Arthropoda opens with a meet-cute – Callum (Lee Partridge) and Daisy (Constanza Ruff) collide at an airport while heading for separate flights. Even though they only speak for a moment, they feel a spark of chemistry and exchange numbers. Thus begins a long-distance relationship until Daisy moves from America to Scotland to live with Callum.
This is physical theatre, though, so the storyline is supported by aerial work and the cyr wheel – an item that is used early on with hypnotic effect as Daisy and Callum spin and whirl, representing literal flight as well as their dizzying feelings. Ruff then displays impressive aerial skills and an astounding feat of strength and agility during a dreaming sequence.
Some of this slightly loses its impact throughout the performance, though. Most of Arthropoda consists of dialogue, which is sadly its weakest element. The script feels propped up by cliches and simplistic, obvious language. “Callum is, like, amazing,” Daisy tells her mother on the phone. Later she shouts, “I wish he had kidney disease!” In other moments, Callum talks directly to the audience, explicitly laying out his feelings and delivering basic past relationship exposition. The audience doesn’t have to do any work and it all feels a bit superficial.
Another issue is the shifting tone. Some parts feel like they’re almost geared towards children, like a farcical moment where Partridge can’t put on a suit coat and ends up pratfalling or Daisy’s intermittent silhouetted storytelling vignettes. In fact, Daisy is played with an exaggerated, somewhat infantilised voice throughout. These elements are then contrasted with Callum’s expletive-ridden fits of anger and bursts of hysterical crying from both characters. It’s confusing and eventually the shows settles into a morose second half that becomes more and more difficult to watch.
Arthropoda is clearly supposed to be an exploration of damaged, abusive relationships, but it doesn’t work as effectively as it could. It would truly benefit from being a 30- or 40-minute show of purely physical theatre. These visual elements – including a set piece featuring a red dress stretched around the cyr wheel while Daisy teeters precariously inside – is what works far more than any of the dialogue. As it is, it rushes through the early stages of Daisy and Callum’s relationship, so that by the time we get to the brutal demise, it’s difficult to feel much for them.