Drei Schwestern by Anton Chekhov in a new version by Schauspieltruppe Kreuzberg (Barbican)
I wasn’t going to go to this show. It’s not really my kind of thing, I presumed. I got my ticket last minute and I was sitting about five or six seats away from Miranda Richardson. Behind me two old men with voices like expensive brandy were discussing other plays they had recently seen and not enjoyed. The air tasted like an expensive British Airways flight. For much of the first part of the show I wasn’t really sure what was going on, people wandered on and offstage with a studied casualness mumbling lines of incomprehensible (to me) German. For seemingly no particular reason an actual child was building a city out of Lego bricks on the edge of the stage. At one point Pale Blue Eyes by the Velvet Underground played and all the actors stopped acting and stared out into the darkness of the auditorium until the song finished, when they picked up where they’d left off. This kind of thing went on for at least a couple of hours without an interval and I could feel the prickly discomfort of the Brandy bottles behind me, and I will reluctantly admit this certainly improved my enjoyment of the show which till that point had been taken a lot of effort. I was, I thought, probably just about having a good time and was satisfied that it might continue on like this until the end when suddenly as what I think was one of the sisters stared longingly out of a window smoking what I think was supposed to be a joint, all the walls of the set crashed down around in a storm of noise and dust and debris, like a Buster Keaton sketch rewritten by Wagner. When the dust finally cleared she was still stood there, still smoking, as if nothing had happened. The scene carried on and the final twenty minutes of the show were played amongst the rubble, the actors opening doors that were no longer there and reaching to place glasses on tables that were now only splinters. It was perfect. I went home and dreamt of the siege of Stalingrad and all the things I could do with even half that kind of budget.
An Attempt at Exhausting A Place In Paris by Anon
This is maybe the simplest piece I encountered this year and one of the most beautiful. In Bedford Square, one of those Bloomsbury squares filled with elegant trees and grand townhouses covered in blue plaques and engraved brass, on a park bench sat a pair of wireless headphones. I don’t know where these headphones had come from or who had put them there. Next to them was a small white card with on which were printed in small neat letters the words An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris. I had received a similar card in the post, but with the name of this square written on the other side and the dates 18-20 October 2014; this was how I had ended up here. I sat down on the bench and put on the headphones. In my ears was a voice describing in a soft French accent what I assume was everything that they could see happening in front of them. People walking and what they were wearing. Buses driving past and where they were going to. I could hear in the background the hum of traffic and people talking. The voice was calm and persistent. I thought about all the things he could see and I could not. About all the things I could see and he could not. I thought about how Henri Lefebvre talked about rhythm being the key to unlocking the way that cities work and how he talked about looking at a city from a balcony so as to be inside and outside of it at the same time. I felt inside and outside of this city, lifted up by this intimately distant voice as if on a balcony that managed the impossible feat of being in both Paris and London at the same time. I listened for perhaps an hour and then finally placed the headphones back down on the bench and walked away.
Too Many Nights by Chris West (Summerhall, Edinburgh)
There are two versions of this show. There is the show I can describe to you here with some words, and there is how that show felt in my bones. For example, I could tell you that this show involved a man standing, or occasionally sitting on an otherwise empty stage with nothing more than a few clever lighting changes for company. And you might justifiably assume that as a consequence this show was stark, austere, minimal but to be there it didn’t feel like that at all; it felt so rich, so full, so teeming with colour and life and people, whole cities of struggling, angry, sad, lost people. Or I could tell you that this show was about violence and confusion and anger and dread and you might justifiably assume that it was a pretty bleak experience but it wasn’t. It was exultant, lit up with humanity and an irrational hopefulness that bordered on the ecstatic. It was a signal flare waved like a cheerleader’s baton in the darkest corners of our collective imagination and I loved it. I loved the things it made me feel. This paradox was perhaps best articulated in the show’s most controversial moment, when Chris calls a sex chat line live on stage in order to describe to the woman on the other end of the line his fantasy of a more humane, less rotten world for us all to live in. When written out like that it sounds kind of crass, kind of glibly obvious and maybe even slightly exploitative. But this wasn’t a stunt, or at least it wasn’t just a stunt. This collapsing of sexual desire and utopian longing was delivered with such heart and such glorious, stupid commitment that for a few hallucinatory minutes I genuinely believed the voice at the other end of the line might be able to save all of us. I think in my best moments I still believe that.
Vigil by Lina Neil (Artangel)
Every night in November Lina Neil held a vigil. People signed up via the artangel website with their name and address and from the names 30 were randomly selected to have a vigil held for them. I was one of the people who was selected. The first thing I knew about it was a hand written letter (when was the last time you received a hand written letter?) informing me that a vigil would be held for me one night in November. Lina couldn’t tell me when but one night at midnight she would take up a position somewhere within eyeshot of my house and she would remain there until dawn. She would not move unless she absolutely had to and if I noticed her there I shouldn’t go and speak to her. I had almost entirely forgotten this when one night I noticed a figure in a dark rain jacket and a red woollen bobble hat standing on the other side of the street seemingly staring at the window of my house. It was I will admit initially somewhat alarming and then quite funny and then disconcerting and then finally reassuring. It is hard to sleep when you know there is someone if not watching you then at least bearing witness to your continued presence, to your existence in the world. I went back intermittently to check she was still there – she always was and then finally she wasn’t.
Wacky Races by Blisterpack (Fierce Festival, Birmingham)
When someone told me that the impossibly precocious young performance collective Blisterpack were making a show called Wacky Races I didn’t initially realise that their show Wacky Races would actually be a version of the popular 60s Hanna-Barbera cartoon Wacky Races. I think this is because it is obviously a totally stupid idea. And yet they did it anyway and god bless them for that. Taking over an indoor Go-Karting track in a former warehouse in Digbeth and filling it with impressively accurate homemade recreations of the cars from the original series, we became the audience for an unrelentingly messy 20 lap race filled with violence, dirty tricks, trash talking, gloriously genuine competitiveness and several fairly major collisions, all held together by a bellowing cacophony of cartoon music and a note-perfect live commentary. Through ridiculous slapstick, knowing pastiche, uncontrollable chaos and wild enthusiasm they somehow created something that was both a knowing metaphor for globalised late-capitalism and a gonzo ritual of cathartic self-destruction. And it was so much fun. It made me wish the things I made were ever this fun.