Archive for the 'events' Category

Hatch: A Better Tomorrow

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Okay, lie back and relax. Imagine yourself perfectly comfortable, the temperature neutral, your body completely free of tension and stress. Imagine, for a moment, that money doesn’t exist, that there are no limits on what might be possible, and then project your mind forward by one day, one week, perhaps one hundred years. What do you see? Where has the future taken you? Okay, begin to explore…is this a paradise or dystopia? Are you now an extra in Zardoz, The Matrix, Tron, Blade Runner, Logan’s Run or Planet of the Apes? Or a citizen in some forward-projected Ideal State that looks a bit like Ancient Greece, but with robots? Wandering around in a banal CGI exotica rain-forest full of blue aliens, or somewhere that seems…already familiar, with Starbucks, Google and Tesco adverts everywhere? OK. Now I’ll click my fingers, and you’ll be back in the present…

Hatch at Embrace Arts (Oct 13) [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Hatch at Embrace Arts (Oct 13) [photo credit Julian Hughes]

In fact, you’re not in the present, but the past. You’re at Embrace Arts in Leicester, and it’s October 13, 2013. It’s a date that even though it’s already receding into the past, still sounds like the future: the kind of post-millennial date in which most of the science fiction we grew up watching (and still watch, all the time, on DVD and streamed online) happened to be set. So this platform of performances imagining the future, and all the ways it might be made better, takes place in a recent past, on a date that, when it’s written down, feels like a future still to come. Maybe because this future we’re actually living in seems like it got badly corrupted in the transmission from promise to reality. There are computers, and robots, and even a Chinese robot on the moon as I write, but there are also the return of Workhouse mentalities (re-branded and free-range, but otherwise much as they were) and rising malnutrition in the richest nations. Amnesia is everywhere, too.

Hannah Nicklin [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Hannah Nicklin [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Which may be why it seems apt that the first performance I see tonight is Hannah Nicklin‘s Dead Time, a one to one presentation in a narrow room full of filing cabinets and books, so already like a secret meeting of some kind: the sort of location where the dissidents in films like The Lives of Others or novels such as 1984 tend to fleetingly exchange information while glancing nervously over their shoulders for signs of spies and secret police. It’s a feeling enhanced by Nicklin’s decision to voice the monologue through a recorded ‘message’ on her computer, while visual illustrations – Google Maps, folders of photographs and the like – are projected onto the white top she’s wearing, disembodying her voice while making her own body a screen. She tells the story of a friend’s sudden death and its effect on her, but it’s the sense created of these ordinary lives, whose narration gives the piece its human spine, being held inside a system that is most striking. At one point, Nicklin becomes an animated graphic showing real-time stock market and City trading, a pulsing map, projected onto a breathing screen, as complex as anything to emerge from a particle accelerator: an image is left in the mind that rivals one of those sixteenth century mappings of the cosmos onto the human form commonplace in Europe and India.

Third Angel [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Third Angel [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Although only around 15 minutes long, seeing Hannah Nicklin’s performance first meant I missed the bulk of Third Angel‘s 600 People, Alex Kelly’s stand-up lecture drawing connections between human evolution, space exploration and some of the many mind-boggling statistics about the depth of time and the size of the universe that have a tendency to be avoided in casual conversation because they can cause the brain to explode. Clearly, humankind has come a long way between the appearance of our earliest known ancestors in the Rift Valley and our current tracking of the Voyager satellite, which was launched in 1977 and officially entered interstellar space last year, leaving the solar system on August 25, 2012, its passage into the unknown accompanied by some strangely haunting noises. Kelly was evidently drawing his diverse threads together by the time I entered the main theatre, building to a set of conclusions whose precise significance relative to their origins I couldn’t quite pin down, having missed the build-up to them, but it was certainly obvious that Kelly was relishing his role as a kind of free-form Royal Society Lecturer reporting back on a series of conversations he’d had with the astrophysicist Simon Goodwin, and that the upshot was that our future as a species is in our own hands.

Deborah Pearson [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Deborah Pearson [photo credit Julian Hughes]

If Alexander Kelly had chosen to address these big themes in the simplest way possible, as one performer talking to a room full of people with just the occasional slide to illustrate his words, it was a strategy also followed, with a few variations, such as no slides, and remaining seated instead of standing up, as Kelly had, by Deborah Pearson‘s The Future Show, in which Pearson simply recites every single event that will take place in her life from the moment this performance ends – quite literally, from her walk off-stage after the applause and her train journey home, to her own death, placed decades into the future – with a dry intonation that suggests a bemused news-reader contemplating the absurdity of existence (complete with accounts of audience members after the show trying to catch her out by doing unexpected things, like pulling a dog from a coat pocket) and – in that death scene, decades hence – turning the whole thing into a kind of banal, everyday tragedy that is all the more affecting for its refusal to indulge in acting (at least, Pearson acts throughout as if she’s not acting) or ramp up the melodrama. After all, who would need to do that, when the bare facts of any human life are so peculiar and unsettling in their own right?

Mr Ferris & Daniel Oliver [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Mr Ferris & Daniel Oliver [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Talking of unsettling, that’s pretty much the raison d’etre of Mr Ferris and Daniel Oliver, formerly (and probably still, for all I know) instigators of the notorious performances of AuntyNazi. Certainly veering on the gentler side of what they’ve been capable of in the past, at least insofar as Oliver doesn’t have an axe in his hand this time out, tonight’s one-to-one performance (or, more accurately, tonight’s ‘two-to-one’ performance, given that you, the audience, are decisively outnumbered by Ferris and Oliver) involves being tied up with tinfoil, having batteries plugged into said tinfoil hand-cuffs, having a tinfoil hat put unceremoniously onto your head, then sat at a table facing Ferris, who delivers an interrogatory string of non-sequiturs to your face. Meanwhile, in a set of headphones, you hear Oliver’s voice, seemingly stranded in a parallel universe, describing his condition in language that defies logic but appears to have a similar structure to that of Ferris’s monologue. Ferris keeps saying ‘Repeat!’, but whether it’s a refrain or an instruction isn’t clear, and I end up, instead, trying to follow both streams of language at once. At a point that seems more or less random, but is probably precisely timed, the plugs are disconnected, the cuffs removed, and I’m abruptly sent back out into the corridor with a tin-foil hat still on my head, left to make of it all whatever I choose. The one word description might be: ‘disorientating’.

The Gramophones [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The Gramophones [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The Gramophones are rather more straightforward, and their Small Acts Of Protest show (currently touring under a different name, Playful Acts of Rebellion) does pretty much what it says on the tin, recounting the various paths by which the four women in the company came to a realisation that their general tendency to feel discontented with the world around them might be somehow related to their equal tendency to have not done much about it. What follows is a series of intertwined personal stories of growing activism, as each chooses an issue that concerns her and commits to spend a year doing something, whatever it might be, to try and enact some small change in the wider world. Kristy Guest takes up the cause of food waste, Hannah Stone – under the influence of Pussy Riot – that of feminism, while Rebecca D’Souza takes on media assaults on the very concept of the Welfare State and Ria Ashcroft revisits an abandoned protesting past, trying to find parallels between her former life as a protester and her current one as a performer. Poised somewhere between uplifting comedy and agitprop cabaret, Small Acts of Protest is energetic, likeable and sufficiently lacking in self-importance to avoid falling into the ever-lurking trap lying in wait for all message-based theatre (as skewered by the League of Gentlemen’s ‘issue based’ educational troupe, Legz Akimbo). Thankfully, the honesty and humour on display here help to keep things well away from that particular precipice.

Eric Rosoman [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Eric Rosoman [photo credit Julian Hughes]

While The Gramophones were looking for ways to improve the world, Eric Rosoman was spending the evening in the Embrace cafe trying to find the various Paradises, Utopias and other Heavens on Earth that already exist, in name, anyway: whether these towns called Bliss or Paradise could feasably live up to those names was perhaps another question, and one that Rosoman’s conversations with the audience in the cafe were intended to solve. Quite apart from the locations found by typing the many variations on Utopia and Perfection into Google Maps, then marking them on a board should we wish to visit them ourselves, Rosoman was also logging places audience members had experienced as some kind of Paradise, whatever they happened to be called. Clearly, this mapping of a global network of ideal places – and in doing this, trying to define what an Ideal Place might actually be – was more than a single evening’s work, so it’s not entirely surprising that the end of the night saw Rosoman’s project, like The Gramophones’ efforts to improve the world, implicitly a work in progress, to be continued in the future.

Andy Field [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Andy Field [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Three further pieces played with ideas of more personal experiences of the future. Andy Field‘s Motor Vehicle Sundown (After George Brecht) reportedly consisted of an imaginary journey, experienced as an audio narrative listened to inside a stationary car under the streetlamps of Leicester, but I can’t say exactly where this particular journey led as the excessively full platform elsewhere, 25 minute duration and capacity for only two audience members at a time ensured there was never a good moment to get inside that mysterious 2CV parked facing a hedge a few yards from the Embrace entrance and experience it. Perhaps, when it comes to imaginary journeys, it might be better to imagine what the imaginary journey might have been anyway?

Steve Fossey [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Steve Fossey [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Technical hitches rather than schedules scuppered Steve Fossey‘s Hello I Love You, for this punter at least. The idea had been to connect, by way of a mobile phone and a real but heavily symbolic rope suspended between two balconies inside the venue, and converse one-to-one, but remotely, in an exploration of whether such electronically mediated distancing made intimacy more or less difficult. Sadly, what was the final session of an otherwise technical hitch-free night saw our two phones refuse to connect, for some mysterious reason best known to themselves, which might be as good a metaphor for a failure to connect in other ways as any that might have ensued had the networks proved more cooperative. Oddly, given the subject, the technology’s failure saw Fossey and myself standing side by side, watching the phones in our hands repeatedly refuse to make contact, while we talked about what would have happened if they’d managed to talk to each other. Perhaps this could be considered the precise inverse of the intended script.

Krissi Musiol [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Krissi Musiol [photo credit Julian Hughes]

At least the decidedly analogue construct of Krissi Musiol‘s Making Time didn’t go wrong, partly because it took place at a table in front a cabinet full of craft ceramics by the staircase and consisted of Musiol herself delivering an in-person motivational sales pitch in which she promised a service that would accept proposals for things you’d like to achieve (submissions to be handwritten on a postcard, please) and keep track of them for you online, sending out reminders or little prompts to keep you directed towards the goals you’d expressed today. You could choose a goal one year or ten years off, a short or long term objective, and like Hannah Nicklin’s Dead Time, the substance was about how we use the time we have, or, in Musiol’s case, perhaps, how we fail to use it. Precisely because her performance adopted the form of a sales pitch, or (possibly) job interview, it seemed appropriate (even if it turned out to be accidental) that a ceramic Angel and Devil in the cabinet behind her lined up exactly with Musiol’s shoulders as she spoke, suggesting that all this talk of self-motivation and direction might be less trustworthy than it seemed on the surface. The good and bad intentions of this kind of inspirational talk were subtly exposed in what turned out be an entirely unintentional quirk of the location.

Jaye Kearney [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Jaye Kearney [photo credit Julian Hughes]

A definite contrast was apparent between Musiol’s Making Time and the last performance of the night, Jaye Kearney‘s One, despite a few thematic connections. In truth, though, there was a contrast between everything seen during the evening and Jaye Kearney’s One, since its whole aesthetic and energy was indebted as much to cheerful Hen Party celebrations and Bridget Jones’ Diary as anything in the usual Live Art and Independent Theatre armoury, and Kearney certainly did the night’s best job of scrambling our expectations of theatrical decorum. Beginning predictably downbeat, with Kearney seemingly defeated in the same pyjamas worn by Renée Zellweger in the films of Helen Fielding’s books, listening to sad songs and slapping labels like ‘fat’, ‘single’ and ‘loser’ all over her own face and body, halfway through she switches tone, puts on polka dots, and does the whole Gok Wan or Oprah ‘you go girl’ thing before decisively parting company with Bridget Jones, rejecting the search for a man and going through a whole marriage ceremony on her own, with the help of various audience members. Once married to herself, One turns into a full-on cheesy wedding disco that carries on long after the actual performance finishes. By this point it was hard to tell if we’d just seen a piece of experimental theatre or something that would simply go down a storm on daytime TV. Several weeks on, I’m still not sure, which suggests that if any performance tonight could be said to have been genuinely experimental, Kearney’s was it.

Sunday Service: Hatch Scratched at New Art Exchange

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Alice Gale-Feeny II - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Time has its own unalterable speed, which clearly hasn’t been compatible with my own need to find ways of slowing it down a bit lately in order to get everything done. A case in point would be the notes made in longhand the evening after Hatch put on its daytime platform event at New Art Exchange on Sunday July 21st, which waited a few weeks to be united with pictures, then found themselves swept ever further out to sea on continuous waves of incoming deadlines until, finally, they made it to the beach, a mere two months later. Still, they weren’t the only thing to suffer such a fate. Even on the day itself, one scheduled performer, Laura Milnes, found herself stranded somewhere between the Latitude Festival and Nottingham and didn’t make it either, so perhaps it’s best to think of these notes not as being late, but as having been on a Situationist-style derive for the high summer months before finally arriving at their originally intended destination. They’d like you to know they are feeling much more tanned, healthy and relaxed than they might have done if they’d rushed straight here without pausing for breath.

Bibi Letts: Tea in Bed

Bibi Letts - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Pausing for breath was clearly the point of Bibi Letts’ Tea In Bed, which offered one person at a time an opportunity to climb into a picturesque brass bed, parked in the midst of the Mezzanine Gallery, and share tea and a chat with Letts herself. Not surprisingly, given the leisurely Sunday afternoon setting and overcast sky outside, Tea in Bed proved to be very popular. So popular, in fact, that I only got to see it at a distance, or while walking around the gallery waiting for a space to open up during the breaks between performances, but every time returned to find Letts deeply engrossed in sipping tea and having a conversation with someone that it would have seemed slightly intrusive to properly eavesdrop on. In the end, then, it turned out that Letts’ Tea In Bed made something of an unintended mystery of itself, and was experienced by me in much the same way that private conversations overheard on park benches or on buses are: as semi-public occurences only guiltily and occasionally caught in their fragmentary passing.

Priya Mistry: Experiments In Performing Action and Sound

Priya Mistry II - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

No such issues with Priya Mistry‘s Experiments In Performing Action and Sound, a scratch performance whose shape took a form that the programme states as borrowed from John White’s Newspaper Reading Machine, a 1971 work by a British systems-music composer whose own output has been described as “eclectic”, “covering a wide range of styles”, “ironic, experimental and avant-postmodern.” Which doesn’t make our sense of what to expect from Mistry’s performance any clearer, especially given the very visual set-up of stacked cans, strange things gaffa-taped to floors and walls, toy-horns, hanging wood-blocks on ropes, queue of upright hardback books and a dangling sheet of metallic foil that greets us when we enter. Five or six women stand around among these seemingly miscellaneous objects, each holding a sheet of paper and focusing intently on the words it contains. Once the performance begins, it’s a case of never quite knowing what will happen next. One woman shouts a word. Another jumps and blows a whistle. A third rushes in to scrunch that big gold and silver sheet of bunched foil, another steps forward to stand on a plastic car horn that blares its note, then falls silent as she steps back again. There’s no predictable pattern to the sequence, and  other actions enter the frame as things proceed: someone goes to the wall, pulls a rope and lets that wooden block crash to the floor with an echoing thud. The line of books is toppled, domino-style. A pyramid of metal cans is knocked over with a cricket ball. At a certain point, as each performer finishes her regularly interrupted silent reading of the text on her page, the performance ends. The effect is a combination of playroom visuals (heightened by the mirrored studio walls at New Art Exchange, which add a confused sense of space to the already volatile mix) and the kinds of noises half-familiar from John Cage’s prepared piano or chance sound compositions. Like Ping Pong Crash, one of Mistry’s earlier Hatch performances Experiments In Performing Action and Sound hovers on the boundary between structure and chaos and suggests that it’s when Mistry loses control of her own work that she’s (maybe paradoxically) happiest.

Priya Mistry I - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Alice Gale-Feeny: In The Presence of Cars

Alice Gale-Feeny I - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The opposite might be said of Alice Gale-Feeny, whose In The Presence of Cars is an improvised but meticulously controlled durational performance in which Gale-Feeny herself painstakingly, over several hours, polishes, wipes and almost ritualistically cleanses a car outside the front of the venue. Sunday is traditionally a day for this kind of activity, as it is traditionally a day for prayer and Christian worship. I don’t know if those associations were intended or not, but it did often seem like  In The Presence of Cars was intent on combining the two, with Gale-Feeny talking to the car as she cleans it in the kind of voice that moves in and out of audibility, as though we are encountering someone tending a grave or a shrine, but doing this while kneeling beside a smart modern car and wearing the same hi-viz waistcoat seen on the men who staff those car-wash and valeting facilities that tend to spring up on the sites of former independent garages. There’s also a strange ‘horse-whispering’ quality to the way the vehicle’s body is constantly being stroked and soothed while Gale-Feeny’s monologue circles its themes, offering oddly maternal observations on how clean each minute part of the vehicle now is, or will soon be. From even a slight distance, her actions were indistinguishable from anyone washing a car on a normal Sunday, but once you entered the gravitational field of the vehicle itself and began to pick up the strangely obsessive commentary, it all began to slip into territory where religious ritual and consumer culture, ideas of cleansing rituals and the status symbolism embodied in motor vehicles, merged together like the soap-suds running off into the gutters outside New Art Exchange.

Michael Pinchbeck: Sit With Me For A Moment and Remember

Michael Pinchbeck I - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

There’s a sense of entering a bubble of performative space in Michael Pinchbeck‘s Sit With Me For A Moment and Remember, too, and having experienced the piece from the inside, as it were, at Hazard Festival in Manchester last year, it was fascinating to observe it from the other side today. Watching as people sat down, put on the headphones and closed their eyes, it was possible to see the mysterious actions going on around that interior space the work creates, as Nicki Hobday appears and hides between sections, or all participants place their hands on the bench in exactly the same way at the relevant point in the narrative. Despite being in the middle of a busy pedestrian thoroughfare in central Manchester, I recall the experience of the piece being very private, removing each participant from the noise of the surroundings. Much the same appeared to happening here, with the bench sited against railings next to a very busy Gregory Boulevard. Knowing what the experience was, but observing others immersed in it, gave today’s version a kind of ‘ghost’ quality, a sense of the imaginary zone that the audio generates around the bench on which everything takes place, but where, in another sense, nothing really happens or manifests itself outside the head of the person sitting there.

Michael Pinchbeck II - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Olwen Davies: Retroscape

Olwen Davies I - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

At the core of this platform were a pair of studio theatre performances, both reiterations of work first devised and presented as part of double bills at Hatching Space events during 2012. Olwen DaviesRetroscape made its debut at Broadway Cinema, where the layering of imaginary past and real present had been facilitated by the technological resources of the cinema venue, with Davies able to leave one space only to reappear in another, visible on screen, as though somehow broadcasting to ‘now’ from a ‘then’ she’d physically disappeared into. With the more minimal resources of a New Art Exchange studio, the same script takes on subtly different resonances, since in having to remain in the ‘now’ with the audience while persuading herself that she is, in fact, elsewhere (or more precisely, elsewhen) the layering of eras becomes more tangled, and the impossibility of entering the mythic realm of 1966, where the prospect of becoming iconic might be thought within reach, brings out more pathos than the earlier version at Broadway. By remaining trapped in the same space as the rest of us, but imagining herself into some imaginary other-place she’s desperate to recreate, Davies puts herself under pressure to deliver the impossible and with each failure (or at least, only partial success) seems to become ever more manic in her efforts, a scenario that raises the stakes by subjecting Davies-as-performer to increasingly untenable demands. We know, even if if she appears not to accept, that what she promises can never be achieved. If the first version of Retroscape offered a series of riffs on lost innocence and nostalgia for a time when even the false promises of unreal memories seem better than the no-promises-at-all on offer today, this revisiting of the piece tips that bittersweet confection into darker territory where the desire to escape to a better but largely imaginary past begins to seem unsettling rather than comforting.

Olwen Davies III - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Ollie Smith: Cat In Hell

Ollie Smith II - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Another piece first presented during Hatching Space last year was Ollie Smith‘s Cat In Hell, in which Smith plays a slightly hapless demon tormented by a she-cat (played here, as in the first incarnation of the piece, by Olwen Davies). A strangely compelling duet, or duel, takes place in a theatrical space that seems to merge a rock concert stage with a Las Vegas conjuror’s cabaret and a minimal representation of some kind of existential limbo. What has changed between the last Hatch iteration of Cat in Hell and its current version is less the earlier play with the dynamics of physical comedy and escapology, all of which remain, but the nature of the characters themselves, whose motives and relative power over one-another carries a greater sense of uncertainty as they continually attempt to outwit one-another in the run-up to the grand finale of a disappearing act. Where before the demon was mostly the hapless victim of the cat’s wiles, here he veers between that earlier inability to manifest his will and a more sinister purpose: that haplessness starts to seem – at least sometimes – as if it masks a manipulative plea for sympathy in his own opaque cause, while the cat seems, at least occasionally, more vulnerable than she has a tendency to assume. This certainly helps to rack up a bit more tension in the previously even-keeled construct, something that’s underscored by the way the music tracks are introduced and used. I don’t know if it’s deliberate or not that Smith’s announcements that we’ve just heard The Black Crowes, or are about to hear Nick Cave, emerge with much the same intonation used on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack when Michael Madsen pulls out a razor and gets ready to dance to Stuck In The Middle With You, but the echo is plainly audible.

Ollie Smith I - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Frank Abbott: On Fruits

Frank Abbott I - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

And if it’s torture you’re after as a finale, look no further than Frank Abbott‘s On Fruits, a series of performances running through the day that can best be described as a combination of product demonstration, nature talk and vegan slaughterhouse. Abbott’s quotation of Hegel in the Hatch programme (“Even as we contemplate history…our thoughts cannot avoid the question, for whom, for what final aim, these monstrous sacrifices have been made”) hints that we might read the spectacle of a vast array of fruits being cored, sliced, chopped, grated, skinned, peeled and otherwise sacrificed on an equally vast array of specially-designed coring, slicing, chopping, grating and peeling devices as a kind of French Revolutionary Terror re-enacted with apples, bananas, mangoes and kiwi fruits. In the performance itself, Abbott classifies the fruits by origin (from native fruits, to established and older introduced fruits, to recently migrated and still-a-bit-exotic fruits, all sourced in Hyson Green) and chats amiably about the challenges each individual fruit presents to the designers of ingenious gadgets specifically devised to prepare them for consumption. Who knew that beautifully engineered lathes are built simply to remove an apple peel in one continuous helix, or lethal-looking gouges are manufactured for the sole purpose of getting the pulp out of coconuts? Performing all this on a rickety table with the wires of his head-microphone dangling into the path of knives, machinery and flying juice, it’s a nerve-wracking as well as educational spectacle, with the bonus of a fruit salad at the end: at least, if you haven’t been put off the whole idea of eating it by the fruitarian bloodbath that has gone into its making.

Frank Abbott II - Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Banter, Boredom, Beauty and Balloons: Hatch Scratch 13 at Embrace Arts

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Hatch Scratch 13 [image credit Julian Hughes]

The last time Hatch ran a scratch night at Embrace Arts, during Hatching Space in 2012, audience feedback was invited in the informal setting of the cafe, over a running buffet, but for this year’s version the forum is a slightly more formal series of chaired discussions, with the artists – programmed in four linked double-bills running through the evening – prompted with questions from the audience in a series of discussions variously chaired by Nathaniel J Miller and Michael Pinchbeck from Hatch, Michaela Butter  from Embrace Arts and Helena Goldwater from Circuit Festival.

Hatch Scratch 13 [photo credit - Julian Hughes] (5)

The idea, of creating a space where sketch versions of performances in progress can be presented, with mechanisms built in to gather feedback about what works, what may not work, and any suggestions for further development that might occur to anyone present on the night, is, of course, exactly the same as before. Over the night, the material on show ranges from very polished to very raw; highly considered to ‘we’re just trying something out here’; very technical multi-media presentations to completely lo-fi ‘one man and a spotlight’ numbers: in other words, the kind of range you’d expect of a scratch night. Where to start? Well, the beginning is usually a good place…

Ollie Smith & Mufaro Makubika: The Review Show

Hatch Scratch 13 [photo credit - Julian Hughes]

Unfortunately, the beginning happens a bit later than scheduled. A slightly delayed Nottingham to Leicester train and some bad luck with pedestrian crossings between Leicester Station and Embrace Arts ensured I arrived at the venue about ten minutes after the 6pm start time. With no admittance permitted till the interval of this first double-bill, I sit in the café, at a table designated for responses to the performance by Ollie Smith & Mufaro Makubika that’s still going on inside, open my laptop and begin to type: there can be no review of The Review Show. It seems apt. Whatever happened during the performance itself, the one show billed as self-reflexive resists feedback from outside through the intervention of a firmly closed door and a front of house usher who isn’t to be persuaded into flexibility.

Hatch Scratch 13 [photo credit - Julian Hughes] (2)

But since The Review Show promises – as its title makes clear – to stage nothing more than a review of itself by Makubika and Smith, perhaps the resulting review of that review would, anyway, have proved so ludicrously meta that this entire blog might have collapsed in on itself and formed the critical equivalent of a digital black hole. This impression is reinforced when Smith remarks during the discussion later that: “We set it up to be un-reviewable. If it succeeds in getting good reviews, it’s failed in its intention”. Someone in the audience protests: “I liked it. It was good”. Smith beams and replies: “So we failed”. Which, if I’m keeping count correctly, means they succeeded, but because of that failed, and so succeeded: ad infinitum. Perhaps it’s just as well I didn’t get to witness The Review Show after all.

Hunt & Darton: BOREDOM

Hatch Scratch 13 [photo credit - Julian Hughes] (3)

Once I was allowed inside the venue, it was to see another show that flirts with failure as part of its raison d’être. Last seen at Hatch: NEAT performing their horse-themed show Break Your Own Pony, Hunt & Darton have filled much of the intervening time running a cafe (you might have caught them in waitress mode at a marquee in the grounds of Nottingham Castle as part of World Event Young Artists in September 2012) but clearly they’ve decided on a change of pace. In BOREDOM, the duo decide to explore the archetypal mind-set of teenagers on family outings and commit themselves to making a show from a minimum of sensory stimulus: no more than is needed to explore the state of being bored. Perhaps to offset the subject, they’ve dressed themselves from head to toe in leopard-print and gathered an array of objects to show off (a Queen Vic teapot and a golden pineapple among them) but they do promise to be bored. The problem is, try as they might to cultivate a hyper-cool state of absolute, mind-numbing boredom in order to research their new show, Hunt & Darton seem to get inappropriately excited by the least promising things.

Hatch Scratch 13 [photo credit - Julian Hughes] (4)

At one point the whole project is jeopardised when the pair find themselves over-stimulated by several hours in an empty room staring at a pair of curtains or a blank wall; somehow, nothing can ever quite induce the required state because the world in general is just too interesting. The presentation of their ‘research’ grows ever more absurd: they remove the too-interesting walls from the boredom room, only to be excited by the trees and sky outside. Between these dialogues about their own failure to achieve boredom, the duo bring on audience members to have boring work conversations while the two of them interject. Or they fidget with microphones in very faintly suggestive ways, or they stand around throwing ‘bored’ poses. There’s a sense here of boredom as a subject worth exploring in an age of electronic overload and aggressively marketed 24/7 entertainment; there’s also a more straightforwardly comic tone, a bit of Reeves & Mortimer in the way a golden pineapple is held aloft and reverently named; a Smack The Pony vibe in watching two grown women act like alternately over-excitable and bored children. We’re certainly not bored.

Louise Orwin: Am I Pretty/Ugly?

Hatch Scratch 13 [photo credit - Julian Hughes] (6)

Things get a lot darker in Louise Orwin’s Am I Pretty/Ugly?, where Orwin explores the online phenomenon of pre-teen and teenage girls posting YouTube clips of themselves asking random viewers to rate them in terms of physical attractiveness. It all begins predictably enough, with Orwin sitting on the floor in a princess outfit and blonde wig running a phone-camera over her body, from legs to lips, with the resulting footage projected onto a wall while a second screen shows her posed in a manner very like Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #6 while singing along to a pop song. This segues into an introduction to the phenomenon behind the piece, a dance on roller-skates, and finally the trial by social media itself, which quickly descends into some very dark places: comments on Orwin’s own series of staged clips range from supportive to aggressively sexual to ‘just F***ing kill yourself’.

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The questions Orwin asks of the girls posting these clips – both: ‘why put yourself through this?’ and ‘would I have done this myself when I was their age if the technology had existed?’ – are answered, roughly, as ‘the need for approval’ and ‘yes, very probably’. From there, the most submissive and blatantly appealing of her three online personalities, the blonde and princess-dressed Baby we saw at the beginning, logs into Chat Roulette to fire back some of the comments aimed at her by men on YouTube at some of the (same?) men logging in for sexual conversations with young girls online. Their images and conversations are recorded and re-screened, in a kind of calculated revenge, linked to the toys we’d seen in the opening sequence (mostly Trolls of one kind or another) before the whole performance culminates in a high speed montage of footage from actual girls’ Am I Pretty/Ugly? videos, sourced online, with the multitude of voices pleading for approval accelerated till they hit a disturbing non-human pitch. By the end, it’s all felt like a steep descent into some very mundane species of social and psychological abyss.

Sara Cocker & Nicki Hobday: Age Concerns

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Luckily, the second act of this double-bill has a lighter and more optimistic feel, as Sara Cocker (last seen at Hatch: Mass getting very lairy indeed with Eggs Collective) and Nicki Hobday (last seen at Hazard Festival performing Sit With Me For A Moment and Remember) join forces to present a draft performance about what it means to get old. Both based in Manchester, and both having worked extensively on residencies in care homes, their cues come not from some well-meaning notion of what getting old might be like but from an encounter with Hilda, an elderly lady who once did their jobs and now happens to live in one of the homes she’d once regularly visited as a professional performer. With Hilda offering advice on a screen above the stage, Cocker and Hobday act out her ideas for the performance they’ve told her they were planning to do tonight.

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Hilda thinks bonnets, odd socks and dancing are in order, so that’s what Cocker and Hobday deliver, between sections where they discuss the work they’ve done as artists visiting day centres and residential care homes and the people they’ve encountered at social gatherings and tea dances in Manchester. They talk about what it means to get a clear glimpse – in the sprightly form of Hilda herself – of their own likely futures. Above all, they try to get away from some of the generic ideas about ageing that a show on this particular subject by two young performers might have been expected to include. After all, nothing quite says ‘this is about old age’ like a string of truisms about fading memories, the acquisition of wisdom, physical decline and the like. Partly by the fairly simple device of giving Hilda herself a kind of remote directors’ role and the last word of the performance, Cocker and Hobday (mostly) manage to avoid the expected. Mostly? Well, a few of the cliches about ageing happen to be true, some of the time.

Raul Calderon: From My Heart

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The third pairing of the night is very much focused on dance, with Spanish-born Raul Calderon – familiar to many in the region for his Arts Council role, but perhaps less so for his own background as a Flamenco and contemporary dance choreographer and performer – kicking things off with a question for the audience: ‘what words do we think describe time?’. The audience answers: ‘days and years’, ‘something passing’, ‘something that cannot be turned back’, which leads Calderon to turn on his heel and walk towards a circle of white light on the otherwise darkened stage. He stops at its edge, circles it repeatedly in a series of variations, his heels performing the usually passionate rhythms of flamenco as a kind of mechanical ticking. It’s a hypnotic spectacle, like flamenco performed without emotion, or at least, with the emotion sublimated, repressed and contained rather than outwardly demonstrated.

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That opening  leads to two further, slightly less resolved sections in which all that repressed emotion surfaces. First, Calderon sits at the edge of the stage and recites a text about love and loss in both English and Spanish while pulling the petals from a rose, then a final segment sees him perform something more nakedly emotional, a dance to invoke the spirit of a lost lover for one final dance together. The ending comes with that lover’s emergence from the ground, leaving us on something of a cliffhanger. The transitions between sections are a little blunt, but during the discussion Calderon explains that this version is a rough edit from an hour long piece, so given more time to bridge the necessary jump-cuts it’s highly likely that this will make for a  powerful piece of work. Unusually for Hatch, it’s a piece that uses a traditional form in a more or less traditional way, wears its intentions on its sleeve and has no fear of melodrama, all of which give it a very particular kind of force in this context.

70/30 Split: Two Do: a performance

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In 70/30 Split’s Two Do  the dance element brought to the fore is more a kind of tightly choreographed slapstick than contemporary dance per se: think of the Marx Brothers causing havoc with a lemonade seller in Duck Soup or Morecombe and Wise cooking breakfast in time to The Stripper for something I imagine might be close to the core intention. Much of the humour comes from the characters adopted by Sophie Unwin and Lydia Cottrell, the two women making up 70/30 Split, who both seem to believe they’re the ‘straight’ half of the double act – the half that gets to hang on to a semblance of dignity – when the truth is they’re each pushed by the other to be the ‘comedy turn’: the one whose humiliations and failings get all the laughs and most of the sympathy but don’t really allow for much dignity to be retained. Dressed in identical outfits and making much play with paper bouquets, the two act out a synchronised pantomime of co-dependency, in which they clearly need each other as much as they’d like to be somewhere, or someone, else.

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The general effect is like watching a marriage or long-term friendship unravelling, repairing itself, then unravelling again as the duo move from perfectly choreographed moves to eyeing each-other warily, competing for audience attention, undermining one-another’s attempts to perform solo, and subjecting each-other to small humiliations, before resigning themselves to being together and moving back into synchronicity before the whole cycle starts over again. Unwin and Cottrell have a knack for achieving a kind of precision in their movements that is framed as almost accidental, an image helped, I suspect, by their makeshift costumes, inelegant boots and ability to keep straight faces throughout. It’s comedy played as if the participants think it’s tragedy and the neat twist in Two Do is that this stuff happens in all our relationships: we’d just prefer not to notice and delude ourselves that we, too, still have our dignity.

Wolf Close: It’s going to rain

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The final pairing of the night gets underway with Dartington trained duo Wolf Close, a company name which could read as something like “lupine energies and raw natural forces lurking just under the civilised surfaces of our everyday lives” or alternatively, conjure up the image of a fancifully-named suburban cul-de-sac straight out of The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin, depending on the emphasis we want to put on the two words that comprise it. The ambiguity proves appropriate: It’s going to rain is a piece where the tension between the call of wilderness and adventure is blatantly invested in two performers who talk about their domestic child-care arrangements between re-enactments of illustrations from Scouting manuals; whose personalities on stage seem drawn as much from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books as contemporary circuits of eco-awareness, art-in-nature and environmental activism.

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The structure echoes the influences, beginning with efforts to mimic the feeling of being in the wild on a bare stage by means of poses, freeze-frame running and sprayed river-water, and culminating with an outright fantasy in which they use traditional storytelling to take the whole audience on an epic voyage into the heart of some (probably imaginary) primal wilderness without anyone leaving the room. It’s not clear whether Wolf Close are poking fun at the very current cultural phenomenon of armchair encounters with transcendent wild places (at its most clearly visible in the Guardian cult of Nature Writing and a wider British obsession with watching David Attenborough documentaries on TV between trips to Tesco and Asda) or are themselves part of that phenomenon and hope to stir a sense of unironic wonder at the sublime grandeur of unspoiled nature in their audience: probably a bit of both, assuming they’re even entirely sure themselves.

Drunken ChorusJust Like Larry Walters

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Traditional storytelling is also at the heart of the night’s final piece. Just Like Larry Walters refers to the American truck driver who in 1982 strapped a bunch of weather balloons to a lawn chair, grabbed himself a sandwich and a pack of Miller Lites, then (unintentionally) shot himself up to a height of 16,000 feet and remained there for around 14 hours, during which time he was spotted by several airline pilots. Balloons as a symbol of escape loom large here, and the piece consists mostly of Chris Williams telling a series of balloon-related stories while Sheena Holliday blows up balloons behind him, preparing for a party or celebration of some unspecified sort, and trying, as Williams explains, to fill the stage, or the room, or the whole building, one balloon at a time. While Holliday blows up her balloons Williams spins his stories. They’d like to use the balloons to do what Larry Walters did back in 1982, or to re-enact the story-line of Pixar’s Up (2009) by tying thousands of balloons to a house. He adds some variations on the plot of The Red Balloon (1956), too, in which a small boy finds himself befriended by the inanimate object of the film’s title and, after a few set-backs, is liberated in a balloon-assisted flight over Paris.

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These re-tellings seem to be pieced together with all the inaccuracies of false memory, as though Williams is describing his own or friends’ experiences rather than stories he’s half-remembered from films and bits he’s read online, but perhaps at this stage in the piece’s development the storytelling hasn’t yet untethered itself quite enough from its sources to achieve the kind of lift-off it seems to be aiming for. But then, like the impossible task Holliday sets for herself, trying to fill the whole venue with balloons in less than 20 minutes, Williams’s fantasies of escape may be deliberately engineered to disappoint. As with Wolf Close’s dream of staging an epic performance that takes us deep into some remote wilderness without anyone having to move, and whatever Williams claims, it seems Drunken Chorus are less committed to actually escaping the mundane than simply indulging the fantasy of escaping through vicariously recycled stories. And isn’t that, in the end, the very thing we generally need to confront about ourselves?

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Hatching Space, After the Event: An Interview With Hatch (Summer 2012)

To conclude Hatching Space, it might be worthwhile to post the full transcript of an interview carried out at Primary during the summer of 2012 with the three core members of Hatch, Nathaniel J Miller, Michael Pinchbeck and Marie Bertram. The edited version appeared in the Performance issue of Nottingham Visual Arts magazine.

Interview by Wayne Burrows. All photography by Julian Hughes.

Nathaniel J Miller and Michael Pinchbeck at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

Nathaniel J Miller: Can you hear that when you play back? Do you think this will record OK with the echo in here?

WB: I think it’ll be fine. It’s not usually a problem unless there’s background noise…

NJM: …or if we all talk over each other.

WB: So if we get started, I suppose the first thing I wanted to ask about was Helen Cole’s ‘This Secret Location’ essay in this book you lent me which had a line – “It is my belief that the responsibility of any curator is to act as a bridge between artist, audience and context” – which sounded like a fair summary of what Hatch tries to do. Would that comment seem like something you’d see yourselves reflected in?

NJM: I suppose so…does that mean we’re curators?

Michael Pinchbeck: I think anyone who puts something somewhere has to think about those things, whatever the art form. I mean, today we’ve mostly been driving around with Andy Field, who’s going to be bringing a piece here in October, and it’s mainly been a question of asking “where does the work work best?”. After that, it’s about finding an audience, and making it possible for the work to be made in that place.

NJM: Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to come first, whether you find a space that’s interesting enough to want to put work into, and going out to find the right work for it, or whether you find work you want to bring to Nottingham, and then go out to find the right space for that work.

Frank Abbott: Spaghetti Powerpoint at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: Obviously, some Hatch work is devised for particular spaces, particular contexts, so maybe Frank Abbott being at Broadway would be an example of that recently?

MP: We were also invited by Broadway to find artists who would respond to Broadway, and the same with the Playhouse, so we took the audiences from one venue to the other, and invited both them and the artists to think about the journey between the two different venues. In October, we’ll be doing a similar thing, taking audiences from Broadway to Primary, and other events have involved bus journeys, where we thought about what would happen on the bus to the venue. So if we are curating, we’re curating the journeys between venues as much as the events happening in them. We’re trying to create an experience for an audience as much as a performance.

NJM: How things started was with Hatch trying to create places for people to use to show work: existing locations, but not places you’d go to see art or theatre or performance. We’d be in a pub, or somewhere like that, and we’d make the space for a night. Now, we still do that, but also create connections between places and people, audiences, artists and art. That can be two points on a journey within the city, or a network that links things happening here in Nottingham to places outside, so going from Nottingham to Leicester is an example of that.

WB: One thing I remember Hatch being described as, during what I suppose you’d now call its mid-period – around the time of Abroad on Broad Street, or Across on St James’ Street – was that it’s like a very compressed festival. Does that get towards the intention?

NJM: It gets the point that we’ve had an intention that anything could be included, and we always had a wide ranging view of what we defined as performance, and a feeling that no type of performance would be excluded – though some things fall into our particular spiral better than others, and there are certain things it’s logistically possible for us to do, and other things we don’t have the resources to do. But the idea that any kind of performance can happen within a Hatch event is something we’ve always felt was important, and that’s not unlike how a festival works.

MP: One recent definition – not of us in particular, but the kind of thing we do – is “a micro-festival”. Something that happens for a day or two, and can incorporate one-to-one performance and durational pieces, or a more conventional one hour show, all inside the same frame. One of our earlier outings was Hatch: Wish You Were Here, where we had Meg Tait playing an organ with a fork attached to her head. It only lasted a minute and a half, and that’s a thing that could only happen in this kind of micro-festival context, where we can give artists a space to try things out, to do things that are untested and untried. And you don’t necessarily know it’ll only last a minute and a half until you see it.

WB: The other side of that is the way some of the work blurs the line between what is obviously work, and what’s just happening around the venue. At Hatch: Undercover in the Loggerheads pub there was a man sitting at a table doing a performance with jelly babies. The way you encountered it meant it could have been a performance, or it could just as easily have been some eccentric local amusing himself.

MP: I think those kinds of venues allow that blurring and uncertainty to happen much more easily, and now we work with arts centres and more established venues it’s a lot harder to achieve that. But we do still try to programme a few events that are free range, that move around the buildings, that are in the programme but don’t have a fixed time-slot or a fixed space. We’ve always been keen to encourage that potential reading.

NJM: Part of the challenge in using a pub or street is setting things up so you can present performances, and part of the challenge in using an Arts Centre is how you can reconfigure it to make it a space where you can still be surprised by the things that happen.

Katherine Fishman & Alice Gale-Feeny at Hazard 2 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Marie Bertram: I think sometimes it’s easier to fully invent an infrastructure than it can be to adapt to one that’s already there. When it’s all there, I think we need to subvert it a little to suit our purposes. Both situations have their strengths and bring problems.

MP: It’s also when you don’t know where the work is, when it begins or ends, or even what it is. For example, when we first performed at Embrace in Leicester, Medium Rare brought various items of found building material to the venue, the journey on the train with it was a part of the work, the parade to get it to the venue was a part of the work, the construction of a shelter outside Embrace was a part of the work…and then they sat in it for a bit, took it apart, and carried it back again, so for me that’s one of the strengths in Hatch: there’s a transience and mobility that’s a bit like Simon Starling’s shed into boat into shed work, where there’s a real slipperiness about what the work is. That idea of building an infrastructure then taking it away again is part of what Hatch is. We’re a pop-up organisation, with the potential to exist anywhere, at any time, but without a fixed abode.

WB: Has the Hatch infrastructure become more formalised than it was in the beginning – I suppose I mean by that to ask if Hatch now does have a particular identity, even if it’s one it doesn’t necessarily want? I guess there are certain expectations audiences will now bring to Hatch events.

NJM: I think that’s inevitable, but I don’t think that’s a negative thing. One of our intentions in the early days was to keep moving things around, and not be too closely linked to any one space or organisation. We still do that, in Nottingham, at least – in Leicester it’s slightly different because all the Leicester events have involved Embrace – but I think people’s sense of a Hatch identity is something we’ve created. It’s not necessarily a set of features…

MP: …and I think we have avoided doing the same thing twice, so even when the format is similar, there’ll always be some new element, and it keeps changing. Part of that is responding to feedback from audiences and artists. So it was Frank Abbott who suggested we might employ a writer to occupy the programmes and respond to them, so that’s how we came to commission you for the NEAT and Hatching Space programmes, and documentation became one of the things our artists found useful. This meant at Scratch we had 3 or 4 different modes of documentation, from photography and audio to written responses to the work…that’s all part of a process of development and a way of evolving Hatch. As a result, even the events at Embrace, a single venue, have all had very different formats, stretched the building, the staff and ourselves. The next one there will run for a full 12 hours. That’s what we’re trying to do – keep stretching ourselves. When I did my MA at Nottingham Trent someone asked the question: “Do you want to do the same thing better, or do you want to do something different?”. It’s a good question. Did you want to keep trying the same thing and keep getting better at it each time, or did you want to keep trying new things, and going in different directions, trying new things, things you’d not tried before? I think for us, we’ve always chosen the path of different rather than better…

NJM: I’m not sure it’s either-or with those, because if you’re doing the same thing, your toolbox for doing it becomes more refined, and you can end up with something that’s far more polished and professionally produced, but it’s not necessarily any better than what you had to begin with. We could have followed the thing of being a regular night with a set format, and we’d have become much better at doing that as we went on, but the events themselves would have become stale.

MP: We talked in the early days about the Shunt factor, doing something like Shunt in London, where you go along not to see any particular thing they’re showing, but because it was a night being put on by Shunt. We wanted that same sense that you’d go along to Hatch, not really knowing what you might see, but knowing that because it was Hatch, it would have a certain flavour and atmosphere. Often, because we were working in pubs and clubs, that atmosphere was the most important factor to start with, so it was a social event as much as it was an artistic event.

WB: I think that was very much the case, and I guess you could say of how Hatch has developed is that it began with connections between performances within a single venue, has moved on to connect venues around the city, and is now in a phase where you’re becoming part of bigger networks, linking this city to networks elsewhere: you’re bringing people here, like Action Hero from Bristol, or Andy Field from Edinburgh, and at the same time Hatch is travelling, to Leicester and Manchester…is that an evolution you’re conscious of cultivating? I suppose it’s a logical development, that this network keeps expanding.

NJM: I think that’s right, and the network element puts Hatch into a series of networks, and it’s logical that it grows from the back room of a pub, to the scale of a city, to the size of a region, and so on. We’ve always had people travelling to Hatch events, to be part of it, so even when we couldn’t offer money to performers, they still came to show work, to take that opportunity…

Olwen Davies: Inside Neverhood at Hatch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: We also called it Hatch because we wanted to be a place that would incubate and nurture new work, but also reflect the idea of an opening, a trapdoor, through which work that wouldn’t normally be seen here could find a way to an audience. We used to go and see work in Nottingham, things like Forced Entertainment or Third Angel, exciting companies at venues like The Powerhouse, and it seemed there weren’t the venues showing those kinds of work here anymore, so we were trying to bring some of that back. So when we had Reckless Sleepers at Hatch Abroad, or Action Hero at Hatch Across, we were conscious that there weren’t other contexts where that work could be seen in Nottingham. Now we’re bringing Third Angel to Hatch Twelve in October. We’ve talked about an ambition to have these ‘regional coups’, for Hatch to show work that isn’t being seen anywhere else here, and it’s important that artists can see the region, through Hatch, while audiences get to see these artists, through Hatch. It’s a two-way Hatch, if you like.

NJM: Yeah, and I think because Action Hero hadn’t done anything in Nottingham before…

MP: …they’d not been to the East Midlands before…

NJM: …no, and so hadn’t been seen in Leicester, before we put them on there, either, and Third Angel haven’t been to Leicester for a long time…

MP: They’ve been to Corby, I think.

WB: That touches on something important, I suppose, because going back a few years, you find that Nottingham was always a key city for live art and more experimental kinds of performance, so the National Review of Live Art had roots at the Midland Group, companies like Dogs in Honey and Reckless Sleepers were here, and Nottingham was very much part of a wider national conversation involving cities like Manchester and Sheffield, through those things, and things like the earlier NOW festivals and the Powerhouse programmes. And that has seemed to decline over the years, and a lot of the companies who emerged here moved away, so you have Gob Squad, but they’re mainly working in Berlin, or Reckless Sleepers in Belgium, so I wondered if a consciousness about that lost history was part of the starting motivation for Hatch: a desire to re-seed some of that ground?

MP: Absolutely, we touched on that in the Second Hatchifesto, and talked a bit about how a lot of artist led activity grew up in those gaps during that time, like plants coming up through the cracks in the pavement. And I think there’s definitely an ambition for us to help that process, so we’ve been able to attach companies and work to the Nottingham Playhouse, and we’ve been able to show work at Nottingham Contemporary, so we try to create a new loop within that absence, and it’ll be interesting to see how that evolves. But it seems to me to be about context, so NOW gave the work it brought here a context, and NottDance does that, and has invited to make work for them, and the NEAT festival was a context, and we took part in that, so within these festivals, who want to represent something artist led and from the grass roots, Hatch can present an attractive option. So at NEAT – which wanted to reflect some of the spaces and histories around the city – we were able to bring work to places like Wellington Circus, and the Nottingham Forest football ground, and the Polish community centre in Sherwood. Our ability to initiate these kinds of projects can make us much more adaptable, in terms of creating these fresh contexts, than some of the bigger organisations we sometimes work with. At the same time, we want to find work and bring it into these contexts, so for NEAT, there were two Manchester artists we came across through Green Room, and invited to show here, at the Polish Centre and the Playhouse, so Hatch became a way of drawing that line between the programme at Green Room and the programme at the Playhouse – a line that wouldn’t ordinarily have been drawn. Maybe it goes back to the opening quote about bridges, because often our role is about making these connections.

NJM: There was a niche here, for something that could help to continue showing that kind of work, and when I first came back here, from Liverpool, it did feel there was an absence: things like the NTU creative arts course, and certain venues and programmes, were closing down, but there weren’t yet the new things there replacing them…

MP: …and I think the Creative Arts course at NTU was important, but there were still degree level students emerging from places like New College Nottingham and the fine art courses with strong interests in these forms, so our early events often had combined audiences where those students were a key presence, and we had performers who were graduates of those places, so the NTU strand was only ever one rung on that very diverse ladder of theatre being made in the city.

NJM: It’s also important, when you have people graduating, that there are things in the city that can keep them here, so they don’t all just disperse off to bigger places elsewhere.

MP: Another aspect of that is that there were a group of students on the fine art degree at Trent who decided to set themselves up as a performance collective and NTU asked if Hatch could mentor them. That was the beginning of our relationship with Medium Rare, and they performed with us at several events during their 3 years of study, and are now working with us again as graduates. I think what’s interesting is that although our work with these places has an academic context, it also sits across and between academic and public contexts in an interesting way.

The Suitcase Ensemble at Hatch:Scratch [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

WB: I’ve noticed that in the last few years a lot of the conventional boundaries have been going through one of their blurrier phases: a lot of visual arts events seem to draw on performance and spoken word, while a lot of theatre and performance seems to be drawing on approaches borrowed from disciplines like music and experimental film: Mamoru Iriguchi’s piece being one example, Frank Abbott’s another, maybe. Do you think these lines are perhaps getting more blurred than usual, or is this just an ongoing thing?

NJM: I think there’s some truth in that, so you’ll get artists like Hetain Patel who just very naturally fall into all sorts of different categories, just through the work he does. He ends up being classified differently in different contexts, and even the same piece can be shown in different ways in different places: he might make a theatre show, or a dance performance, an installation or an exhibition, and it’s hard to say exactly what kind of artist he is, except that he’s an interesting one.

MP: Yes, and I think that applies to a lot of the artists Hatch work with. I think of Frank Abbott, who’s also difficult to place, as a film-maker stroke performer stroke fine artist stroke whatever else he does with all his strange gadgets.

NJM: It’s those people where you can’t say in one or two words what they are and where they fit in who are often making the most interesting work. The concept behind Hatch is constructed in a way that helps us to find those people and bring them together.

WB: Are you finding that the lack of an easy definition about Hatch itself, and where it fits between these different disciplines, is something that helps or hinders you, with funding and finding audiences?

NJM: I think at first it did make it potentially difficult to explain what we wanted to do, and what it was we were trying to create, and it could make it difficult for people to get a handle on what they were seeing and thought we were doing. But as we go on it becomes one of our strengths and means we can have conversations with very different institutions and people, so we can talk to Nottingham Contemporary and Primary, and we can talk with Nottingham Playhouse and Broadway. We can create lots of different contexts and start from anywhere.

MB: It keeps it really adaptable which makes it really exciting for us, and allows us to explore. We don’t end up facing that wall of assumptions about what we are or what we can be.

WB: During NEAT, before I started writing about that programme, I tried to think about what Hatch was, and realised that you were often given the label of ‘experimental’. But then, thinking about what was taken to define experimental, I realised it was often as much a case of having returned to a pre proscenium arch kind of theatre, before the fourth wall was built, when site-specificity and involving the audience might have been more standard. Was that history any part of your thinking?

NJM: We’re not consciously reaching back to any pre-existing form of performance, before the walls were built around it…

MP: …but then, we have avoided building the walls, or we’ve moved the walls around.

NJM: I don’t think we thought of it historically, but there is an idea…and an audience…that can be presented with certain kinds of work in ways that don’t fence it in with ideas like ‘experimental’ and ‘difficult’, and when it’s seen in certain ways, where no big deal is made of how strange and experimental it is, that can draw the audience in and make the work very accessible without needing to compromise it.

MP: If you think about experimental theatre, and the companies who make it, you often find that for some people it’s the word ‘experimental’ that’s off-putting, and for others, it’s the word ‘theatre’ that’s off-putting. Performance in the Pub, which is Hannah Nicklin’s night in Leicester, is billed as “theatre for people who don’t do theatre”, and there is that sense that for some audiences, theatre is not a space you might enter. So if you programme it in a pub or in a club or on a street, it’s more readily accessible and as an audience you can find yourself involved in something you’d never normally find yourself in – and then you might realise you quite like it. So we try to avoid those kinds of definitions, and until we’re in a theatre, we don’t necessarily acknowledge what we do as theatre. There’s always the possibility that it can happen in another place just as easily as it can happen inside a theatre.

WB: Is that the real significance of your insistence on using the word ‘performance-y’?

NJM: Probably. Sometimes things aren’t difficult to understand or avant-garde until you tell people that that’s what they are.

Fourbeatwalk audiotours at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: Frank Abbott and Mat Trivett at Broadway were talking about what Frank was doing there, and they decided to call it ‘expanded cinema’, something that stretched and extended the screen and bled into the auditorium more than usual, and I think what we do could be seen as ‘extended performance’ in the same way. But by not using any very specific terms ourselves it leaves it up to our audiences to decide what they want to call it and how they want to experience it.

WB: Are you finding your audience is now defining itself, as a particular kind of audience that comes to Hatch events, or is it still quite flexible as to who comes?

NJM: There are a lot of people now who come to the things Hatch put on, because they think it’ll be worth seeing what we’re up to, but as long as we’re still moving to new places there will be new audiences coming to the events we put on. Some might have heard of us before, and come because it’s Hatch and they’re curious about what we do, but we’ll still get a different audience coming to see Hatch at Broadway than we will get coming to see us at Embrace Arts. And within that, some of those who come to Embrace will be people who use that centre a lot, and come because our event is on there, even though they wouldn’t normally come to events like ours, and there’ll be others who don’t normally go to Embrace who’ll go to that venue because we’re there. It’s definitely more difficult to surprise people in dedicated arts venues, where people are coming to see a Hatch event, than it is when you’re putting things on in pubs and places where people are there for a drink, or for lots of reasons other than seeing the performances we happen to doing.

MP: What we can still do when we’re at an arts venue is extend the frame of that space, so if we take an audience from Embrace to the Y Theatre, what happens to the audiences in both those places? What if we take an audience from Broadway to the Playhouse? I took a lot of second year Trent students to Nottingham Playhouse and they’d never been there before, because it wasn’t on their radar, so putting things on different people’s radars is one of the legacies we hope can come from the double bills we’re doing. Perhaps we can also offer things you wouldn’t normally get at events: at Embrace, we had a free buffet during Hatch Scratch, and one person who goes to all Embrace’s things said: “I’ve never seen a running buffet at an event here before”, so that became a highlight for him – a surprise. It made his night. But that was the idea – “we feed you, you feedback” – because we didn’t want it to feel like a one-way street, we wanted the audience to feel they were being given something, making it a two-way street and adding a sense of generosity to the night.

Michael Pinchbeck at Hazard 2 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: Do you think there’s a particular Hatch aesthetic that’s developed since you began? There’s a certain thread of work I think of as very Hatch, work which draws on personal experience, can be quite intimate, but is also gentle, not necessarily some of the harder edged kinds of performance that happen in other contexts.

NJM: I think it varies, and there has been some of that more confrontational stuff at Hatch, but, yes, there are some live art platforms that are very confrontational, and we’re not really one of them. Perhaps that’s one of the things about attracting audiences from lots of different places, and wanting them to come back, which sort of means we do try not to scare people off. But we’ve talked about this a lot within Hatch, and one thing we’ve discussed is that we share a feeling that all the fourth walls should be removed and replaced by permeable membranes, and in this context, where you’re trying to create that particular kind of engagement between audiences and performers, anything that requires a fourth wall isn’t going to work. Performances need to be conscious of the audience being there, so whether it’s talking directly to that audience, or acknowledging it in other ways, that’s something that is needed to make things work in a Hatch context.

MP: Even when we’ve done performance platforms in more traditional single venues, like Embrace Arts, we’ve tried to configure things so perhaps one piece will be a promenade performance, another a durational piece, another using cabaret seating, so the audience never walks into the same space twice and always engages with the performances differently.

WB: I suppose that leads on to how things evolve from this point. Hatching Space is the longest-running, widest-ranging and biggest Hatch programme to date, so do you know how this will unfold? We’ve seen two events so far, across three different venues, but is this programme mapped completely, or still a work in progress, and where does this new phase lead you?

MP: Well, there are some exciting things in development, so one of our past partners has offered to support our programme for another two years, and that obviously provides a sense of backbone to what we do next. But there is a good question in looking at where we go next, and I think a lot of that will involve working outside our own city more, taking Hatch to other parts of the country, and drawing connections between those places and Nottingham and the East Midlands.

WB: So you’d be thinking about possible exchanges?

MP: The bus trip to Hazard Festival in Manchester is the first example of that, taking an event to a city where Hatch hasn’t been seen before, and also taking along a Hatch audience to see what happens at Hazard.

NJM: I think it’s also fair to say that as we’ve gone on, and looked at applying for more regular kinds of funding from places like the Arts Council, we’ve had to define what we do much more than we did in our earlier days. We did realise, in thinking about what we actually do, that we had this twin focus on developing new work within the East Midlands and bringing exciting work from elsewhere into the region: work that has difficulty finding a platform anywhere else here, but can be seen as part of Hatch. So whatever form it takes, the next phase will be about those two things: supporting artists here in making new work and bringing new work from outside for artists and audiences to see. Obviously, that’s also a way of putting the work being made here out into the wider world, and bringing the artists based here into a wider conversation, between different organisations and festivals nationally. An exchange programme would be wonderful if we could make it happen.

MP: Another aspect of that is that we were asked to present a talk at ‘Getting It Out There’, so we read the Second Hatchifesto, and afterwards met several companies who are working in other places, like Bristol and Leeds, who said it chimed very much with what they’re doing. So we’re finding, through that national exposure, more like-minded partners who will be potential collaborators in the future. It might be a case of us showing work they’ve produced, or them showing work we’ve produced, but we’re certainly trying to think more nationally. Partly because the circuit is changing all the time. It’s evolving faster than people can keep up, even at the level of touring work to the same venues. More venues are closing, due to the funding situation, and that’s one reason why more homeless or pop up organisations like ours can play a part, putting on work there’s no other context for. We have to be in a position to respond to those requests.

Shrug at Hazard 3 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: So in one sense, you become a kind of invisible building?

MP: Yes, one of the things we looked up to early on was Forest Fringe, based in Edinburgh, and their sense of a free space outside of a festival that offered artists opportunities for free in a climate where everything costs a lot of money. Now they’re homeless themselves and are just doing a publication this year, but we’ve already worked with both Debbie Pearson and Andy Field – the co-directors – and if we can create something that fosters a similar sense of supporting artists and creating an audience experience then we’ll be very happy. I think at first we did struggle with the idea that Hatch didn’t have a home, and thought maybe we needed one, but as we’ve gone on we’ve become aware that it might be one of our strengths, that it’s our USP.

WB: The quote I mentioned at the beginning was about curating, but I wonder if some of what you’re describing shades into areas like producing?

MP: I think you fix the nature of the dialogue in a fine art context when using that word, and because we work in different ways, and what we do can shade into areas like fine art, there are times when we’re curating. But there are other times when we’re producing, or are an outside eye, a dramaturg, or times when we’re marketing officers, or health and safety officers, so all these things are what we do sometimes, as and when we need to.

NJM: Also, curating gets used as a term for people who book bands for a gig, or who put together a mix-tape, and because I’m married to a curator, I’m very careful about how I use the word. Maybe there are some similarities, but we always had the definition of ourselves as a theatre without a building, and more and more we find ourselves doing what we’d be doing if we were a theatre with a building, except we do those things without one. Some of that might be producing, in the same way that a theatre will find artists and develop new work…

MP: Also, if you have a building, there will be people who programme it, but that’s not really the focus for me, the work itself is the focus. Sometimes, in an exhibition context, the curator becomes the focus as much as or more than the work itself, and that’s not what we want to do, we want to create the platform for the work to be seen.

NJM: Yes, the framework of Hatch hopefully offers people something they want to come to, but once they’re there what we want them to do is to see the work in the most intriguing way possible.

WB: I was thinking of curating in relation to Hatch events in the sense of Hatch bringing together sometimes disparate kinds of work, some of it from different disciplines, some unfinished or in process, to a single place and time where it can be seen…

NJM: We’re doing that, but perhaps the difference is we’re not trying to make a particular wider statement.

WB: But I suppose it’s unavoidable that there will be a statement – something we might call Hatch – that emerges from these gatherings of work. Is there a difference between Hatch as an entity and ethos and the sum total of the work you’d see at a Hatch event?

MP: In the run up to every event there’s a lot of dialogue that goes on, especially around pieces created for particular venues, like Frank’s piece at Broadway or Priya Mistry’s piece at Embrace. That’s really important, but there’s also Marie’s concept of ‘aftercare’, a lovely word that reflects the way we hope not to lose contact with artists, and try to keep in touch with them and feed the development of their work.

WB: There has been a strong thread in what you do, with artists who participated in early Hatch events still being involved now. They often return, with new work…

MB: Yes,  and sometimes in different constellations, too!

NJM: How it works for us is that someone might participate in different ways, so they might perform a solo piece at one show, then appear in a group show or as part of a duo at another and perhaps take part as a volunteer helping with front of house in another event. I suppose a good example of that in action is Ollie Smith. He’s done his own work with us, helped out at events, and now works with Michael, touring theatre shows like The End and The Beginning while developing shows of his own.

WB: There’s also someone like Kris Rowland, who did The Claque at Fresh and turned up with How We Run at Scratch…

NJM: Yes, How We Run also featured Pat Ashe, who’s worked with us as a solo artist, too. So there are lots of people who work with us, sometimes but not always in those shifting constellations Marie talked about. Some have come back with new work from the same artist or company, like Annette Foster or Action Hero, and some might not have returned yet but are still in touch and might do something else with us another time. The other side of that, obviously, is that we often select work from open submission processes, looking at all sorts of proposals, and we have to be careful not to create any kind of clique around ourselves, and we don’t want to end up in a situation where we’re just working with our friends, or doing things with the same people all the time. But it is lovely to be able to help people develop, to be a part of that, and to provide those opportunities for development in a consistent way. It is the aftercare thing…

Annette Foster at Hazard 1 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MB: Yes, for us it’s about being able to reflect on things, to think ‘what happened here? what did we set out to do and how was it for the artists, or the venue, or for us…’. It’s important to keep that dialogue open between ourselves, as Hatch, the venues and artists, and also to get that feedback to the artists. Olwen Davies, for example, she performed Fridge Logic at Embrace, and through that – well, not only through that, there were some other links – she met Zoo Indigo and worked on Blueprint, and is touring with them now, and will be back later in the year with a new show as part of a Hatch double bill. It’s lovely to have these ongoing relationships, and we learn about the needs of artists from those. We learn how we can support that development.

NJM: One thing about the double bills is that each one creates a residency within which an artist can create a new work, so while it’s important for us to find work and create contexts where artists can perform and try out new things, with us taking the risk, it’s also very important to offer artists these spaces to work in, to create things before we get to that point. Sometimes it’s necessary for artists to have a space where work can be made in the first place, and sometimes you’ll have an artist like Frank Abbott who’ll have his own resources, his own space, but we can offer him a week at Broadway to make something new: we offer the time rather than – or as well as – the space. Then with Pat Ashe, we can give him a space to work where he can think about what he wants to make in a very focused way.

MB: With someone like Frank, his needs were more technical, and so technical that we knew we couldn’t support that ourselves. But Broadway could, with their expertise and staff, and they were generous in giving what was needed to create that piece. I guess it’s making these connections, and seeing where we can find the help we need, or that artists might need to Hatch that work.

WB: Some of that is about Hatch finding and creating the relationships with those venues, but with this newspaper going out, through NVA, and the relationship with Embrace, you’re also open to working by invitation, I assume? If there are people reading this wondering why Hatch hasn’t approached them, I assume that might sometimes be a question of them contacting you?

MP: Do you mean venues or artists?

WB: Either. I suppose the question is about how far you’re open to creating new partnerships and who might initiate them.

MB: There are so many different starting points. Sometimes it begins with a theme, sometimes with an artist we want to bring to the region, sometimes with a venue we’re particularly interested in working with. There are so many different directions things can go from those starting points.

NJM: Sometimes artists or venues will approach us with ideas or projects and we decide whether we collaborate on those or not. We can’t do everything we’re asked to do, simply because we don’t have the resources to do certain things at certain times, but sometimes it’s those less expected connections that can prove the most fruitful. Those are often the ideas we wouldn’t have come up with just between the three of us but when they come in from somewhere else can turn out to be fantastic. The next thing we want to do is branch out and work more widely in Leicester, because I suppose Leicester’s an obvious location for Hatch, but we might not have thought of that as an obvious course of action until we were invited to do something by Embrace and were able to build a relationship with the city and a new audience through that venue.

The Gramophones at Hazard Festival [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: I suppose we’re coming towards the end, so if I can, I’d like to ask you the standard job interview question and wonder where you see Hatch in five years’ time?

MP: It’s interesting that we sometimes thought it would be nice to do something that wasn’t a performance but maybe a publication, so this guest editing of NVA is a step towards that. We also want to think about doing something that exists in a different context, so we acted as a sort of bridge between New Art Exchange and Frank Abbott leading a series of workshops with the Yard young people’s theatre group there, and that was a new development for us that has led to us doing a double bill there. Sometimes you go down a slightly different route and those diversions create the beginnings of new relationships, so perhaps we just need to figure out how many routes we can go down at once given that there are only three of us. I mean we do have teams of volunteers and helpers at each event but it still feels like we’re constantly stretching our capacity.

NJM: It’s hard to say what things will look like in five years and it would be a shame if we were able to say because I think we’d always hope to surprise ourselves.  It would be nice, if we were still doing it in five years, if there were more than three of us, and if we were able to devote more time and resources to it ourselves.

MP: Not in the sense of taking on a building, but perhaps a next step might be to find a workspace. Because we’ve always been mobile and remote – and sometimes nocturnal – it’s not been ideal. There are also things we’ve talked about in the past that remain long-term aims, like taking artists to Edinburgh, or being able to engage in higher profile platforms.

NJM: Maybe putting on some much larger scale events that encomass the whole of the city at once. That would be very interesting as well.

WB: I guess now I think of it, it must be around five years since the first Hatch event at the Maze?

NJM: …ish. That was 2008.

WB: So next year will be five years from the starting point.

MP: Perhaps we should do a Hatch: Five.

NJM: And who knows, this time next year we might be back at The Maze. The Maze is a very nice place.

MP: The next step after a national conversation is obviously an international conversation. There are various things going on across Europe that it would be very nice to engage with, and with things like the World Event Young Artists happening here later this year, with all its partner organisations, and the British Council’s showcase in Edinburgh, these are international platforms we’d like to be part of, to go to these things, and talk to people, which might be where future collaborations can begin.

NJM: Traditionally, exchange programmes at school were always about bringing someone from, and going, somewhere in mainland Europe, so that might be the next thing we’d want to look into.

WB: The final thing would be to ask if there’s anything we’ve not talked about that you’d want to be sure was mentioned, or something we have discussed that perhaps you’d really want to emphasise?

Shrug at Hazard 1 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: Just returning to that international note, thinking about artists we’d like to bring to Nottingham, obviously during NEAT we did manage to bring Gabriele Reuter over from Berlin, so that’s another way we might think about those international links, as getting some of the work going on in other places internationally in front of audiences here who might not otherwise see it.

WB: Did Gabriele already have a link to Nottingham through Dance4?

MP: She’d been an associate artist there and had shown a work in progress at NottDance, but the finished version of Tourist hadn’t been shown here.

WB: Of course, and Gabriele Reuter’s piece at Nottingham Contemporary was also the first time – if I’m not mistaken – that Hatch had shown a self-contained show in a conventional venue by itself?

NJM: That’s right, yes.

MP: It did feature Hetain Patel as a guest performer, though, so even then there was a collaborative element. What’s interesting for us is that we can engage with artists at very different stages in their careers, so Medium Rare are just beginning, Reckless Sleepers are very well established but only rarely seen in the region, while Hetain is someone we’ve worked with several times who has become well known here and elsewhere. Then there’s someone like Frank Abbott who isn’t so much Hatching as re-Hatching, after retirement from being a lecturer for twenty years. It’s an exciting trajectory.

NJM: It’s not just a showcase for emerging artists or established artists or mid-career artists but somewhere we can put all these different things together, somewhere where a context can be created within which all these different kinds of work and levels of experience can talk to each other.

MP: We’ve talked in the past about whether we could one day do a Hatch for children, or a Hatch that focuses on inter-generational performance, bringing together these age groups. Also, being aware of Nottingham’s past, I’d want to emphasise things like Hatch: Mass, which draws its own line connecting Nottingham Playhouse with Spanky Van Dyke’s bar, which was the site of the city’s old rep theatre and so filled the role of the Playhouse before the Playhouse we know today opened around 1963. So that event invites Hatch and our artists to reflect on that history – and what’s exciting is the way it allows us to open up another kind of dialogue with the changing history of the city.

Zoo Indigo at Hazard [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Hatch Mass: Badgers, Bad Apples, Bare Earth and Going Out With A Bang

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Mass is a noun: an accumulation of objects, people and actions; a Critical Mass of energy and ideas. Mass is also a verb: we mass into one place, coming together as jellyfish might in an ocean or swarming bees might in the air (just before they choose to attack Michael Caine in one of his ‘just doing it for the money’ 1970s film roles) or as Catholic communicants in Church (to mass at Mass, perhaps?). So does any of this signify that Hatch: Mass is more than a mere pun on the Christmas with which it (sort of) coincides, or does Hatch: Mass signal an intent to close the year’s programme with a spiritual benediction of left-field performance, a gathering and cleansing of our spirits ready for revolt, submission or the End Of The World, a prediction widely confused between the 12/12/12 date of Hatch: Mass and the 21/12/12 winter solstice?

Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes) (5)

What follows here, reported from memory a couple of weeks after the platform took over Spanky Van Dyke’s, with the hindsight that it’s already 2013 and the world appears to remain very much with us, is less an attempt to comprehensively document the final event of the Hatching Space programme than a kind of immersion in its convolutions, possible meanings and relationships to the history of Hatch, a platform that was itself born in chaos and with Hatch: Mass returns to its originating state in the context of a non-theatrical venue where performance and reality collide. Like particles inside the Large Hadron Collider the results can be unpredictable and the impressive (if confusingly complex) structure producing them is the product of collaboration across borders and between disciplines.

Eggs Collective at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes) (11)

While on the subject of the LHC, I imagine that it would amuse the ladies of Eggs Collective no end (or at least, the lairy characters they adopt) to know that one of the Large Hadron Collider’s first discoveries was a new particle state relating to the bottom quark called (in finest Viz comic style) Bottomonium. If there were intimations of Apocalypse at Hatch: Mass, then Eggs Collective could be said to have appointed themselves its Four Horsemen, though in the event it turned out they’d arrived without any horses and very definitely not in the form of men. During their intermittent appearances through the night they stagger onto tables, fall off tables, sing terrible anthems, hug everyone in the room, drag bystanders into the ladies’ toilets for drinking and arguments, and are convincingly ‘in character’ whenever they get started.

Eggs Collective at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

As they note on the programme, “we’re going to drag you down to our level and if you think this is art you’re sadly mistaken”. It’s a promise they prove more than capable of delivering on, to the point that someone asks why we’re watching them when we could walk over to Market Square and see dozens, if not hundreds, of women very like them in action, right now, at this very moment. The point, perhaps, is that they manifest a truth that isn’t always obvious in the maelstrom of the threatening, annoying real world where there’s no opportunity to look closely or objectively. It’s not just that they mean us no harm, but that it’s not really about us at all. These girls are for one-another and the rest of us look on and think whatever we like, knowing that it makes not a blind bit of difference to any of them.

Eve (aka Ali Matthews) at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

The ‘bad girl’ theme continued as Eve (of Garden of Eden and Original Sin fame) offered one-to-one confessionals in a dimly lit corner of the bar, asking visitors about their regrets and guilty secrets in exchange for apples with “embrace original sin” and her autograph written on their skins. Ali Matthews, aka The Bitchuationist, made the process of seducing her visitors into forgiving our own (and her) sins thoroughly engaging, and played neatly on the idea that in the modern world, the fallen woman possesses a power and appeal that would – were the Bible ever replayed across current media formats – ensure Eve herself a long career of personal appearances, celebrity interviews and opportunistic autobiographies, biopics and record contracts fit to make the likes of Madonna blush at the opportunism.

Eve (aka Ali Matthews) at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

Like her celebrity descendants, Eve is here to help with personal advice while dismissing the Old Testament as biased press coverage. God wanted her to take that apple, whatever he says now, and if he hadn’t intended it to happen, well he wouldn’t have created Adam impotent and made the Serpent so damn sexy, would he? In the one-to-one context of a seemingly casual exchange across a bar Matthews makes all this very convincing, so it’s a shame that the later more polished stage version, presented as the Hatch: Mass finale in an upstairs room, is a more detached affair, the songs and routines presented like an accomplished sketch for an unlikely Broadway musical, but with much of that earlier feeling of a blurred reality and a personal connection lost to a more conventional kind of cabaret performance.

Harry Giles at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

But in a context like this, a lot can get lost. I didn’t manage to locate Arletty Theatre‘s Patchwork Lives while Jo Bannon‘s Exposure, a one-to-one performance, was already fully booked up when I arrived. First Floor Theatre‘s Our Front Room was present on the mezzanine, an immersive reconstruction of a Jamaican/English living room, but the general noise of the sometimes unsympathetic environment meant key instructions on the audio headsets were missed as I explored it: while I saw the setting and heard the reminiscences, the audience didn’t get to see the actions being performed in their correct sequence or precise order by me as I explored it. How far this mattered is a moot point, when the affectionately told love story at the heart of the piece did convey itself strongly enough to suggest the participatory aspects may not have been entirely necessary anyway.

Rodchenko & Popova Revolutionary Poster

More capable of rising above the general clatter and crowds were two incitements to revolution, of sorts. In Performance Klub Fistkulturnik‘s Yugo Yoga participants were led through a strenuous Communist exercise class, complete with screenings of mass athletic displays and a woman who seemed to have stepped from one of Rodchenko’s revolutionary posters of the 1920s leading her crowd through a range of exercises designed to discipline mind and body alike. Something of a one-liner, Yugo Yoga nevertheless conflated corporate team-building regimes and Jane Fonda workouts with cod-revolutionary propaganda, though having noted the ironic parallels it didn’t seem to carry its ideas far beyond that initial – albeit significant – point. Besides, it gave the audience an opportunity to work off the beers and (highly recommended) Spanky Van Dyke’s burgers and prepare for the second half of the evening.

Klub Fistulturnik at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

Harry GilesSurplus Value offered a similar note on current ideology, taking its cue from Monopoly to devise a new game – using fake money and a mountain of Lego – in which players were assigned to the roles of Workers and Banker, but which the Workers could never win no matter how brilliantly, conscientiously or skilfully they played. Giles suggested that its origins lay in a kind of curiosity, about the way the Banker almost always, whatever his or her personal beliefs, began to behave autocratically and exploited the advantages of the role, even though there was no rule to forbid taking more egalitarian approaches. Meanwhile, the Workers, failing to get ahead even when meeting and exceeding targets, just try ever harder until the game is completely lost: an economic microcosm played out around a pub table.

Jasmine Lovey at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

Jasmine LoveysIt’s a Badger Trap took a whimsical premise – Loveys’ rediscovery of her childhood badger ornaments and obsessions just at the moment when real badgers were being threatened by a massive cull – and proceeded to build a slightly awkward amalgam of show-and-tell, The Price is Right, Antiques Roadshow and earnest campaigning, around a large table covered in ceramic badgers of every kind. Moving from a lecture on the cull to an auction in which nothing was for sale, things came to an (il)logical conclusion with Loveys’ possession by badgers, manifested in a dance performed in badger pyjamas, mittens and slippers: it may not have been a dignified ending but the spectacle of a woman doing a Star Trek alien dance for an invisible William Shatner while dressed in a badger outfit offered an image to remember.

Kitty Graham at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

There were more film and TV references in Kitty Graham’s Bare Earth, a slightly eerie re-enactment of the scene in innumerable horror films that sees the earth move and a body rise with earth-caked hair covering the face. As we enter the large upstairs room in the dim light a large box can be seen and the strong scent of freshly dug earth pervades the space. The body emerges slowly, a backbone, one limb, then another…until Graham finally perches on one corner of that containing enclosure like a cross between the wolf-girl at the end of Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves and the Japanese icon whose pale skin and long black hair crawl into reality from a TV set at the end of Ringu. Sitting somewhere between body-based live art and dance, Bare Earth didn’t surprise, exactly, but did work through its visual equation with a certain minimalist rigour.

Gilda Birch at Hatch Mass [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Yet despite all the individual happenings to be accounted for within the night’s programme, the overall impact of Hatch: Mass often rested more on its cumulative effects and slightly confusing collisions and byways than its discretely segregated individual components. The elusive Gilda Birch, purporting to be an Anglo-Swiss artist with a film crew and journalist in tow, emerges and reveals herself in the milling crowd as Loveys’ badger dance segues into another eruption from Eggs Collective, our brief conversation filmed, tape recorded and (it’s suggested) preserved for posterity – though it seems more likely that no film or tape was present in either of the hi-tech instruments directed like hoovers at our words by those only vaguely plausible assistants and hangers-on.

fourbeatwalk at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

The strange presence/non-presence of Birch through the night is emblematic of these more chaotic species of Hatch platform: Gilda Birch may be listed in the programme while remaining largely hidden, but other characters might be evident and apparently performing while having no officially sanctioned part in the night at all. When I arrive at the venue around 7.30, a man who resembles (and it turns out, is) someone homeless sits quietly on a step a few yards from the main door into Spanky Van Dyke’s. He chats to people passing by occasionally, and watches the world going by. He’s still there when we leave after 11pm. In the meantime, he’s simply minding his own business, more or less, a kind of casually durational presence who may neither know nor care about the event taking place around him.

fourbeatwalk at Hatch Mass [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The last act of Hatch: Mass happens days after it ends, when Christmas cards made at fourbeatwalk‘s stall – hand-printed, written, put into envelopes and addressed – find their way to our doormat. This is where the Hatching Space programme ends, months after Frank Abbott got the series underway with a deconstruction of a long-forgotten Italian Western and Mamoru Iriguchi transformed Swan Lake into a digital cartoon. In between, it’s been a strange, rambling, sometimes profound, sometimes whimsical and sometimes challenging stroll through all kinds of artists’ obsessions, rituals, indulgences and idiosyncrasies, presented in a full range of performance styles. Whatever new or transformed particles might now emerge from the material run through Hatching Space‘s hybrid Large Hadron Collider during 2012 will no doubt make themselves known in their own good time.

Are You Being Served? Maison Foo at Pendulum’s Bargain Emporium

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Technically, the presentation of a few selected scenes from Maison Foo‘s work in progress Pendulum’s Bargain Emporium took place at the College Street Studio Theatre, just off Wellington Circus in Nottingham. But having made my way through the corridors of a labyrinthine building to find it, and then stepped through the theatre door into what resembles the kind of charity shop you’d normally find on a small town high street, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the piece takes place in a shop that just happens to have strayed inside a black box theatre space.

Maison Foo at Hatch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Maison Foo are upfront about the reasons why. Part of the show’s development involved actually opening a shop (in Derby) that purported to sell things and offer no-strings attached conversation while not-so secretly collecting material from its customers: a kind of real world version of Amazon or Facebook, you might say, the latter being sort-of replicated in photos and Post-It Notes on one wall inside the venue. The company admit to having strayed into conventional theatre spaces from street performance, too. It isn’t the first time, by a long way, but it’s an adjustment they acknowledge they’re still trying to work out in fine detail, testing what carries from one context to another.

Maison Foo at Hatch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

In one sense, then, the fact that I’m watching a rehearsal for the later public performance proves useful, in that where other Hatch works in progress have been seen as self-contained pieces, albeit ones at early stages in their likely evolution, Pendulum’s Bargain Emporium is caught in flux. At four in the afternoon, with the public sharing due to get started in a couple of hours’ time, I’m here rifling through their sketchbooks and hearing the discussions in a raw form. There’s a mismatch between what I’m describing and the visual record, too, but perhaps the text, this time round, gives a bit of background to the images rather than traces a path through the same performance seen in the photographs beside it.

Maison Foo at Hatch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The presentation tonight, I’m told, is going to focus on three distinct scenes, one of which is being changed and reshaped when I arrive. Set up as a kind of Jane Austen-referencing TV advert for a product called ‘Iron On Tape’, it involves a fair bit of slapstick, a dash of music hall and some seaside-postcard bawdy business with one performer’s bosom, all played with parodic BBC costume-drama dialogue and exaggeratedly quivering lips in a heavy mist of sprayed water. What’s intriguing is seeing how something clearly meant to look off-hand and slapdash goes through so many refinements on its way to a version they’ll be happy with later.

Maison Foo at Hatch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

With that scene still not entirely resolved, they decide to go for a run through, leading us in as the audience will be brought into the venue shortly. A bell rings, music plays, and we’re invited to walk onto the stage and examine the shop’s goods while three assistants glide around us telling us how perfectly a shell suit, black top hat and beaded handbag will suit us before we’re directed to our seats. A routine with the trio performing further sales pitches follows, sweeping down the aisles to put hats on our heads or shoes on our feet, and these appeals morph into that Jane Austen TV advert, which is still trying out new details and configurations.

Maison Foo at Hatch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

A discussion follows, in which the three performers (a fourth Maison Foo member is unavailable today because his day job is a role in the Nottingham Playhouse pantomime that happens to be taking place down the road) answer questions about their intentions and plans for the piece, while introducing the next section we’ll see. It’s about retail, but also, they hope, an exploration – perhaps Dickensian in intention – of ideas around personal choice and economic necessity. This signals a darker turn, from the broad humour of the Austen parody into Grimm’s Fairy Tale territory, a back-story told using shadow puppets, a recorded interview with a fictional baby-trafficker and cabaret accordion music.

Maison Foo at Hatch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Given that only a disparate group of brief fragments is on show during this sharing session, both as I see it in rehearsal and later, it’s impossible to grasp the intended whole or judge how this swerve in tone will work in a more complete version. Can the Acorn Antiques and Donald McGill seaside-postcard tone of the early scenes on view tonight really gel comfortably with the grotesquerie of the shadow-play and such serious themes as capitalist exploitation, moral hazard and the buying and selling of babies in fictional Eastern European countries?

Maison Foo at Hatch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Perhaps. After all, I was reminded occasionally (most starkly, when the piano accordion was brought out, in a clear echo of the Tiger Lilies) of Improbable Theatre’s late nineties carnival of bad taste, Shockheaded Peter, a piece whose weave of absurdist slapstick, Lynchian musical cabaret and spectacular set-pieces that all revolved around the horrible deaths of small children, pretty much defined a whole new genre all by itself. The gory details and strange tone might have been lifted from a respectable nineteenth century German physician’s enormously successful book of of moral warnings aimed at susceptible children, but the performance turned the hectoring morality of its model on its head to gloriously compelling effect.

Maison Foo at Hatch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Invoking Shockheaded Peter, a coup de theatre that even its own makers have never really managed to get close to matching, let alone anyone else, certainly sets the bar high for Maison Foo, though it’s one they’ve clearly taken into account, not least in the aesthetic of Memoirs of a Biscuit Tin. But if this suggests a recognition of possibilities already visible in the embryonic Pendulum’s Bargain Emporium, it also recognises that the reduced technical and financial resources available might lead to a very different, perhaps more resourceful approach, where Improbable’s finest hour could find itself taunted in much the same way as Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth’s Lizzie Bennett and Mr Darcy are ridiculed elsewhere here.

Maison Foo at Hatch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Besides, the company are clear that they’re still experimenting with the right mix of street and stage, fourth wall and audience interaction, in their performances and they seem to know perfectly well that if you can’t clear a high bar, you might still be able to make an effective routine out of the feigned run up and the falling on your arse. At this point, it seems Pendulum’s Bargain Emporium is most comfortable and sure of itself in the lighter moments, when the humour’s broad and the intended effect on its audience is clear. Maybe this is the best possible reason for venturing much further into that darkness and seeing what happens there.

Low-Budget Hollywood Disaster Special: Olwen Davies and Andy Field (Part Two)

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

“It begins with a party…”. There’s a red banner outside the doors of Broadway Cinema’s Screen 4, strung up among brightly coloured balloons, and that banner has these words written across it, but when we get inside, it doesn’t really begin with a party at all. Instead, it – which in this case is Olwen Davies’ Inside Neverhood, a work in progress developed at Broadway during a week long Hatch residency that has led to this first performance – begins with Davies herself, at the front of the cinema, nervously describing a party that she missed. She’s dressed in a shiny green sixties mini-skirt, white tights, and wears 1966 vintage Biba-girl make up, applied, she explains, after watching a make-up tutorial on YouTube. Except, the make-up artist giving the tutorial was basing her instructions on drawings from the time, so was sort of guessing how it might go, and the cosmetics both she and Davies used weren’t the same cosmetics you would have bought then, from a girl who was wearing this make up in a Biba shop in 1966…

This is just the introduction, but the themes are firmly set out as being collisions of reality and authenticity with aspiration and fantasy. The party Davies wanted to attend took place in 1966, so as she admits, she was very late indeed. It was a party also attended by Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger and John Lennon. It’s as much a myth as an actual party and what follows is Davies’s attempt to place herself inside the narrative of that legendary series of events (or at least, a series of events that has been inflated to mythic proportions by endless repetitions in a variety of media, even though half of what’s been written about it might not be true) by stepping, quite literally, from the space of right now, in this cinema, into the screen on which the events she aspires to be part of continue to exist. As in her previous piece, Fridge Logic, Davies tests not only herself against the imagery of the Big Screen, but the boundaries of live performance by transmitting her live actions from some undefined elsewhere to the screen in front of us.

The elsewhere, this time around, is not behind the audience, but somewhere back in time: once onscreen, Davies steps back in more ways than one into 1966, not least in the way the over-lit room she performs inside and the grain of the screen image both frame her inside a decidedly analogue world. The cut from a short bridging clip, very much digitally shot, somewhere in the Broadway building, showing an elderly couple acting out a party conversation using Bob Dylan Subterranean Homesick Blues style cue cards, to the first scene in her 1966 live film, with Davies in profile, bleached out against a screening of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, is striking in itself, and creates a definite sense of time and cultural conventions shifting. It might be a still from an Exploding Plastic Inevitable show caught on poor Super-8 amid the chaos, or something from the obligatory groovy nightclub scene in an otherwise forgotten film of the time that would go on to be spoofed by Mike Myers in Austin Powers.

The story unfolds with Davies casting herself as the Marianne Faithfull ingenue, but a Marianne Faithfull ingenue prone to comment anachronistically on the conventions of 1966: she doesn’t like David Hemmings’ photographer in Blow-Up much because he’s arrogant, bossy, a bit of a dick, frankly, and she’s continually forgetting where she’s supposed to be, addressing the audience directly in the present, wondering aloud how ‘authentic’ things are looking, before dropping back into that idea of the past for another moment or two. Inside Neverhood seems to be an attempt to explore the meaning of cultural symbols and the ways we measure our own lives against them: would Davies, or we, even know about it if we did happen to be at a party that was later mythologised out of any relationship to its real existence in the years to come, or would we find ourselves, as the likes of Faithfull, Lennon and Jagger possibly were in 1966, imagining how everything could have been so much better in some other time and place?

As Davies repeatedly emphasises, this event – the launch of Marianne Faithfull as a pop star after Jagger gave her As Tears Go By to record – was not only her making but the beginning of her undoing, initiating a cycle of self destruction that she didn’t emerge from until well into the 1980s, having reinvented herself and her devastated vocal chords decades later as a hard-living 1940s-style European chansonnier. The presence Davies now measures her own life against, the ethereal-voiced innocent that sold so well in Faithfull’s early days, is simultaneously revealed as a construct, a girl who never existed outside the remaining clips of her singing before the fall. In much the same way, Davies exists in the idea of 1966 she is determined to project only for as long as she’s immersed there, behind the screen, struggling to remain ‘in character’. The question isn’t just who we are, or where we’d like to be, but whether any of these things even exist in a meaningful way in the first place.

The screen as an intermediary is coincidentally a key factor in Andy Field’s Zilla!: Part Two, though that’s not the only bridge between the two pieces to be seen in this double bill. After all the talk about The Rolling Stones in Davies’s piece, and her soundtrack’s concluding rendition of As Tears Go By, the music playing on entry to Andy Field’s performance happens to be Gimme Shelter by, erm, the very same Rolling Stones, a year or two later. There’s also an opening that is a statement about the piece’s beginning, though in Field’s case an ominous dream replaces Davies’s 1966 party. Like Zilla!: Part One, and following the tendency of Hollywood sequels generally, Part Two moves from the spectacular destruction of the big picture, seen in Part One‘s gradual zoom from outer space to a city, its accounting for the disaster’s victims in statistical terms, to something closer to a single first person account (perhaps with some influences from gaming) of the same unfolding apocalypse, here aided by use of Google Street View.

In fact, the piece has been described by Field as “a duet for solo voice and Google Street View”, which proves to be more or less exactly what it is. The voice is that of a woman, seated at a desk like a television news-reader, and she describes a long series of ordinary events, illustrated with Street View images of the city in which the performance takes place. (I assume these change from one performance to another, but the larger structure remains the same, in the same way you can buy children’s books and insert any name you like into the place of the main character). So for this performance, we begin in Torvill Crescent, move on along Dean Street by bus, gradually edge forwards into the city. The everyday things witnessed along the route are described, the atmosphere and temperature is noted, increasingly obsessively. Everything is described alongside stills showing the locations not as they are ‘now’, in the narrative, but as they were a few years ago, when Google’s cars passed through, ignited their nine cameras in sequence, and so froze them arbitrarily in time.

Within this framework, the disaster unfolds, but the wreckage we hear about and are asked to imagine is never seen, except in the occasional curveball of an image thrown into the familiar landscape from elsewhere: often from Jon Rafman‘s Nine Eyes of Google Street View series, images of ominous yellow clouds, burning cars, road-blocks, tracks vanishing into desert landscapes, figures in animal masks, emergency scenes, and so on. Accompanied by mundane visuals of streets we know, the intertwining of real and unreal cities brings an unsettling air to proceedings, a slightly hyper-real quality, so that even while the story’s unfolding perhaps takes a little too long (the late sequence in which the narrator stands on a chair to make an appeal and an epilogue both seemed a bit superfluous to me) the atmosphere is registered strongly in the slow initial build-up and closing account of the devastated city under rubble and floodwater, or perhaps, as another version, existing simultaneously with the first has it, a city whose buildings stand strangely undamaged, but devoid of people.

While Zilla!: Part Two naturally follows Zilla!: Part One, then, it does so more as a formal variation on the same theme than a narrative extension or sequel. If you like, it offers a different, ground-level, perspective on the events described from higher altitudes in Part One. Which means that Zilla!: Part Three, a further variation handed out to those who’d attended both parts so far at the conclusion of Part Two, offers a new telling of the same story again. Part Three consists of a deck of printed cards for the audience to take out into their own streets and place into the real landscape wherever each comment or line of narrative might be relevant in some personalised disaster scenario. Quite what passers-by will make of being asked to imagine that “This shop is on fire” or that “The sky is unusually radiant” remains to be seen. It’ll certainly make for an interesting walk, for both participants and those stumbling across the trails they leave behind. “From here you can hear sirens” should get a nod of recognition out of most people, at least. That is pretty much always true, wherever you happen to be standing in Nottingham.

Low-Budget Hollywood Disaster Special: Olwen Davies, fourbeatwalk and Andy Field (Part One)

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Olwen Davies, fourbeatwalk and Andy Field Double Bill (Part One)

It was impossible to foresee that I’d come to be writing up a Hatch double bill with a strong ‘disaster movie’ theme on the same evening that the single most frequently destroyed city in popular imagination, New York, braced itself for the impact of an all too real (rather than CGI generated) hurricane, whose heavily documented progress looked more a collection of outtakes edited from The Day After Tomorrow, Cloverfield and Independence Day than genuine news footage. Perhaps that gives the imagined disasters of both segments of this Double Bill (not to mention the ‘disaster bar’ set up by fourbeatwalk in the main ground floor project space at Primary to bridge between the two) some of the qualities of a precognitive dream?

Still, it all begins sweetly enough, with Olwen Davies presenting Fridge Logic at Broadway, its second appearance at Hatch, after an earlier outing at Fresh in Leicester a year or so ago. It’s a very in-between kind of performance, existing as both live work and film simultaneously, as something both present to and removed from its audience, as a piece that generates an air of Hollywood glamour even as its whole premise is to undermine that projection. Performing in a small constructed set of cardboard boxes, balloons and props at the back of the cinema, Davies has her back to the audience and instead engages with a single camera, mounted on a tripod, that relays her performance on a cinematic scale to the screen in front of us.

The effect is to magnify her visual impact, while simultaneously creating a set of expectations that her performance refuses to oblige: she is, on one level, like someone making a YouTube video in her own bedroom, trying to project some kind of star quality, acting out formulaic scenes like the always-deferred musical number (from Cabaret) or the fight with a villain (a face drawn onto a green balloon), or a reprise of a ‘glamorous’ conversation from Edward Scissorhands (cut short by an attempt to dress up a pink balloon with an earring), while mostly communicating a sense of insecurity, a need to be liked and a personal isolation that grows increasingly literal as the piece goes on.

Despite making a date (via mobile phone) with a random audience member, her one attempt to step down from the screen reveals her smallness and vulnerability, so she chooses to return to its relative safety and perform a ‘death scene’, in which we’re asked to imagine her holding a balloon, rising far above the earth, then losing her grip and falling: not back to earth, but into a constellation, where she remains suspended, embarrassed and alone, for what it’s implied will be forever. Fridge Logic is a short piece, sprinkled with warm humour, that creates a tautly structured metaphor for the many ways in which contemporary culture – its social media, celebrity obsessions and filtering of reality through digital images – fuels feelings of inadequacy and disconnects people from the relationships that might otherwise counter them.

Following Davies’ suspension among the stars she’d aspired to join, despite being – by her own account – neither sexy, glamorous or confident enough to pass muster, the audience enters its own in-between space and takes a bus across town to Primary, the location where Andy Field’s Zilla! Part One is set to make its own exploration of the collision between cinema and reality. On arrival we walk into what seems like the aftermath of a natural calamity of some sort, as though we’ve suddenly become extras in a TV remake of Day of the TriffidsThreads, or Quatermass. Posters in the bathrooms and around the bar warn us of contaminated water and ask that we wait for further information; ‘End of the World’ pies are on sale; there’s home brewed ginger beer and projections (courtesy of Kneel Before Zod) showing everything from old news footage to 1970s and 80s TV road safety campaigns.

When we do pass through the disaster bar into the main space, what we’re first confronted with is a kind of installation, lines and lines of tiny lego figures, each one placed behind a card outlining its role in some as yet unknown story: one is An Unlikely and Rather Surprising Hero, another A Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a third A Small Girl Looking for Her Lost Dog, a fourth A TV Anchor Wearing a Corset, a fifth A Washed-Up Boxer Who Can’t Forget the Moment He Threw the Fight… So they go on, dozens of them facing the tips of our boots in neat lines on the floor, each a riff on some stock figure you half remember from a film or human interest story, some funny or incongruous, others touching or sincere.

Walking between the rows turns the audience into a crowd of Gullivers on a first look around Lilliput, or perhaps Godzillas and King Kongs in our own right, one misplaced step enough to make each one of us the hurricane, earthquake, giant dinosaur or meteorite that could prematurely wreak the kind of havoc on this small world that will almost certainly unfold later. There seem to be no casualties at this stage, though, so we take our seats and wait for the performance to begin. When it does, male and female voices begin a slow, laconic introduction to an unnamed city, one we are asked to  imagine we are descending towards from the place among the stars where Olwen Davies had earlier left herself suspended.

As one voice zooms in, and the other counterpoints it with some fragment of history or geography, a picture emerges of a very average kind of city, one with ancient and modern districts, unspecified industries and leisure quarters, a plethora of characters going about their everyday business, which seems more or less identical to our own everyday business. The two performers take turns in speaking and drawing a map onto an area on the floor, the city taking shape verbally at roughly the same rate that it manifests itself visually. Once it is complete, each of us selects a character from one of the many rows we’d examined earlier to represent us in what is to follow: to be our avatar in the city being described.

As we step forward to carefully place these figures onto the city plan that’s been sketched out for us (for the record, I choose The Ghost of the Philosopher William James and put him into the dead centre of a large seemingly empty area right in the middle of the map) and once more avoid treading on those tiny characters still arrayed in their many neat lines, things take a turn for the suspenseful: a pair of giant and extravagantly furry slippers turn one performer into a kind of Godzilla, who is blindfolded and guided by her companion in a series of stomps back and forth across the map. Many small figures are crushed or knocked flying while others miraculously survive unscathed. We hold our breaths to see which of us has fallen victim to the devastation.

From here, it’s a process of accounting for the aftermath. Prostrate figures are claimed and their fates noted, insofar as they are known: Crushed in a Dinosaur Stampede; Died Saving an Old Lady from a Burning Vehicle; Disappeared During a Bridge Collapse; Died Peacefully in His Sleep. The survivors, meanwhile, get through the immediate devastation but find that concern for their welfare slowly fades as the cameras leave and their disaster is replaced by others in the rolling news cycles. They are left to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Their fate, we’re told, will be the subject of Zilla! Part Two, which happens to be scheduled for the next Hatch Double Bill at Broadway on November 9th. By then, of course, the real world context in which the work exists will have changed again.

Hatch Twelve: Third Angel and mala voadora

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Third Angel and mala voadora: Story Map

Third Angel’s Story Map begins at 11am with a large, blank sheet of paper and gradually fills, over a continuous twelve hour stretch, to show and rewrite the entire world in stories, anecdotes and narratives of all kinds. The concept is that every country on Earth will, by 11pm, be represented with its name (in English) on a colour-coded post-it note, placed in its actual location on the map, hopefully accompanied by a line drawing illustrating a fact-checked and audience-sourced story about that place. A word or two to summarise each story collected will then be handwritten onto a paper wall behind the stage, becoming a kind of ‘key’ to reading the map as a whole.

In many respects, it’s a simple durational concept, albeit a far more ambitious one than usual: let’s face it, there’s something more than just a touch deranged about the very idea of rewriting the entire planet from scratch in something less than a full day. But it doesn’t come over this way in performance. Instead, the pressurised format offers a readily comprehensible framework that allows extraordinary and complex things to happen within its loose boundaries. Story Map seems to work as traditional folk storytelling, a miniature United Nations, a genuinely suspenseful against-the-clock quiz show and a massive, eccentric geography lecture, all at once. It’s also, of course, about difference, concepts of normality, who human beings are and how we live in different parts of the world.

It works like this: a card featuring the name of a country is drawn from a comprehensive but randomly shuffled deck. A member of the panel offers the country’s English name alongside its own formal designation and reads out a few facts about the place from a gazetteer. Thus named and pinpointed on the map, the audience – whoever happens to be in it at the time – is invited to share a story about that location: not a fact or legend, but a genuine, verifiable story. If no story is forthcoming, the panel move on to the next nation in the deck; when a story is offered, it is checked online (by Third Angel associate and Leicester performer Hannah Nicklin) and, once verified, added to the map in the form of a small line drawing representing it.

The result is a twelve hour long performance that ebbs and flows with its audience, to some inevitable degree, but is held together by very traditional storytelling skills and engages its audiences (whose comings and goings seem, intentionally or otherwise,  to echo wider processes of migration) by resort to a probably universal curiosity about the unknown, the quirky, the tragic and optimistic takes we all bring to that simple graphic representation of the planet we live on, the standardised World Map. Some countries seem barely to exist in our collective and individual imaginations, others quickly acquire multiple stories and seem to be haunted by the spectre of the urban myth and unverifiable tall tale (stories of uncertain veracity are recorded and saved to be checked and possibly added later).

Dipping in and out through the day, the sloping platform gradually fills with small line drawings, the wall behind it darkens with keywords to remind the company of the stories already told. As 11pm approaches, and the last few cards turn, it becomes a race to complete the map before the performance ends, the audience filling in gaps, the company sharing stories acquired at other performances, from other audiences. Gaps remain at the conclusion: Latin America and the Caribbean are sparsely furnished, for some reason, while Europe, Africa and the Far East bristle with multiple, overlapping tales. The conclusion flirts with homily but the performance as a whole – essentially a participatory exercise in making sense of complex geopolitics by way of small details and personal narratives – is undeniably fascinating.

Hatch Twelve: Annette Foster

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Annette Foster: Messages from the Sky

The one-to-one performance I had to slip away from Natasha Davis to attend was something of a return visit, on paper at least, to Annette Foster’s tarot-reading, as experienced one summer afternoon earlier this year aboard a stationary double-decker at the Hazard Festival in Manchester. As it turned out, though, the whole thing had been re-framed since then in ways that made the experience quite different and the new (sixties-style VW camper van) setting, use of props and costumes, the presence of a ‘guide’ and the twilight hour were all key components ensuring a separation between Messages from the Sky and its Manchester predecessor, which had gone under the slightly less cosmic title of Messages from the Big Red Bus.

From the lanterns making a path into the space to the smell of incense and flickering candlelight, the experience was strongly reminiscent of parties I’d been to while growing up in Wales, where the folksy hippy ethos hadn’t so much been displaced by subsequent youth movements like punk and eighties garage revivalism as simply merged with them and carried on its own merry way well into the nineties and beyond. The Proustian madeleine of a few joss-sticks and a set of retro curtains aside, Foster herself was now dressed in a daisy-chain head-band and early seventies maxi dress, as was her assistant (and my guide for the session) who combined similar clothes with a fake fur cape.

All of which ensured that the core of the performance (as in Manchester) was the tarot reading itself, far more blatantly ‘performed’ than the earlier manifestation, but no less revealing in its way of using the cards to reflect back the concerns of each participant. From the rituals of shuffling, dividing and laying out the deck, to the interpretations and discussions that took place over their enigmatic symbols, there is a flow and level of engagement here that pushes some way beyond most participatory experiences – even when it proved necessary to adopt and hold poses for the Hatch photographer occasionally, given that the low light meant it had been impossible to discreetly catch other sessions on the hoof, as would normally happen.

After the reading, Foster texts her interpretation to a location inside the Embrace building, where her guide leads us. The instrument of revelation turns out to be a theatrical object in itself, a reconstructed 1940s payphone, and when it rings, the voice that recites Foster’s florid lava-flow of mystic imagery and cosmic speculation is tinny and synthentic, a contrast between medium and message that ensures her reading carries all the inauthenticity of an automated customer service line and the authority of Stephen Hawking simultaneously. A few hours later, the card that had signified the outcome during our session (the Ace of Pentacles) appears miraculously in the cafe: another sign from the cosmos? Or a simple conjuring trick?