Hatch: Scratch (Part Three): Sounds, Sandbags and Summations

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

With this third and final instalment of the Hatch:Scratch report, it’s evident that the night had a lot of variety in its performative DNA: how could an evening that encompassed cabaret songs about clinical depression, a dating game and a woman sitting in isolation, sewing miniature sandbags for four hours straight (we’ll hear more of Martina Vermorel later) be described as anything else but various? Within that, the featured works also ran with some key shared ideas. Some of these have been discussed elsewhere: a tendency to value the unfinished and open-ended and a fairly consistent grounding of work in a making public of very personal (or, at least, seemingly personal) experience, for example.

But other concerns are equally visible. One of these notable tendencies is a blurring between real and theatrical experience, with performers often playing versions of themselves and recounting subject matter that appears to be direct testimony from a life lived offstage, even when it isn’t: a kind of confessional or documentary aesthetic. Another tendency is towards episodic and fragmentary forms, performances that seem to be gatherings of loosely connected scenes and ideas rather than more overtly constructed edifices. There’s a liking for unpredictability, and the way that this can lead to works with their participatory elements made central, drawing the audience not towards the edges, but often into the deeper structures of a piece.

tatty-del: “It’s very important to look at a therapist’s bookshelf…”

One further tendency notable throughout Hatch: Scratch is the almost obligatory device of not only breaking but refusing to acknowledge any ‘fourth wall’ we might have imagined to be present, a set of approaches that often leads to work whose outward appearance is casually literal but whose more artful constructions and deceptions might only be revealed in the delivery. The collaboration between performers Natalie Clarke and Hana Tait known as tatty-del  is certainly one very clear example of this, as the two women begin by treating the audience as a kind of therapist, and launch into a discussion of their own relationship, a collaboration active since 2006 and grounded in a friendship that the professional partnership may now be undermining. One character seems idealistic and hopeful, the other more downbeat, treating the session and its aspirations with a dry scepticism. The impression is built of something that hovers between a blunt slice of reality, as the women argue over roles and attitudes, yet also begins to take on some of the qualities of a traditional comedy double-act (tatty-del’s template might include anything from French & Saunders to Vladimir & Estragon, with a few echoes of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton thrown in for good measure). As the duo discuss their own relationship, then move towads re-enactments of past scenes that have shaped their present behaviour, we’re never quite able to work out how much here is literally true and how much entirely artificial. One section begins with the young women recalling memories that quickly expose themselves as sitcom scenarios, even as others seem bluntly literal in their truth to the lives of the performers themselves. tatty-del are making it work felt very much like the brief excerpt from a longer project it was, and it’ll be interesting to see how a more elaborated version works in building on the potential of the characters, regrets and formative situations it portrays. Perhaps the slightly absurd cliffhanger ending also supported a feeling that tatty-del keep in play many possibilities for the extended version: elements of lo-fi soap, outright comedy and poignant drama are here, and all the doors are held open for further development.

Strandlooper: “…it was exquisitely painted…”

Strandlooper‘s SiteLines was among the evening’s exceptions, appearing to occur in a separate theatrical space to that occupied by its audience (hinting at the presence of at least some remnant of the ‘fourth wall’) and stood out as rather unusual in the programme by being primarily – in its ‘live’ dimension – clearly classifiable within the framework of dance. In this it was often slightly sketchy, the movements variable in clarity, precision and impact, but what did engage very effectively here was the sound-score, in which everyday sounds and voices were layered in increasingly complex patterns as the piece progressed. Where the choreography could sometimes feel too literally illustrative the sound moved into interestingly abstract realms from its literal beginnings in the ambience of a cafe, a street, the documentation of a walk. From the ambient birdsong, footsteps and clattering coffee-cups emerge voices, offering snippets of anecdote and observation: a woman visits a gallery and tries to recall the work she saw there, for example, while a gradual fascination with the operations of memory is coaxed into view. The dancers’ movements slip in and out of sync with the patterns building on the soundtrack, but it’s the score that really underwrites this piece. The concept seemed to be about building overlays and traces, one on another, mapping past movements through a variety of sites onto the small space of a stage, as though folding OS pages printed on tracing paper repeatedly to generate fresh (and ever less legible and distinct) mappings of the same personal and local geographies. This rough-cut suggests that if the movement can be more closely integrated with the patternings and mappings going on in the recordings to which they seem, at this stage, too literally reactive, then SiteLines could develop into something more difficult to classify than the present version, where the dance and sound elements remained somehow segregated, hinting at potential interactions, but never quite finding the grey area between mediums in which a more engaging merger might occur.

Martina Vermorel: “She loves the horse so much that her treatment of it begins to border on neglect…”

Closer to the core Hatch aesthetic was Martina Vermorel, whose durational performance Horse Woman featured Vermorel herself in riding dress seated beside a small island-like pile of sand, laboriously sewing hessian bags, filling them, and positioning the finished items around the drift of sand, whose shape changed as she went. The costume, silent presence and determined concentration created an intriguing visual tableau in the room, though one whose purpose and meaning remained obscure. Was this some kind of penance (in this respect, there seemed to be a connection with Sean Burn‘s contribution) or something more practical, a view of someone preparing for war or flood? Were the bags – which when completed, resembled those in which animal feed is often sold – intended to be fed to the horse implied offstage? If so, what kind of horse would eat sand? The more often we returned to the room, in which Vermorel continued her mysterious task in silence  for four hours, the more questions about her state of mind, her purpose and backstory, seemed to proliferate. Perhaps the real intent behind a work like this is to create a simple, indelible mental image, and in that, certainly, Vermorel succeeded. What the resulting image might mean, or be made to mean, is entirely up to those viewers who happened to encounter it during its extended but transient public apparition.

The Suitcase Ensemble: “Your Scouse brows and quirky dances…”

Pretty much all Hatch platforms manage to end with a nod to leftfield cabaret of some kind, and Hatch: Scratch was no exception, switching to nightclub style seating in the main hall at Embrace Arts and closing on a double bill that paired David Parkin’s ‘clinical depression concept albumGood Friday with The Suitcase Ensemble‘s The Singing City: A Liverpool Folk Cabaret. As with many of its Hatch-climaxing counterparts – whether Oyster Eyes at Hatch: It’s About Time, or the Polka Dots Can-Can Troupe of early Hatch excursions at The Maze – The Suitcase Ensemble proved hard to categorise, incorporating elements of musical comedy, burlesque, songs, flute solos and general quirkiness. The format featured a series of songs or musical interludes, each linking only obliquely to the next, and accompanied by sometimes outlandish costumes and dances. Three women in late Victorian bathing suits perform 1940s style synchronised routines while a woman dressed as a raven appears, flaps her way across the stage like a kind of gothic Stevie Nicks, and sings something closely resembling a 1970s rock song. An electric guitar segues into atmospheric part-song, followed by a spoken word passage about walking in a Liverpool park, or “the night birds, laughing while you sleep”. A group of girls put on make-up, families are evoked, and everything seems to abruptly transform into something else the moment it concludes. The end result is confusing – a kind of belated post-modern cabaret, a stylistic and thematic bricolage of the current and long forgotten, the superficial and the poignant – but generally enagaging, the disparate elements held loosely together by recurring images of fishing and those obsessively cited ‘night birds’. Even at the end it’s not clear what the intentions behind The Singing City might have been, beyond its obvious desire to entertain and its more general celebration of Liverpool itself, as a place and state of mind, but despite that slightly garbled feel overall, many of its individual moments stick stubbornly in the mind, like burrs on a trouser leg after a walk through a summer field.


With The Suitcase Ensemble drawing Hatch: Scratch to its (logical or illogical) conclusion and the feedback the Scratch platform existed to gather on behalf of its performers collected in multiple formats – written, audio and more generally conversational – the night wound down to bring phase one of Hatching Space to a brief hiatus. The next phase begins on July 21st, when Hatch ventures onto a coach for a series of in-transit performances and a destination at Manchester’s Hazard Festival: think of that one as being a bit like Cliff Richard and The Shadows in Summer Holiday – but with the likes of Annette Foster, Simon Raven, Zoo Indigo, Shrug and The Gramophones standing in for Melvyn Hayes, Hank Marvin and Cliff himself, obviously. I’ll be reporting back on that adventure in due course.


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