|Cock and Bull, Nic Green, In Between Time|
Nic Green, Cock and Bull
Cock and Bull by Nic Green begins quietly enough. Rosana Cade stands, rooted to the spot in shirt and tie, mouth and hands sprayed a glistening gold. As her body arches she sings a tumbling, Philip Glass-like encyclical of repeated syllables that will eventually land upon the word “hard."
Hard, as in “hard-working people," becomes a key to unlock the ritual that follows: an exorcism, where soundbites rendered meaningless through masculine party politics are pummelled into submission by three female voices, three synchronised bodies in bland suits and smart shoes, all smeared with residue from the robotic gold on their hands. At first those hands mark out the space in front of them, block by invisible block, a parody of the geometries of conviction employed by trained politicians the world over. But repeated precisely and relentlessly, the movements grow more exaggerated, outlandish and spasmic until they become a mysterious fugue. At one point I feel compelled to close my eyes and let the absurdity course through me. I don’t know whether we’re reclaiming or deriding these phrases, whether we’re gaining any ground, or just treading water in the same way those source speeches are. This not-knowing? It feels good. It feels electric.
Part of Cock and Bull’s joy lies in how metred its three performers are while also maintaining distinct identities: Nic Green is cherubic, welcoming; Simone Kenyon is the most haunted of the three, an Ibsen heroine; Rosana Cade has a David Bowie-like mercurial confidence. These identities hold fast even as they fall to the floor under the weight of their own inanities, or shout about the strength of the economy while dry-humping chairs. At once female and male, the patriarchal aspects of the performance keep fighting for dominance as shirts and ties are ripped away. Then Green is left alone in the spotlight, arms outstretched, wrists upturned. A piano rendition of Dido’s Lament by Purcell is time-stretched until it’s a beautiful, granular wheeze and Green’s voice responds accordingly, exhaled in a heart-breaking shiver: “This...year...has...not...been...hard...it’s...been... impossible.” We’re seated in traverse; directly across from me a fellow audience member bursts into tears.
|Forced Entertainment, Real Magic, In Between Time|
photo Paul Blakemore
Forced Entertainment, Real Magic
Of course, much like an exorcism, like any human ritual of transformation, the act only really works if the viewer believes in it. And in performance art the heavy use of repetition can be a terrible turn-off for some people. Elsewhere at In Between Time 2017, Forced Entertainment (FE) presents Real Magic, a relentless show based entirely on the constant cycling of the same failed mind-reading trick, where the mistakes remain stubbornly constant, and the only aspect that changes—for over 90 minutes—is the performers’ attitudes to their failure. It’s a portrait of hell with chicken suits, blindfolds and canned laughter.
Late into the same evening FE’s writer-director Tim Etchells performs A Broadcast / Looping Pieces, a simple solo iteration where, pacing back and forth, he repeats phrases like, “I want to talk to you, I mean I know I’m talking to you now but I really want to talk to you,” glitching and skipping with obsessive rhythms, sometimes barked, sometimes murmured. In Arnolfini’s foyer afterwards I hear many different audience reactions. Forced Entertainment has spent a long time working in the space between theatre and performance art and I still find it exhilarating that the company continues to enchant and divide fans of both.
It would be a mistake to approach any of these looped experiences as one might purely narrative theatre, aiming as they do to lend additional weight, additional profundity, through pompous reiteration. What the repetition actually allows in all these instances is time and space to process your own responses, as might happen with a liturgical rite or a piece of poetry. It’s an act of concentration. Funnily enough, if the failure at the heart of Real Magic were expanded from two-minute bursts to episodes of 30 minutes at a time, we’d call it sitcom—where the protagonists always end up where they began, no matter how hard they try, and we love them for it.
|OUT, Rachael Young and Dwayne Anthony, In Between Time|
Rachael Young, Out
This isn’t to say that IBT 17 is forever a snake eating its own tail. The weekend is a carnival of amazing, morphing images, often with a gratifyingly diverse aesthetic. In Rachael Young’s Out, a rite to reclaim Caribbean culture from its homophobic aspects, Young and collaborator Dwayne Anthony twerk and strut in high heels, juddering their bodies against beats synched to the hoarse shriek of a homophobic evangelist. Naomi Watson’s sound design is the best of the festival, opening with a fantastic collage of clashing Jamaican sound systems that, even in the compact Wardrobe Theatre, flies you direct to Kingston.
|Triple Threat, Lucy McCormick, In Between Time|
Rachael Clerke; Cuncrete; Lucy McCormick, Triple Threat
In Rachael Clerke’s Cuncrete a drag king punk band rattles through Thatcherite odes to self-preservation—somewhere between the Bullingdon Club and The Slits—Clerke ending the gig with feet firmly planted in a mixer full of her own setting cement. Triple Threat by Lucy McCormick is like nothing else on earth, a hyperactive retelling of the New Testament by an X-Factor also-ran, where the old live art trope of ‘I’m not really very good at this’—everything chaotic, unplanned and too loud—is subverted by McCormick’s music video dance routines being step-by-step perfect. The Virgin Mary’s reaction to Christ’s assumption is presented as her singing Snow Patrol’s "Run" to the Son of God before descending into grief-stricken, ear-splitting screaming, naked from the waist down in a puddle of her own glitter upon a stage strewn with salt, instant coffee, mayonnaise, underwear and sweat, accompanied by aspirational chord progressions. Welcome to the UK in 2017, everyone.
|The Record, 600 Highwaymen, In Between Time|
600 Highwaymen, The Record
In this company The Record by 600 Highwaymen (USA) is an interesting anomaly. A wordless onstage installation of 45 Bristolians scored by live electro-acoustic music sometimes reminiscent of experimental music duo The Books, it sees the participants facing the audience in various configurations and poses: a taxonomy of human shapes and faces that disperses and reforms to the bidding of an unseen, unheard conductor. For a portrait of a city like Bristol it’s surprisingly austere and unsmiling. The formal loveliness of this diagram of faces in the playful surroundings of Bristol Old Vic can’t be denied, but it feels like a work made with a community rather than from them. I’d be more interested in reading a review of The Record by a participant rather than by me. [See Ben Brooker's response to the 2016 OzAsia Festival staging in Adelaide.]
|Dickie Beau, Lost in Trans-, In Between Time|
photo Paul Blakemore
Dickie Beau, Lost in Trans-
From many bodies performing as one, to one performer with many bodies: in recent years Dickie Beau has carved out a reputation for conjuring surprising and emotive images through the art of lip-syncing. A slight but powerful presence—apparently with the response speed of a hummingbird—he inhabits a carnival of characters from queer history and outsider culture, adding subtexts and storylines to borrowed audio through simple but careful staging. Shifting textures are projected onto gauze, behind which Beau unfurls, vogues, flits, snarls and giggles like an off-Broadway ghost. In the three times I've seen him perform, Beau has never been anything less than a shaman, transporting me to the dressing rooms of Soho or SoHo, the Beverley Hills hideaways of decomposing film stars and, on one occasion, he gave a performance as the actor Kenneth Williams that I can only describe as an act of possession by the dead.
In Lost In Trans- his focus is once more upon those monologues of self-definition and strength that have become such a distinctive music accompanying the story of sexuality in the last century. But he also includes what sounds like some genuinely stumbled-upon material, the quiet and anonymous diaries or love letters made by a generation of Americans, discovering their voices on the medium of tape. These found soliloquies are all presented as creatures from Greek myth, in a mixture of live and video manifestations. Medusa, severed head held aloft by a headless suit, intones with the gorgeously confident cadences of a New York drag queen, imparting a lifetime of wisdom. Narcissus is a bald beat poet, tapping his watery mirror like a jazz cymbal, and that old intersectional wanderer Tiresias presides over it all like a blind MC.
The most remarkable synchronisation, a live one, represents the nymph Echo and is spectacular even by Beau's standards: a crumpled tape detailing a woman’s quiet, domestic ruminations that handbrake-turns into something so unexpected and beautiful I feel compelled not to spoil its surprise. Suffice it to say that it feels voyeuristic, generous, troubling and intensely human all at once. Embodying its intimacies, Beau hunches into a microphone like a worshipper before a priapic shrine. So in a festival full of very different and very current songs, perhaps the most effecting and affecting is that of a ghost, found by a random tapehead in some thrift store, long ago, far away.
|Dickie Beau, Lost in Trans-, In Between Time|
photo Paul Blakemore
Osunwunmi reviews more of IBT here and you can read dialogues about the festival between Mary Paterson, Maddy Costa and Diana Damian Martin on Something Other (Collecting writing, performance & their others).
In Between Time, IBT17 Bristol International Festival, Artistic Director Helen Cole, Bristol, UK, 8-12 Feb
RealTime issue #137 Feb-March 2017 pg.
© Timothy X Atack; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org