Archive Page 2

Extending the Platform: An Interview with Hatch (Summer 2013)

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The interview that follows was first discussed with Hatch in relation to a call for proposals and papers to be included in Performance Research: On Writing and Digital Media (vol 18, issue 5) and was accepted by the journal editors in Spring 2013. It was withdrawn, by myself, during Summer 2013 after the contract for publication not only offered zero payment, as expected, but also insisted on the assignment of full copyright in the text to the parent publisher, Taylor & Francis. The interview itself discusses the link between this blog and the performance platform of Hatch. The conversation – with Nathaniel J Miller, Marie Bertram and Michael Pinchbeck – took place at Primary, Nottingham, during May 2013.

Al Needham & Chris Matthews audiotours at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Al Needham & Chris Matthews audiotours at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Nathaniel J Miller: So is the idea here that we interview you?

Wayne Burrows: Maybe. I think the idea is to explore the thinking around the decision within Hatch to begin this online documentation. What did Hatch hope to get out of it when this online extension to the live platforms was initiated?

NJM: Partly, it was about generating feedback for artists. The starting point was that we wanted something written, so whether there were reviewers at an event or not there’d be some lasting document about the work shown there. It was also about a need for documentation within the NEAT festival platform we did in 2011. We had photographs from earlier platforms, but this was about trying out a different way of documenting the performances.

Marie Bertram: The programme we ran during NEAT was also a string of events rather than a single one night platform, so we felt the writing might provide a through-line to that and make connections between the different events within that programme so they weren’t just floating, separate things, they were all somehow brought together.

Angel Club (north) [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Angel Club (north) [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: Was NEAT the first time you’d run a programme like that, with events in different times and places, across a longer period?

NJM: Yes. Previously, there’d be a lot of events on one night, in one place or within a number of venues in a well-defined area, like Broad Street or St James’s Street. There were also fewer thematic connections between the performances in that programme. They’d been things we’d liked the sound of, that all fitted into the NEAT festival context, but they weren’t responding to a title or idea, something we’d set in advance, which is how things had tended to work in the past. I think we found some of the connections in hindsight, through the things you wrote about, and it turned out there were quite a lot of links, but we’d not been conscious of them ourselves when we were putting the programme together.

Michael Pinchbeck: It was also partly about us wondering what the blog could do to create that through-line, whether in a programme of discrete events like NEAT, or within individual platforms, or between double bills. We’d never done that before and it seemed like the online format of a blog was an appropriate form we could use, where each post would evolve into a bigger whole, a history of Hatch over time. That idea is closely linked to something that’s becoming more common now, where reflections on performance, the idea of embedding criticism in the platforms, and the process of creating the performances themselves, are becoming more widely used. When it comes to something like Hatch, which is often about unfinished work, you as a critic in that space are embedded within a process, witnessing the meeting of an artist, an audience, a moment and a space, in a way that is live and remains true to that moment, but also becomes part of the process of building a narrative around the work. There’s a sedimentary build-up of information there, so the history of Hatch remains in that blog long after the events have come and gone, and from that we can start to connect the threads contained in those different posts, teasing out themes neither we nor the artists have been aware of. It’s an interpretation which is partly objective and separate from the artist’s intention, but also subjective and embedded within the framework that Hatch provides for the development of new work.

Michael Pinchbeck, Marie Bertram and Katherine Fishman at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

Michael Pinchbeck, Marie Bertram and Katherine Fishman at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: Another thing about these events is that, whether it’s one evening with twelve different things going on or a series of different performances in different venues across a period of weeks or months, we make it difficult to see everything. You might see one event but miss another or see a part of each thing but not the whole. It’s hard in that situation for artists to see each-others’ work, and hard for us to see much, sometimes, too. So while there are reasons why we’ve made those choices and set our platforms up in those ways, piling up a lot of possibilities and choices for our audiences, the fact remains that it’s hard for us to get an overall view of any given event and that can be a drawback. But if we have someone who we’ve specifically engaged to see everything, as far as that’s humanly possible, and to write a response to what they’ve seen, that can be useful for our artists, who can then read those discussions of their work alongside accounts of other work presented on the night – which they may not have seen – and get a sense of how it might have connected to their own in some way.

The Gramophones [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The Gramophones [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: From my reading of the blogs, what you often do is put things into a broader context, so you might say “this is looking back to live art in the sixties” with a few examples, or you might mention other work that draws on a particular approach or source of material and comment on and add links to those examples elsewhere on the internet. It opens a dramaturgical inquiry that can be of benefit to the artists, because not all have that kind of dramaturge role being filled within their own process. I know that when you wrote about Ollie Smith’s Cat In Hell at New Art Exchange you made some comments how they might expand that material, if it was going to become a full length show, which I think he found useful. So it’s critical and looks in from outside the work, but part of what this embedded criticism does is bring a kind of internal dramaturgy into play, where the writing informs the process. It’s not just responding to the work, or reflecting it back like a mirror, it’s a driver, with some influence on the way the work is made, an active part of the process. That’s part of what we wanted the blog to do. It’s not the one night stand of a short newspaper review, it’s entering into a longer term relationship. It has that role, so there’s a use for marketing, where I know Hannah Nicklin and David Parkin, among others, have quoted the blog in their publicity, but it’s blurring those roles. It’s part of the pre-performance development of the work and a post-performance reflection on it at the same time.

WB: I think that’s an interesting point. If the writing, the platform online, becomes enmeshed with the platform live and potentially changes it, it becomes a bit like a  theatre version of the Heisenberg Principle in physics: “the act of observing alters the thing being observed”.

NJM: That’s always been the case for performance anyway. The audience, and the performers’ consciousness of the audience, affects the performance.

Hannah Nicklin [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Hannah Nicklin [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: And the thing is, if you present a finished piece of work and – let’s say, Lyn Gardner from The Guardian, for example – she writes ‘it’s ten minutes too long’, you have a choice: to continue performing a show that everyone will now assume is ten minutes too long, because she said it was, or to make it ten minutes shorter.

NJM: But then if you shorten it by ten minutes, but don’t say so, everyone will still expect to think it’s ten minutes too long because that’s what they’ve read.

MP: And then another person might see it and think it’s fifteen minutes too long or five minutes too short. But the point is that it’s no good hearing that kind of comment at that stage in the process because it’s already too late. But if you hear it when it’s still a work in progress, as it usually is on a Hatch platform, you can then consider that opinion when you’re making adjustments to the piece, agree or disagree, make any cuts or changes you think might be needed to improve the work.

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

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

NJM: That’s a crucial difference between a digital text and an analogue one. The fact that it exists online and can be continually added to and changed makes it more informal and conversational than something with the finality of print. If we’d asked you to write a pamphlet or a short book, there’d be a point where it’s finished, or at least, has to go off to the printer. But a blog doesn’t have that finality. It’s never finished.

WB: That’s true. The process is often that a draft is uploaded, but might still be altered and revised, or have new links and material added, for quite a while after it goes up. One example is that quite often a piece staged later in an ongoing programme might be linked to one that took place and was discussed earlier. The writing doesn’t go up in a completely finished state, anyway, though there’s a point after which it doesn’t change, except to refresh dead links, things like that.

NJM: Maybe if this had been happening four or five years ago, there’d have been more discussion on the blog itself too. That’s fallen out of vogue a bit now and people are more likely to converse about it on Twitter or Facebook and other social media sites instead.

WB: Yes, often you’ll post the links and notice the sharing and discussions going on underneath them, so the conversations tend to be displaced from the source on the blog itself. If the sharing extends outside your own friends lists or the people you happen to be following, as it often does, you lose sight of the response quite quickly.

NJM: It’s an interesting evolution in the reception of digital texts.

MP: Sometimes, as an artist reading a blog about your work, something in it really prompts you to want to respond, whether positively or negatively, and it’s possible to enter into that dialogue. It isn’t possible to have that dialogue in hard copy, in print reviews. A possible extension of that is to think about how we can encourage artists to respond when we’re circulating the blog, to try and generate more of those responses and conversations within the blog, though as you and Nathan say, there are other avenues for that, too. But what it is, in the end, is a conversation between you as a writer and the Hatch programme: a dialogue. And in those terms, I know Jake Orr from The Younger Theatre and Maddy Costa from The Guardian are developing a website called Dialogue as an online space for theatre writing and writing about theatre. It would be good to explore how Hatch: Back might connect to that, because it seems to be part of a growing body of writing on performance that exists online and pops up on other social media, in a live-ish way.

NJM: These sites often carry more interesting writing because there are relatively few print outlets and those that remain do tend to follow the 300 or 400 word review format, so there’s not a lot of space for longer or more reflective pieces. They are now appearing in other places, like this blog or Dialogue.

Eggs Collective at Hatch Mass [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Eggs Collective at Hatch Mass [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: As I understand it, this movement of performance online grows out of frustration with word-counting and star ratings in print outlets.

WB: I can confirm that Metro used to specify 250 words for most reviews, very occasionally 350 words. The longer pieces, the 650 or 850 word features, were always interviews with the director, writer or performer and were written as previews before you’d actually seen the new work.

MP: One interesting question for us might be to ask what’s different about writing for this Hatch blog?

WB: As compared to reviewing for something like Metro? It’s completely different. With a 250 word review in Metro, you’re distilling down what you think after the event. You know it’s going to be fixed and you don’t know, really, who the readers will be, so it’s got to be open to a whole range of levels of knowledge about that particular performance. Some might be reading it from a perspective of deep involvement in theatre, live art or performance, others might just be picking it up with no previous interest in those things at all and there can be every kind of reader in between. You’re trying to produce a response that can at least potentially work for all of them on one level or another. The constraints of space mean you mostly give just a flavour of the piece, and perhaps imply a judgement in the way you phrase your comments, but there’s no room for developing an argument or suggesting a wider context beyond a few very basic nuances, which might be pretty subtle and depend on an informed reader picking them up. With the blog, I’m not sure if it’s more or less open. It’s more open in the sense that you can follow a thought process over maybe 2000 words, if that seems appropriate, but can equally do something shorter, 300 or 400 words, and keep it very tightly focused. But maybe it’s less open in that there’s a much stronger sense of who the audience is, since they’re the artists, or more generally the wider Hatch audience, which is often a peer audience of students of performance, or performance and live art professionals, but ultimately those at the more informed and engaged end of the Metro spectrum. But the key difference from a writing viewpoint is that the blog is not a distillation of my thinking, it’s more like the thought process itself. I start writing and work through my own thinking about the work in some way, so I might not be sure what I thought of it when I type the first line but by the time I type the last line I’ve worked something out and have a better idea of how I felt about a particular piece or series of performances. With Metro, I suppose I’d be more focused on pinning down a more definitive kind of provisional statement, a judgement of some sort, so in that way it’s a very different process.

fourbeatwalk: The Disaster Bar at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

fourbeatwalk: The Disaster Bar at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: Obviously, all reviews are subjective to some extent but your writing on the Hatch blog seems more subjective than an average review. You’re letting the reader in on the process of your thinking about the experience, rather than making the kind of judgement called for in a traditional review. I suppose that’s partly because we’re not asking for reviews of that kind. We want a critical response but not a mark out of ten.

WB: Those aspects of it come partly from being able to let the reader into the actual experience of the work rather than to some extent generalising it, as you might in a review, where you’re considering not just what you personally thought of it, but how it might work for other kinds of audience. It’s a retrospective account of a live experience, like a review,  but its purpose isn’t to inform its readers about whether they should go and spend money on tickets. A good example of how that can work was at Hatch: Twelve, where Natasha Davis’s Suspended happened twice during the day. The first part of it I saw was a few minutes from the middle section, not the beginning. Then I saw the beginning of the second performance but had to leave for a one to one performance with Annette Foster. And when I got back to Natasha Davis, she was just doing the final part of the middle section I’d seen before, so I then saw it from there to the end. The point is that when it came to writing the piece, I suppose I could have reconstructed the show, as I’d seen all the parts, and I had the option of glossing over the haphazard order I’d experienced them in. But it seemed more worthwhile to reflect that slightly scrambled version, where the whole performance was there – beginning, middle and end – but not necessarily in the right order. That carries into the writing, so where I didn’t really experience a performance as it was meant to be seen for one reason or another, that can be incorporated, and I think that reflects the reality of the live platforms. It wouldn’t be possible to do that in a traditional review format, where not having seen the piece in full, as intended by the artist, would possibly invalidate anything you had to say about it.

Third Angel and mala voadora [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Third Angel and mala voadora [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: I remember something similar happened with Annette Foster’s fortune telling piece, Messages from the Big Red Bus, when that was on at Hazard Festival in Manchester. The technology wasn’t working, so you talked about what it ended up being and what it was supposed to have been, as though both versions of the performance happened simultaneously. It feels more embedded in the process, and maybe process is a key word here. These writings are about a process rather than a finished product. I don’t know if that sense of process having a stronger presence than a finished product is part of the nature of blogging as a form, or something that applies here because it also happens to reflect how Hatch artists often work.

WB: The Hatch at Hazard day in Manchester was interesting because there were a whole range of parts in it. There was the journey there, on a very distinctive 1950s double decker bus that became a venue on arrival. Then there was the context around the programmed performances, and finally there were the performances themselves. So the account of that event ended up as three quite distinct sections, one covering the bus journey there, one breaking down the day into its constituent individual performances and my own experiences of them, and then a third that widened things out to take in the context of Hazard more generally and the Manchester streets around St Ann’s Square where the festival took place. It was a way of reflecting the fact that the day in total wasn’t really about the performances, or not just the performances, at least. If I’d focused entirely on those discrete programmed works something important would have been missed about the experience.

NJM: The Hazard Festival writings also reflected your role as part of Hatch so there was a sense of how it felt from the inside, rather than as a member of the public in Manchester just encountering the performers, as a regular review would tend to do.  But that was an extreme example. We quite deliberately set up that Summer Holiday vibe by going on the vintage bus, then using that bus as a theatre.

MP: Yes, we wanted that sense of just turning up and putting the show on right there, like in an old musical.

NJM: Another dimension is a sense of the artists on the way to work, which is always part of these things but isn’t apparent to the audience. Our performers in Manchester had the bus as a kind of focus so being on the bus from the start enabled you to take part in that and to bring some of that hidden side of things into the documentation.

WB: Alongside that was a sense of Manchester itself. There were things going on in the streets around the performances that fitted in with or diverged from the performances, thematically and in terms of performance styles and intentions. If you moved further along from St Ann’s Square, where the Hatch and Hazard performances were going on, you quickly began to run into buskers, people doing street marketing,  people who dance in fancy dress or stand painted like statues, Classical music played on Farfisa organs, that sort of thing. These unofficial performances were sometimes more or less indistinguishable from the kinds of spectacle Hatch and Hazard were putting on with very different intentions. To give one example, when things were being packed up near the end of the day I was standing by the bus and two Muslim guys came over and asked me if I believed in chance: “What if you were crossing a desert and saw a mobile phone form itself spontaneously from the sand and wind? Would you assume this was the work of nature or God?” It did seem this could very easily have been the beginning of a performance, and I suppose it was a performance, albeit motivated by preaching or religious marketing rather than art. So these things raise the question of where the line should be between the programmed performances of the Hazard festival and Hatch and the things you might encounter in that location outside those contexts.

Simon Raven at Hazard [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Simon Raven at Hazard [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: You also referenced Sean Burn, who was performing with Hazard in Manchester, but had been at a Hatch scratch night earlier in the year with a different piece. Your antenna seems raised, as if you’re sensitised to these connections.

WB: Another interesting thing about the encounter with Sean Burn was that his performance involved taking a flower from him and that flower ended up in Simon Raven’s performance because it seemed appropriate to link what the two of them were doing at opposite ends of the site. Maybe that goes back to your earlier comment about influencing as well as observing the performances?

NJM: One reason for asking you to do the blog because we knew you had experience of previous Hatch events, having been to most of our platforms since 2008 and even performed in one, so we knew you had some understanding of how we operate and where we’d come from. Something I’m quite curious about is how that changes the way you experience Hatch events, now you’re asked to professionally observe them?

WB: The very early Hatch events were as much social events as they were about seeing work, I think, so I’d be in the venue but might not see all that much of the performance staged on any particular night. Thinking about the street-based platforms, Hatch Abroad and Hatch Across, I guess I remember seeing maybe three or four things in full at each of those, and then lots of little bits of other things going on. When I’m covering it, I have to resist that social side and see the work, so I’ll now see at least some of everything, with a few exceptions that were unavoidable, such as not managing to get a slot for the one-to-one performance with Jo Bannon at Hatch Mass, say. That need to focus has changed my experience because that social side of Hatch has been much less the focus of going to the events than it was before I began writing about them. I used to miss things because I’d be in the café talking to someone or having a drink outside and now I’m in the audience – whatever that means in a given performance – pretty much from beginning to end. It’s not just Hatch that has this social aspect, since at Ian Nesbitt and Emily Wilczek’s Annexinema events audiences won’t necessarily come and sit down to watch every single film, they’ll dip in and out of the programme, come and go. Audiences go there for the ambience and that’s part of what makes these kinds of events work. In that way the Hatch platforms I’m attending now have a different focus to the Hatch platforms I attended before 2011.

NJM: I think some of our recent platforms have been more focused though we’ll still do the more chaotic and social sessions in strange venues when we can.

Rebecca Gamble's Mariela Hosomaki [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Rebecca Gamble’s Mariela Hosomaki [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: That raises another interesting point, because back when I used to miss a lot of the performance, because of taking part in that social side of Hatch, I might well have looked at the blog and other documentation to see what I’d missed, if it had existed then. So the documentation could, in theory, be seen as something that replaces or supplements the actual experience. I know people who have said the same about Glastonbury Festival. They go but the first they see of the headline acts is watching them on the TV coverage after they get back. You won’t necessarily go to the main stages when you’re there because there’s so much else to do. So it’s interesting how this kind of documentation could potentially replace parts of the live experience. On a similar note, I’d like to ask if one of the things you hoped the blog could do is communicate Hatch and its activities beyond the immediate audience, mainly in the East Midlands, who come to the events? There’s a now a way for people in Edinburgh, London or Belgium to have a kind of access to the work you’re doing in Nottingham, Leicester or Manchester that wasn’t possible before.

NJM: It is another function of the documentation. In order to illustrate what Hatch is, we need photographs, things written about it, so we can now send people from outside our region to the blogs where they can get an idea of what we’re about and what’s going on. Probably by accident rather than design there’s also a sense of self mythologizing about it, as well. We’ve commissioned this writing to be done, which beyond the immediate purpose of describing the work and feeding comments back to the artists, puts us into a wider context of theatre and performance and live art nationally and internationally. That very first piece you wrote for the NEAT Festival programme, defining Hatch and its ways of presenting work in relation to theatrical forms going back hundreds and sometimes thousands of years, connecting us to a history that wasn’t academic, but was very interesting. Perhaps it’s a bit of a cheat for us to commission a body of writing about ourselves rather than wait to be noticed but I think we’re conscious that it does have an effect on how we might be seen.

WB: That first piece in the NEAT series was written as much to get my own head around the idea of what Hatch is and does and where it fits into a longer perspective of performance of the sort NEAT was setting out to represent. But another part of it was thinking about the way that what platforms like Hatch do is usually labelled, a bit lazily, in my view, as ‘experimental’, a definition that rests on a partial, even false view of performance history. I mean, it happens in a lot of art forms, so in writing you’ll hear lots of commentary about ‘experimental fiction’ despite the fact that the experimental or postmodern novel demonstrably pre-dates the traditional and modern versions. In that case, when I asked myself what it meant to talk about the experimental and the avant-garde in performance I found that what it often means is that this work is doing something that was pretty commonplace 200 or 300 years ago, which was replaced by something else 150 years ago and has now staged a bit of a return to an older form: audience participation and site specificity goes back to the Mystery Plays in Medieval Europe, multimedia to Ben Jonson’s collaborations with Inigo Jones at the court of James I, or Handel’s music for fireworks in Vauxhall Park. I interviewed the American minimalist composer Steve Reich around 1998 and asked him about the process where the barriers between classical, pop and avant-garde music had begun to weaken, given his own influence on people like Brian Eno and Richard James, The Aphex Twin. He said he thought it wasn’t that anything radical was changing, but that musical culture was emerging from a slightly anomalous period where those distinctions had been upheld in more absolute ways than at other times in the past. If you went back to Beethoven and Bach’s day, court and church composers were always taking ideas from folk tunes and popular dances while people outside the courts and churches were taking the composers’ tunes and recasting them as folk tunes and dances. This was how it’s always been and it was only really after the mid-nineteenth century that the idea that they all had to be kept in separate boxes really gained traction. A similar process seems to be happening in many other art forms now, including performance, and perhaps the digital context helps that process along by technologically mediating exchanges that would previously have happened through word of mouth, meetings and chance encounters.

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: One thing that’s often discussed about the online world is that we have access, at least in theory, if we’ve got a broadband connection and know how to find what we’re interested in, to more or less anything, at any level of achievement, in any genre, from any point in history or any place in the world, more or less instantly. Because of that there’s an idea in circulation that we have an artificially created commons that both artists and audiences have access to and this is quite new.

WB: That’s becoming quite explicit in performance, too, so when Olwen Davies performed her piece at Broadway, she talks about learning to do a version of Sixties Biba Girl make up from an instructional clip on YouTube. But then she points out that this actually removes her from the real history as much as connects her to it, because the woman whose YouTube tutorials she’d used had based her version on photographs and illustrations from the time and then filled in the gaps with informed guesswork. That apparent accessibility is partly fictional and can distance the reality of things from us even as it appears to connect us to them.

NJM:  For Olwen that whole piece is based on her idea of how these clips and fragments, which she’s conscious are as fake as they are real, shape her view of what it was like to be alive in 1967 or 1968. In the performance, she presents this amazingly detailed but completely skewed perspective. Zilla! Part Two by Andy Field links to this kind of digital hyper-availability too. He can tailor his Google Streetview images to make the fictional journey specific to any venue or place he happens to be performing in. He can change the text to include local material sourced online, sometimes with a bit of local knowledge provided by those hosting him, as his intention is to rewrite the piece so feels like it’s narrated by someone who has lived in a particular city and knows it well. That happens in every city or venue where Zilla! Part Two is performed. That is something new for performance. It could have been done before but might have taken days of preparation, site visits and research to do what can now be achieved on a laptop or smartphone in a few hours.

Andy Field: Zilla! Part Two at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Andy Field: Zilla! Part Two at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: Interestingly, that kind of research can be valuable in the blog, too, particularly where you make a reference to something outside the platform, a performance from the past or a pop-cultural reference, and can link directly to a film or detailed account with photographs of the thing you’ve mentioned. That allows a kind of shorthand, a casual approach to referencing, that isn’t possible on a printed page, where you’d have to describe the similarity or difference you’re drawing attention to in much more detail. On a blog, the links can be used as instant footnotes, almost, and they allow anyone who might be interested to explore a piece of work in a wider context. It’s also worth adding that no matter who an artist in a Hatch programme might be, if I don’t know any of their previous work I can run a search and usually quite quickly find a website which gives at least some sense of their context and background. That kind of contextual information is very easy to track down. For example, I knew nothing about Eggs Collective before they performed at Hatch Mass, but I was able to find their website and find out that one member, Lowri Evans, had done a solo performance earlier in that year’s programme, while Sarah Cox turned up at Scratch 13, performing with Nicki Hobday. Not all of this goes into the writing but having access to these signposts means you can see the context things are operating in very quickly.

MP: Online context raises some questions for us about how we might develop the blog and has been part of our thinking about what it could become in future. When Green Room in Manchester closed, a website was made, Green Room United, which has documentation about all the artists who performed there while it was active. You click on a performer’s name and a list of all the companies and people they performed with appears, building a kind of Green Room family tree. If I click on myself, I see metro boulot dodo in the late nineties and early 2000s, Reckless Sleepers, Strange Names Collective and all the shows I’ve done solo. It’s a jigsaw showing all these collaborations and links, a kind of map. These blogs are mapping our history digitally, in a similar way, which is a nice concept. It’s a map with no edges. It’s immaterial. But it’s a map you can use to navigate those histories.

Lowri Evans' Live Letter at Hatch Scratch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Lowri Evans’ Live Letter at Hatch Scratch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: I guess the immateriality of that history can be a bit poignant, especially when it’s linked to a venue or a company or a platform that is no longer active, that closed, ceased to operate or simply moved on. Maybe it’s at its most valuable then, too – these maps might be needed to rebuild when the landmarks on them no longer exist.

MP: Hatch has no fixed form and no home that can close, though many of the places we’ve temporarily occupied have closed down. But that temporality is in the nature of performance: it appears and then it disappears. It has no body or clothes. It knows that in the moment it happens it will vanish and leave no trace of itself. So maybe the blog is one way of trying to capture something from that process, with the writing in some sense replacing the performance once the performance is over. The blog becomes a trace it can leave. There’s a nice comment I read somewhere, that there’s a good reason why there’s no equivalent of the National Gallery for performance, a place where you could go and see Carolee Schneeman’s Interior Scroll or any of these classic pieces that only existed when and where they happened. There are various approaches to trying to reconstruct or preserve these performances, but they existed in some very fundamental way only in their particular moments.

NJM: You can go into the National Review of Live Art’s archive and see all kinds of things that survive: writings, photographs, films and video documentation. But none of them is the experience of the performance.

MP: The whole issue of performance archives is interesting, asking questions about how we might re-enact an archive, how you might use the documentation of a performance to restage that performance. The University of Bristol had a project called Performing Documents where they restaged a whole range of performances from the past. Tim Etchells re-enacted Bruce Nauman’s A Violent Incident – which he presented as a new piece called Untitled (After A Violent Incident) which performed Nauman’s video live, using the video as a kind of score. There’s something about how we approach the documentation of our own events that suggests it might be possible to reconstruct a Hatch event that happens today in ten years’ time.

NJM: That relates to what How We Run were doing in their piece at Hatch Scratch at Embrace Arts, when they were trying to work out how to restage or re-experience an iconic performance like John Cage’s Waterwalk. By doing that, could you create an iconic performance of your own?

MP: They were also trying to mythologise their own performances.

How We Run: Waterwalk at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

How We Run: Waterwalk at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: Yes, that’s true. They were trying out the idea that by talking about something they’d done while still at university in the same way and in the same context as something canonical like John Cage’s Waterwalk or Andy Kaufman’s comedy club readings from The Great Gatsby they could somehow have some of that iconic status rub off on them. By speaking about their own work in that way they create a myth in which they are already part of that history rather than relative newcomers aspiring to it.

WB: I think one of the most moving performances I’ve seen was when Forced Entertainment did a new version of Emmanuelle Enchanted, a show they’d made when they were all much younger, but re-staged it a point in their lives where their ages were starting to show. So they were the same people, the same performers in the same roles using the same script, as close to the original as possible. But they couldn’t quite manage some of the things they’d done all those years earlier and it began to break down and became a show about themselves as performers trying to recapture a moment in their own lives that they can no longer quite reach. It was an interesting approach to re-staging because it had become a very different show, about something quite different to its original incarnation. The other version of this I find interesting is when Gob Squad try to reconstruct Andy Warhol’s Kitchen. Again, it becomes a performance about the discrepancy between one period in time and another. There was a similar sense of disjunction in Olwen Davies’s relationship to the Sixties in her piece at Broadway [Retroscape], which I imagine might have been at least partly influenced by Gob Squad’s Kitchen. In relation to the blog texts, the point is that neither my writing nor Julian Hughes’ photographs, nor the combination of them, can ever fully represent any of the performances they document. But perhaps they do end up, mostly accidentally, replacing those things and become a kind of alternate version of them, in the same way that any re-staging is by definition a new performance, whatever the intentions are. If Carolee Schneemann re-stages Interior Scroll, it can never be the event that’s been so extensively mythologised, it’s always a new event, one that might have very little connection back to its source.

MP: Maybe there’s a metaphor in this for the writing as an attempt at enabling the appearance of new work, by being part of the dramaturgical process when a performance is being made, while also resisting the disappearance of that same work at another stage. The writing can develop it, in a photographic sense, and also retain an impression of it so it doesn’t fade. Perhaps this suggests the blog embodies that idea of these writings as neither a process nor a product but something in-between.

WB: I’m intrigued by the sense that in a few years, or even just a few weeks after an event, the audience for these performances could be people who never had the experience of the performance in the first place. Are they reconstructing it imaginatively from the descriptions left behind in the writings and photographs or are they devising a new performance from the act of reading about an old one? There’s a kind of performative aspect to the writing, in that I tend to write each post in real time, following the thought processes down the page to a conclusion. So it would follow that the reading of these accounts might also have a performative aspect. The act of reading might make the performance visible again but as with Olwen Davies’s version of the 1960s it might also add distance within that illusion of experiencing what happened, or something a very little like it, or vaguely related to it, through the texts. I like the idea of resisting disappearance but I suspect it’s always going to be a case of failing to resist disappearance.

Andy Field: Zilla Part One at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Andy Field: Zilla Part One at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

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Lightness: Drunken Chorus and Wolf Close at New Art Exchange

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

I hope to have shown that there is such a thing as a lightness of thoughtfulness, just as we all know that there is a lightness of frivolity. In fact, thoughtful lightness can make frivolity seem dull and heavy…” 

Italo Calvino: Six Memos for the Next Millennium (1988)

In a series of lectures written in 1985, but left unfinished at his death and posthumously published in 1988, the Italian writer Italo Calvino defined a series of (mainly literary) properties that he thought to be endangered by an increasingly dominant and formally prescriptive culture. The keynote memo, On Lightness, presents this property as implicitly opposed to traditional notions of weight and, by extension, significance, and Calvino’s notion of what ‘lightness’ might mean certainly comes to mind in relation to the two short performances, by Drunken Chorus and Wolf Close, staged at New Art Exchange in December.

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Developed into finished pieces from the earlier ten minute ‘scratch’ incarnations presented last year in Leicester, the two pieces aren’t really extended too much from the performances seen there, or at least, feel more like extended, around 20 minute, remixes of their ‘scratch’ versions than fully developed new pieces. Which is precisely where Calvino’s comments on lightness seem appropriate, because in both cases there seems to have been a deliberate avoidance of the usual development process which might add weight or overwork the initial sketches. Here, the lightness of the performances seems deliberately cultivated: a method of achieving a kind of formal equivalent of optimism and uplift, a sort of ‘breathing out’.

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Just Like Larry Walters by Sheena Holliday and Chris Williams, the duo at the heart of Drunken Chorus, makes this quest for lightness its subject. Larry Walters was an American who in the late 1970s strapped a bunch of weather-balloons to a lawn chair, grabbed himself a pack of beers and a pellet gun (to shoot out the balloons when he fancied descending to earth) and cut the rope that tethered him to his garden. Underestimating the lifting capacity of helium, he proceeded to ascend not to the 50 or 60 foot altitude he’d anticipated, but shot quickly upwards to a height of 16,000 feet where he drifted for hours, visible to aircraft and air-traffic control and stuck until the helium depleted and brought him naturally down.

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Williams tells the story of Larry Walters’ temporary escape from the ordinary, merging it with bits of Pixar’s Up and the award winning 1950s childrens’ short film and storybook The Red Balloon, while Holliday blows up balloons, wanting to inflate enough for a party, to fill the stage, the room, the whole building. While Williams searches for moments of rhetorical uplift and Holliday blows bubbles and struggles to speed up her production line of balloons – sometimes roping the audience in to help – the piece builds, then just as quickly crashes, its failure to achieve take-off marked by a rampage of onstage bubble-popping and balloon-bursting.

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Whether this ‘crash’ is intended as a metaphor for human endeavour generally, as unrealistic hope seems always to precede an equally unrealistic disillusion, is left open-ended. It does, however, obliquely connect Just Like Larry Walters with its companion piece on this double-bill, Onto The Roof, performed by Dartington graduates Wolf Close. Another attempt to build an ascent into escape velocity from the everyday begins to unfold, the emphasis less on literal flight than a (very Dartington) effort to find ways of achieving communion with nature. The duo begin with stories, dances and low-key rituals to set the mood, then gradually allow their words and actions to expand outwards from the confines of this particular stage into imagined forests, rivers and rainstorms.

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

As with Drunken Chorus, any notion of actual escape is held within a rhetorical, storytelling framework, as we’re asked to enter into this play-acted imaginary escape like the kind of children who might once have entered into the story of a boy befriended by and carried into the sky by a red balloon, or a man dreaming of flight in a lawn chair. The difference, perhaps, is that where Drunken Chorus imagine individual escapes, Wolf Close seem intent on drawing us into a collective escape: a journey by coach that crosses Europe, pays tribute to the giant Sequoias and Redwoods of some vast North American forest, then returns us all, exhausted, to our seats, while playing the violins we’ve made for ourselves and mastered in transit before rushing to the roof to dance in a rainstorm.

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

It’s simultaneously a kind of hymn to unfettered imagination (what might we be capable of if we suspended our perceived limitations?) and an absurdist joke on the sheer unlikeliness of it all. Even so, that possibility might seem more worthwhile, for all the uncertainty of its likely outcome,  in the face of our own mortality, which On The Roof neatly symbolises with an RSPB clock inherited from a relative held, for a full, very long, minute  against a microphone, its slow but remorseless ticking a brief interlude to sharpen our engagement with the climactic scenes. On The Roof seems intent on telling us that it hardly matters whether we succeed or fail, given the blunt fact of mortality. What we choose is how to fill the ever-declining number of seconds and minutes we have left.

 

 

Take Your Partners: Primary Nights 1-2-1

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

I’m not sure if the ‘one-to-one’ performance has been undergoing something of a blossoming recently, but given that the Hatch: A Better Tomorrow platform at Embrace Arts in October was made up 50% of ‘one-to-one’ performances, and this platform at Primary is given over entirely to them, it’s either that, or something in the air around the Hatch offices that has encouraged a sort of minor proliferation. If ‘one-to-ones’ are more prevalent now than they were, perhaps it’s a response to social media, with its tendency to produce a strong illusion of intimacy even at a distance, or perhaps a more pragmatic response to the limited resources made available to performers by those Coalition ‘austerity’ measures that have, perversely, managed to run up more debt in three years than the measures that weren’t deemed austere enough did in the full 13 years preceding their implementation. Whatever the reason, Primary Nights was a whole night of ‘one-to-one’ performances, where the audience and performer stood evenly matched in a variety of spaces – some intimate and enclosed, some technologically mediated, some evocative of other times or places, some very discreetly tucked away in hidden corners of the venue, waiting to be discovered. Who knows why they all found themselves there just as 2013 entered its final phase?

Katy Baird's Cam4 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Katy Baird’s Cam4 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Katy Baird: Cam4

The first mark on my Hatch ‘dance card’, at 7pm precisely, proves to be the most intimate of all, at least potentially. I put on headphones and sit down at an open laptop at a desk in an otherwise empty room where a Skype connection links to me to Katy Baird, who appears on the screen to tell me that she has, in the past, financed her art by working on sex webcams. So here we are, at first slightly awkwardly, Baird in a bikini top, surrounded by plants in a room that might be anywhere, and me wondering where this might be heading. After a bit of financial negotiation (based on how much I imagine I’ll put into the Hatch ‘pay what you like’ piggy bank at the end of the night) we have five minutes and I’m handed carte blanche to ask or order anything, up to and including the sort of thing Baird might have offered on the sex cams that inspired this particular piece of work. Instead, we talk about the relationship between sexual and financial fantasies, the idea of working for money as a kind of prostitution in all cases, not just the sex industry. We talk about how Baird sees her sex work and art work connecting now and in the future, both being species of fiction and performance. We talk about how banknotes are themselves, in James Buchan’s coinage, ‘frozen desire’, as unreal in their connection to value as pornography or sex work is to actual sexual activity: money as a fiction in which we choose to suspend our disbelief, just as religious believers or the readers of fantasy novels do. Because I’m on such a tight schedule, with another slot due to start at exactly 7.15, the roles get reversed a little: I’m the one who issues reminders that we’re on the clock and only have two minutes left as the time counts down to 7.13 on my phone. Even so, it’s an interesting conversation, and one that happens to touch on a subject I’ve been fascinated by myself in recent years, and when Baird appears in the hall at Primary an hour or two later, highlighting the fact that the implied distance of Skype hadn’t been much distance at all, I’m partly relieved that our conversation had stayed pretty respectable, all things considered, but partly curious about how this sudden face to face encounter would have felt had the Skype encounter gone in some other, more sexual or intimate direction. Perhaps Baird’s knowledge that she would, in fact, meet many of those she talked to in person, even if we hadn’t realised that, was part of the equation about art, power and intimacy being explored here.

Ehsan Gill's Man in the Park [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Ehsan Gill’s Man in the Park [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Ehsan Gill: Man in the Park

Ehsan Gill’s piece begins with a small coup de theatre, as I’m ushered through an ordinary office door but, as it’s closed behind me, immediately find myself walking through a thick layer of autumn leaves on the floor in an environment that is permeated with the smells of autumn and the sounds of birdsong: there’s a dream-like quality in the transition from corridor to performance that certainly starts things with an unexpected impact. Gill sits on a wooden park bench opposite, ‘speaking’ by way of text projected onto a wall above his head, putting soundproof ear-shields on and assuring that he can’t hear me, nor is anything being recorded. Then he makes a simple request, by way of that projected surtitle: ‘describe me’. I look at his trainers and grey track suit bottoms, as they send out one message about who Gill might be, and contrast them with the more traditional Muslim style of his long over-shirt and beard, the respectable student or young professional suggested by his neatly combed hair and glasses. He sometimes stares down at his feet, hands nervously clenched together on his lap, then relaxes, looks up, makes eye contact. I don’t say anything and the text above Gill’s head doesn’t change either, just reading ‘describe me’. Eventually, weighing up all the deliberately conflicting cultural signals of his dress and manner, I say out loud, ‘you’re a man I don’t know’, and that seems to be that, though the birdsong continues and the smell of the leaves still permeates the space for what seems like a long time afterwards. Then the text above Gill’s head abruptly changes: ‘Thank you’. I get up to go, leaving Gill sitting on his bench, his posture unchanged, the ear-defenders still (we can only assume) containing him inside his own bubble of silence among the ever-present birdsong, awaiting the judgement of whoever enters next.

Lisa Newman & Alex Leistiko's Mnemosyne [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Lisa Newman & Alex Leistiko’s Mnemosyne [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Lisa Newman with Alex Leistiko: Mnemosyne

The third item on the Hatch dance card takes me from an autumnal park to a Greek myth: according to the title, that of Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses and embodiment of memory. But apart from the technologically mediated spoken part of the performance, a seemingly synthesized voice booming through the vast space of an old dance studio over the sounds of the sea, the piece itself didn’t seem unduly constrained by the particulars of Mnemosyne’s story and instead operated as a kind of free-floating oracle, concerned with some attempt to remember a ritual of unexplained significance, or issue a challenge to destiny and fate. Nor was this strictly a ‘one to one’ performance, since we entered the tableaux created by Newman and Leistiko in pairs, guided to marked spots on the floor. Leistiko stands still, holding a raised lantern, and Newman hands us ropes, all of us doubled by our own shadows, which occupy a projected Aegean seascape on one wall. The location appears to oscillate between the darkened room and some other terrain, as Newman pulls on the ropes, as if hauling a boat through a storm, and the voice-over continues on its oblique journey, unravelling as it proceeds. It strikes me that its tone seems more indebted to 1950s B-movie re-imaginings of mythic encounters with the Gods than to any actually known mythology. All the while, our silhouettes appear to be engaged in a struggle with gravity and the implacable elements, as though only we are holding Newman’s body from the sea, at which point, she cuts the ropes and stands behind Leistiko, seemingly becalmed. Quite what it all means is left open, but in its blend of mime and dance, simple participatory action and technologically mediated theatre, it leaves a notable, if almost wholly indecipherable, impression.

Traci Kelly's Lost at Sea [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Traci Kelly’s Lost at Sea [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Traci Kelly: Lost at Sea

A similarly nautical aspect coloured Traci Kelly’s Lost At Sea, though in a very different way and to a very different end. Kelly pretty much distils the idea of the ‘one-to-one’ performance to its essence, inviting us, one at a time, to join her in a tiny under-stairs room (the very same space in which Francachela Teatro had goaded us into playing Russian Roulette, no less) where we’re offered a shot of Sailor Jerry’s rum, and, having downed it, drawn into a five minute long hug. Apart from reviving my own memory of the shots involved in the last performance I visited in this confined space, the construct of Lost At Sea also involves Kelly taking a shot with every person who enters her territory, a gesture of comradeship or complicity, but one that clearly has implications for Kelly herself as the night proceeds. The embrace at the core of the piece, then, is also, very literally – and ever more so as the night goes on – a matter of the performer putting her performance into the hands (or arms) of her audience. The prolonged nature of the embrace – five minutes is, after all, the kind of hug only usually encountered in the most intimate scenarios – also has its unsettling qualities: the level of intimacy is pushed to levels that are, to say the least, unusual with anyone, let alone a stranger or casual acquaintance. We’re conscious of a body’s weight, its small movements, breathing and instabilities. Meanwhile Kelly tells us how we are the ‘anchor’, the ‘rock’, something to hold onto to get through this particular night. At the end, we’re handed an origami paper boat, stamped with the words Lost At Sea, as a memento or object to discard. As with the performance itself, it’s up to us to decide whether this small paper boat, like the gesture of the embrace, is for safe-keeping or casting adrift.

Rebecca Gamble's Mariela Hosomaki [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Rebecca Gamble’s Mariela Hosomaki [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Rebecca Gamble with Nadim Chaudry & Genelva Meikle: Mariela Hosomaki

I’ve still got Traci Kelly’s paper boat in my hand when I’m allowed through the door that leads down into the cellar where the digital avatar of Rebecca Gamble, a woman known in the artificial realms of Second Life as Mariela Hosomaki, stands silently among lit candles, a variety of numbered serving implements (ranging from chopsticks to skewers) hung on the wall facing her. Before descending, however, there are formalities to observe, as Gamble’s assistant (perhaps, remembering Newman and Leistiko’s Mnemosyne, some kind of guardian of the underworld, embodied by Effy Harle) issues instructions and requires decisions: we must choose a number, decide whether we will ‘feed’ or ‘eat’. Only then (all decisions made not knowing what lies in wait) can we proceed. On entering the space occupied by Mariela Hosomaki, the scene is uncanny: a woman stands frozen inside an elaborate red form, a sculptural costume made specifically for Gamble by the sculptor Nadim Chaudry in collaboration with dressmaker Genelva Meikle. It has a presence that’s part baroque Alien, part Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, part Marie Antoinette rejigged as a video-game avatar by David Cronenburg. Perhaps it’s less the form that’s unsettling than the way its folds are serving dishes filled with the small egg-like rolls of sushi we’ve committed to eat using the implement designated by that chosen number. I take the skewer, spear a sushi roll somewhere inside a lower fold of the host’s gown and eat it, then wonder if it’s appropriate to speak, or make eye contact, before it becomes clear that Gamble, or Mariela, depending on how we consider the relationship of the costume to its inhabitant, is apparently elsewhere. I return the skewer to its hook, look back as I prepare to leave (aware that in all good myths this is really not the right thing to do) and realise thatthe host – whose presence has brought those memories of Cronenburg and Alien to the surface – seems to have developed a quite different meaning to that of the giver of food, the person I visit in this cellar. As I turn to go, Gamble, or Mariela, remains perfectly still, casting flickering shadows across the peeling paint-work on the cellar walls, while the air is permeated with the combined scents of burning wax, fresh sushi and damp earth.

Laura Dee Milnes' Iuvenes Adeste [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Laura Dee Milnes’ Iuvenes Adeste [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Laura Dee Milnes: Iuvenes Adeste

Laura Dee Milnes, on the evidence of her all-too-convincing impersonation of a school headmistress in Iuvenes Adeste, would almost certainly be ‘a bit disappointed’ in her own lack of punctuality: this is a performance originally scheduled to take place at New Art Exchange in July but had to be deferred. In some ways, then, Milnes’ own school record – the subject of Helping the Young (in a rough translation of its school-motto-like Latin title) – has a certain continuity with her life since. We can certainly detect a degree of satire in her teacherly concern with her own youthful failings, ‘we’, in this case, being myself and Hatch technical manager Leigh Cunningham, who have been summarily made a couple of doting but – Milnes would hope, concerned – parents to her younger self. Milnes passes us reports, full of flatteringly phrased panic about the girl’s manner and general attitude to school. She shows us clumsy but obsessively detailed drawings of a handsome male teacher and folders of scrapbook pages where half-naked Boybands are scrawled obsessively around. So far, so predictably adolescent. Perhaps it’s the unfurling of a disturbingly plausible Jesus banner with serial killer eyes, or the evasion of homework by buying rather than making a new school skirt that has this headmistress a bit rattled, suggesting a latent sociopathy against which this headmistress may yet find herself completely powerless. Altogether, the situation created and Milnes’ own deft character comedy combine in a memorable and tightly written skit that might well develop further. Milnes’ headmistress has many of the hallmarks of a Victoria Wood-style fake-documentary subject, while adolescent Laura herself – in the headmistress’ account – has some of the makings of a serial killer, obsessive stalker or (at the very least) a serious contender on The Apprentice. That most secondary school pupils probably still have to adopt these qualities just to survive their five years in the playgrounds might be the real point of the piece, given the implausible fantasies about educational and behavioral Golden Ages that still circulate in the press and (God help us all) Government Ministries that are certainly old enough to know better.

Richard Hancock's Prisoner of Love [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Richard Hancock’s Prisoner of Love [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Richard Hancock: Untitled (Prisoner of Love)

The last performance I actually experience tonight is Richard Hancock’s oblique but atmospheric Untitled (Prisoner of Love), whose title indicates something about what kind of self-contradiction and ambiguity to expect (that is to say, there is no title, but there is, in that parenthetical allusion to Jean Genet’s final published work). I walk into the cavernous space previously occupied by Newman & Leistiko’s Mnemosyne, but it’s now lit like a secret police interrogation room, with Hancock seated at a desk under a spotlight. He beckons me to sit facing him in that pool of harsh light with a hand clad in a surgical glove. On the table are razor blades, a mirror, sheets of gold leaf, a polaroid camera and apples. I’m not sure when I first notice him, but a second figure stands silently in one corner of the room facing the wall. Hancock takes and bites an apple then hands it to me, so I do the same and hand it back. He rubs cream into the bite, lifts a sheet of gold leaf and carefully gilds the bite-marks I’ve made in the fruit, then puts it down on the mirror. He picks up the camera, changes the film, then cranks it, beckoning me over to where that silent figure stands in the corner. I’m supposed to take a photograph, so I do, and Hancock takes the camera back, his hands still in those surgical gloves, pulls out the polaroid and peels off the skin. We stare together into its black square but nothing develops. I’m led to a corner and stood facing the wall. The apple is put onto my head. I hear someone leave, another person enter. I hear an apple being bitten and the gilding brush. I hear the polaroid click behind me, the clunk of the photo being removed. At a certain point, I’m handed the black square of an undeveloped image and shown the door. When I look back, a woman stands facing the wall in another corner. When I look at the photograph an hour or two later, I see myself standing, facing the wall in one corner of that vast room. It’s a precisely (you might almost say surgically) choreographed series of actions, potentially endlessly recessive, and full of symbolic meanings – apples, mirrors and photographs; silences and presences – that ultimately refuse to quite add up. Perhaps that’s exactly why Untitled (Prisoner of Love) seems all the more inclined to retain its suggestive powers long after it’s ended.

Leentje Van de Cruys & Tine Feys - Going to the Chapel [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Leentje Van de Cruys & Tine Feys – Going to the Chapel [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Leentje Van de Cruys & Tine Feys: Going to the Chapel
Random People: Speak Low

Sadly, the two items that weren’t precisely timed on the Hatch ‘dance card’ I’d been handed at the start of the night were only glimpsed as part of the general ambiance of the event rather than experienced as discrete performances. I did run into Leentje Van de Cruys & Tine Feys in the Primary kitchen early on, as the two were busy changing into their wedding gowns, but this was probably less embarassing for anyone involved than it might have been owing to Van de Cruys’ last Hatch appearance being Horsea very memorable monologue delivered completely naked but for a horse’s head mask and red high-heeled shoes. The experience on offer tonight – to join Van de Cruys and Feys in performing some of the rituals surrounding marriage – whether slow dances, exchanges of vows or walks down some imaginary aisle – seemed to be going on everywhere, and as the night went on the numbers of people sporting ‘Just Married’ ribbons increased to a point at which I might have been almost the only person in the building not to have been ‘married’ to one or the other of them during the evening: as my gran used to say, there would be plenty more fish in the sea. Which coincidentally was exactly the kind of pop-song cliche explored by the other performance that managed to evade me, Random People’s Speak Low, in which so far as I could tell, participants chose songs and then somehow used them as a basis for communication. Quite how it all worked, or whether the piece sought to discover universal shared truths in pop songs or expose the emptiness of emotionally affecting language in the same songs, is something I couldn’t tell you, having been always just passing by as others giggled, frowned or blissed-out to whatever it might have been they were hearing.  It just goes to show that with one-to-one performances, if you aren’t in them, experiencing them at first hand, they become mere rumours, tantalising secrets, like the thoughts of that person on the train wearing strange clothes, whose actions you can’t quite fathom.

Random People's Speak Low [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Random People’s Speak Low [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Five Rooms and Two Dances: Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Francachela Teatro‘s performance, Peccata Minuta, starts with the audience loitering in a large public space, the former assembly hall of an ex-Primary school that’s now become a complex of artists’ studios, exhibition and performance spaces and (not entirely coincidentally) the current home of Hatch itself. Or perhaps it starts when we begin to notice individuals among our number dressed differently to the rest of us, three women and two men wearing the slightly archaic formal attire of another time, perhaps the 1940s or 1950s, carrying suitcases. These characters seem to have emerged from an old film or photograph, and soon enough they differentiate themselves, their movements increasingly purposeful. They furtively hand us yellow pages folded into paper planes and whisper into our ears that we should write “our weakness” onto them, then they gather the planes back into their suitcases and lock them shut. As the suitcases are being collected, for some kind of implied processing, one woman refuses to relinquish hers and a choreographed dance/scuffle ensues, cases thrown from one person to another, or put into the hands of an audience member for safe-keeping then retreived.

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Eventually, the suitcases stand in a small pile. At this point, the characters appear to move from conflict to complicity, exaggerated dance-style movements to a more naturalistic manner. They eye up the rest of us, unfurl white ropes and gather us into a series of small groups, each tied to a particular performer, like a group of climbers roped together, then led off into some other part of the building. This is where our collective experience of the performance fragments, each group now destined to see the sections that are to come in a different order, perhaps with variations and changes in emphasis. For my part, I’m among those led away by a mustachioed 1950s businessman type, who drags us towards the studio toilets, where we’re confronted by a mirror balanced on top of a chest of drawers, this in turn surrounded by pin-up newspaper cuttings and grooming products: a kind of downbeat beauty parlour where this uptight middle manager will shed his respectable mask (and a few layers of clothes) to expose himself as a corset-wearing embodiment of masochistic vanity.

Francachela Teatro's Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

He takes off his coat and shirt, inviting us to unbutton and hold the garments. He gets one audience member to lather his face in shaving cream, hands another a razor and demands that they scrape at his stubble. Once shaved, he slaps cologne on his cheeks and neck and rubs it into the hands of those around him. Assailed by self-loathing, he kneels and demands that someone slap him, then reverts to seeking approval again, like a little dog. Eventually, perhaps disgusted by his own indulgence of weakness, he becomes the kind of Franco or Salazar-era stereotype of respectable hyper-conformist manhood so often skewered by Luis Bunuel, Pedro Almodovar and Paula Rego, among many others: then he pushes everyone out into the corridor and slams the door on us, as though to privately contemplate his own true nature.

Francachela Teatro's Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

As we proceed up a flight of stairs to the next room, taking seats in a messy office where the lampshade seems broken and papers are strewn around the floor, another familiar fictional type appears, a young woman in a sober work suit and blouse who seems to have had rather too much to drink at some office party where everyone else went home hours ago. We become her captive audience as she feeds us grapes, swigs wine from the bottle, dances (or, more accurately, fails to dance), tenderly opens a red heart-shaped velvet box in an atypical display of sentimentality, then plunges back into the fray, desperately seeking the approval of romantic interest. Or maybe not even that, just some indication that someone, anyone, here likes her, even though her behaviour slips in and out of control, making any answer to her questions or even the slightest response to her actions feel like a risky venture. As before, self-loathing or anger seems to kick in and we’re sent on our way again, to another room.

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Here, a different woman now kneels before an image of the Virgin, sheds her dressing gown and stockings, whips herself with rosary beads and gets someone to pour hot wax on her bare skin, all the while veering persuasively between delight in her self indulgence and disgust at her own actions. She sends us away, slipping her dressing gown back on, and kneels in front of the Virgin, now  more by way of seeking forgiveness, it seems, than the piety she seemed to embody as we entered. Once again, as with the closeted machismo of the upstanding businessman, there are very evident echoes of Luis Bunuel and Pedro Almodovar in this vision of religious observance as a kind of sexual perversion, which leads me to wonder if these are archetypes whose broadly recognised characteristics are being played with, the basic ‘stock’ characters of much Spanish film and fiction being consciously deployed, or – not excluding that possibility – the kinds of people who have become stereotypes simply because they exist in large enough numbers to have been noticed by many different artists in many different ways over the years?

Francachela Teatro's Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Whichever it is, the next phase sees us led in single file down a winding staircase into a basement, set with a mirror, table and chairs, plates and glasses and a dish of cherry tomatoes, where a third woman seems to be agitated, nervously waiting for us to arrive. She’s a little older than the others, dressed glamorously but possessed by a kind of maternal concern as she draws out a chair, invites one of us to sit with her as she pours wine, serves up tomatoes, and beckons her chosen companion to eat. While her companion seems hestitant, she begins to daintily eat and drink herself, as though giving permission, but quickly devours not just her own glass and plate of food, but reaches over for her companion’s too. Oscillating between outright gluttony and demure denial, as though the acts we’ve just witnessed have never occurred, she (like her companions in other rooms) seems to be finally consumed by regret, sending us away while looking despairingly and ashamedly at herself in that mirror beside the table. Her performance is, in fact, so persuasive that some of the audience hangs back to give her the reassurance she seems to need.

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The final stage in our particular itinerary (bearing in mind that this will have the first for some groups, and somewhere in the middle for others) is perhaps the most powerful of all, and it’s certainly Peccata Minuta‘s wildest card. We find ourselves cramped together in a tiny space underneath a staircase, while a ‘Russian’ pilot, resembling some escapee from a second world war POW camp, sets up a circle of drinking shots, gambling routines involving struck matches, then finally pulls out a loaded revolver, upping the stakes to a game of Russian Roulette. The confined space, low light and sheer presence of the weapon itself leads many to refuse to even touch the gun, let alone hold it to their own head and pull the trigger, as our host demands, bribing us with shots to get us in the mood and dishing out jugs of cold water to refuseniks as something that might be meant as a punishment, or might be a make-believe version of trying to get us all drunk enough to play by his rules. When the revolver comes my way, I try to imagine what I’d do if this were a real situation: so I put the barrel to the Russian’s own forehead, and when his response is to spread his arms in invitation, pull the trigger.

Francachela Teatro's Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The final phase of the performance sees the Russian strap on an accordeon and lead us all, like a sort of newly benign pied piper, back out into the building, where we gradually converge with the other groups, each led by the character they’d ended their own particular variation on the tour with. There’s a long dance session, an attempt to create a sense of connection and lightness in an open space after the various single encounters in confined spaces, and with that accomplished, the suitcases return, along with those yellow paper planes we’d inscribed our own weaknesses on at the beginning – our ‘peccadilloes’, as the literal translation of the title would have it. We are led outside and invited to launch them into the fresh air, as though symbolically releasing ourselves from their control. It ends there, or at least it seems to, because there’s applause. But perhaps it really ends when the paper planes and all our freely offered confessions are gathered up from wherever they’d landed to be returned to those leather suitcases. Who knows what might be done with all that knowledge about our weaknesses, were someone with sinister motivations to get hold of them?

Francachela Teatro's Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

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

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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.

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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?

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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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@hatchnottingham

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