Laughter diffuses the tension when someone attempts to defy her commands. But Serani never loses control. She never forces someone to do something against their will, but her deliberate demands are never left unheard. The show’s non-linear narrative allows Serani to do or say things that are unexpected. This calls attention to the trust between a participant and a performer, or more evidently, the confidence in our everyday relationships, between lovers, our family members and friends. As Serani invites you to her chair, it is akin to entering a loved one’s space; you trust them not to embarrass you, hurt you. The strength of Talk to me and I slap you lies in its interplay between hope and fear; it is tender, disturbing and so very human.

Created by Serani and Chan Sze-Wei in a punk theatre festival in Croatia, Talk to me and I slap you sits remarkably well in today’s context. The looming threat of physical violence lurks throughout. When Serani slaps someone, it is sudden but not surprising. Much like in today’s society, violence is always present, from masochistic gun massacres to cases of sexual abuse. When it occurs, we are no longer shocked. We may be upset and horrified, but we are no longer in disbelief. Violence has become so normalised, that when a slap comes, we can’t help but sit and stare.

Talk to me and I slap you, by Chan Sze-Wei and Gabriela Serani at The Substation – 24 & 25 February.

This review originally appeared on FiveLines.