Hatch at NEAT11: Zoo Indigo/Medium Rare: Opening Hours II (Rain Stops Play)

The final day of Hatch: NEAT was anticipated to be the closing of a circle, returning to its own beginnings in a repeat performance of the opening weekend’s events, but this time bringing together Medium Rare and Zoo Indigo’s previously separate Opening Hours performances on the same day and the same patch of ground. Since both the earlier versions had circular themes, in response to Wellington Circus itself, this made a certain sense, giving the varied events of the past fortnight’s Hatch thread through NEAT11 a symmetry and sense of unity despite their individually self-sufficient nature.

Sadly, the plan was sent slightly awry by the weather, which after a briefly promising morning quickly descended into unceasing heavy rain for the rest of the day. By all accounts, Medium Rare ran their performances as scheduled between noon and 4.30pm, performing their synchronised swimming routines and games of catch in florescent waterproof capes even when the audience was – at one point – a crowd of exactly zero people (I understand things improved somewhat later, and some hardy souls in waterproofs were given golf umbrellas and did manage to experience the performances).

I’m certainly sorry I missed out on what must have been the very strange sight of that audience-less performance running exactly to script and schedule even when no-one was present to witness it, something that I can imagine added a ritualistic dimension to what was already a piece steeped in familiar British stereotypes and character-traits, given that the performance on the first weekend consisted of the five members of Medium Rare in PE teacher costumes putting audiences through their disciplined paces in the fresh air with whistles and a briskly efficient attitude, as though we – or they – were being remodelled as characters from an Angela Brazil novel.

So it was that this earlier sense of British identity, underpinning the first performances of Hatch: NEAT, had been intended as the point to which we’d finally return. But now, as we found ourselves confronted with the stark facts of a day-long downpour and the cancellation of Zoo Indigo’s endurance maypole dance and its attendant side-events, might this actually be an oddly appropriate finishing point? What could be more revealing of British identity, after all, than an outdoor summertime event unceremoniously rained off, or at best taking place in rain-lashed wintry darkness as the lowering black clouds refused to budge from a sky that only that morning had teased us with promises of sunshine?

Saddened to have missed Medium Rare’s sterling (and, it appears, mostly successful) efforts to play on with their three part performance despite the adverse circumstances, and with that disappointment compounded by finding the gates to Wellington Circus padlocked, the rain still lashing down and Zoo Indigo’s Ildiko Rippel confined to Cast with a troupe of game but resigned volunteer maypole dancers come the start time for the evening’s activity, the situation nonetheless offered an opportunity to reflect on some of the many contradictions of Britishness almost as richly paradoxical as the performances themselves.

Identity was the intended theme, the thread connecting everything in the Hatch programme since that first sunny Saturday on Wellington Circus, and here we now were, as the circle closed, in an exactly reversed situation: one that might just have easily decimated the first weekend and blessed the last. He we were, drinking hot coffee in damp clothes and marvelling at the force and consistency of the downpour. It came to seem almost inevitable, somehow, as though it had been engineered, an accidental ‘performance-y’ situation expressly designed to contrast with the opening weekend’s sunshine and smooth running.

I started to make my back through the deluge, feet getting soaked by the rivulets of water running down every pavement between the Playhouse and Market Square. It seemed entirely fitting to spot an illuminated billboard emblazoned on the side of an Angel Row bus-shelter with a near life-size canary yellow lifejacket on it, as though daring me to think I might need one just like it before I made it home. This is exactly the sort of thing a Hatch performance might do, I was thinking: slot something unlikely but appropriate into a place you wouldn’t have expected to see it. To this extent, missing out on Opening Hours II turned out to be almost as much of an experience as seeing it might have been had the weather been different.

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