Hatch: Scratch (Part Two): Relationships, Reconstructions and a Clinical Depression Concept Album

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The first five of the thirteen performances presented during Hatch:Scratch are considered in a previous post, From Chaos and Participation to Nuts, Cowboys and Farewells, and moving into the second tranche of thoughts on the night in this follow-up, it’s clear that at least some of the themes glimpsed among those earlier pieces are continued and developed through the four featured here. Perhaps it’s worth wondering whether ideas of imperfection, in particular, are not only inevitable, given the ‘scratch’ format, but a key part of the ethos of those performers and writers most likely to be drawn to the Hatch aesthetic in the first place. And what is that elusive aesthetic, loosely defined (by Hatch itself) as ‘the performance-y’? Well, one version of an answer, a largely historical one, was explored in a prologue written for the Hatch: NEAT series of events during 2011, another in the organisation’s own Hatchifesto. But things being left open-ended rather than neatly resolved appears to be part of it, as does leaving in the marks of process, the mistakes and conflicts of the performers, the sketchy details, the pencil marks, smudges and hiccups…

How We Run: “Sorry. We had hoped this would turn out better…”

It’s certainly not hard to relate the self-undermining presentation of the three-man show of How We Run’s Waterwalk (the group includes what appeared to be a full house of former Hatch performers) to the opening salvo of Priya Mistry’s Ping Pong Crash and the efforts made by both performances to create something impossible to bring to any kind of tidy resolution. Waterwalk took its name from a musical piece by John Cage, as performed on an American TV gameshow during the 1950s, and a reconstruction of that performance (with Kris Rowland making an almost perfectly reticent Cage) marked the climax of a piece that also tried to recreate Andy Kaufman’s notorious stand-up gigs spent reading aloud from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and offered an account of the rather lesser-known (but evidently legendary on the Winchester University campus where it took place) Ut Astrum Una Hora by Pea Green Boats, a performance in which at least one member of How We Run had participated. The effect was two-fold, underlining the unrepeatable nature of live art with stumbled lines, shortfalls of props and a context that just can’t generate the shock and surprise of the originals, but also – perhaps more interestingly – questioning whether those events that pass into legend were really as compelling, original or self-evidently significant as their later reputations suggest. What if, Waterwalk appears to ask, these events just hadn’t been very satisfying in the first place and we’ve forgotten far better ones? Why is Kaufman the subject of Hollywood movies and endless screeds of analysis while Pea Green Boats (or by implication, any other live work reduced to late twentieth century background noise) passes unnoticed? The serial failure of these reconstructions is calculated and accompanied by a lot of Campari, but was it entirely a product of the company’s own self-confessed (indeed, exaggerated) limitations?

Two Destination Language: “So what do you think of his shirt?”

At first, it seemed that it was only the shared gameshow reference that linked Two Destination Language’s WLTM with How We Run’s Waterwalk but perhaps the analogy between ideas of romance and ideas of legendary significance in performance weren’t as far removed from each other as they initially appeared, both being subject to retrospective mythologising and a degree of rose-tinting of reality. WLTM is staged as a Blind Date or Snog Marry Avoid style pantomime, with the central duo confining their role to selecting audience members to pair up then working to drive the energy levels to vaguely manic extremes. Meanwhile, we watch potential romance bloom in real time, shuffle our feet and avoid eye contact with the hosts who ominously – if gleefully – roam the aisles in search of fresh contestants. If WLTM did have a purpose beyond straightforward participation and entertainment it lay in the almost desparate need to be liked projected by the hosts, who seemed to consider the success of their match-making crucial to their own sense of self-worth. Dressed in ‘nudie’ aprons and behaving like 15-rated children’s show hosts, they fussed around their homespun gameshow’s mostly nonchalant subjects with all the bluster of Ricky Gervais on a management team-building weekend. In that, the performers gave the impression that current society’s ethos of forced but ruthlessly exposing ‘fun’ might be the real target. The Two Destination Language hosts refrained from the kind of cruelty and psychological bullying that so often marks their real media models, instead ensuring throughout that they were always the most ridiculous figures onstage, so perhaps the intended satire cut less sharply than it might have done. Even so, WLTM made for a good-natured, high-energy interlude that culminated in a formation dance and a sigh of relief from those audience members who’d escaped being led to the stage.

Hannah Nicklin: “Standing up to protect what you think matters…”

A relationship was also being negotiated in Hannah Nicklin‘s A Conversation With My Father, in which the Leicester based theatre maker (and sometime political protestor) opened negotiations with her own father, a serving policeman whose duties include the control of public protests, among other things. I only caught a short section of this performance, but what I saw seemed political in the true sense of finding ways to live among and between competing worldviews rather than the shallow sense of accusation and allocation of blame for social ills. With Nicklin and her father engaged in a video dialogue (set up, perhaps not coincidentally, to resemble the recorded police record of the interrogation of a suspect) intercut with Nicklin’s own (often telling and funny) stories of protest and family life, the piece circled around ideas of competing values and recognised that the father’s belief in public order wasn’t always at odds with Nicklin’s more liberal attitudes, but perhaps created the context in which she was free to express herself, while her beliefs and actions, in their turn, fostered the kind of civic tolerance that made her father’s orderly society possible on a day to day basis. In an age when ritualised slanging matches pass for political debate and people are liable to define themselves by their prejudices – for or against – there seemed a refreshing openness and intelligence at work here that made me wish I’d been better organised on the night and seen the whole performance. As it was, what I saw suggested a very interesting piece in the making – one that’s likely to be as topical in these days of police ‘kettling’ and undercover provocateurs as it might be timeless in its questioning of the basis of a functioning civic society.

David Parkin: “We’re going to do some songs from my clinical depression concept album…”

In a very different mode, former Metro Boulot Dodot member David Parkin negotiated a very particular relationship with himself, documenting his own fall into and recovery from a severe episode of clinical depression by way of a suite of songs going by the umbrella title Good Friday, a musical opus he insisted on describing as his ‘clinical depression concept album’. Adopting a smart suit (bought, he explained, as a costume, using Arts Council money, after years of trying and failing to obtain one by other means) and the patter of a cabaret performer, Parkin came across as a kind of Billy Joel figure, launching into songs about playing scrabble on grey Leicester Sundays in houses with empty knife drawers, feeling the urge to run destructively amok and, after a long, slow recovery (partly aided by the learning of piano, on a Hemingway he had inevitably named ‘Ernest’) his sudden appreciation of the beauty of stars in a night sky and realisation that despite the cosmic isolation, he no longer wanted to die. The music ranged from minimal and downbeat (the opener, ‘Scrabble for Beginners’, had the feel of a less baroquely obscene Arab Strap) to Rufus Wainwright campery and Chopin/Liberace-inspired romanticism. Like Sean Burn, Parkin seemed intent on changing the ways we talk about mental illness, but also – in using the language of the popular song – seemed aware that the form itself, with its tendency to focus on extreme emotional states, is already on some level a ready-made receptacle for the kinds of experience his own material poured into its familiar shapes and sounds. There can be few contexts beyond outright madness and song-performance where a whole roomful of people going “do do doo doodle ooo, do do doo doodle ooo” at full volume would pass as entirely unremarkable behaviour.


1 Response to “Hatch: Scratch (Part Two): Relationships, Reconstructions and a Clinical Depression Concept Album”

  1. 1 The development of A Conversation with my Father | Hannah Nicklin Trackback on Monday at 11:16 pm

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