Jenny Holzer: SOFTER at Blenheim Palace

if he survives he’ll confirm for future generations how beauty was dying like beauty in flames  

gently we go into the night. hands clasped, umbrella up, pebbles turn. I have waited for this since I saw your words on my screen. I have waited for this since you were made visible, and they helped me keep writing. rejuvenated a love of art, of protest, of public accusation. you have been planted in my sternum for over 1000 days. here I return to you and the art. become a part of history, your history.

i ran to the one who fell wanting to take her away but she was already gone

about a month ago I went to mac in Birmingham to see jenny holzer give a talk on her art. I had seen an exhibition of her work for the first time in that gallery, two months before. we arrived far too early, and I am sweating, mostly the pores in my hands, and I wipe them continuously on my jeans. sitting the café about fifteen minutes before it starts, I see a familiar face in my eyeline. she’s familiar from phone screens and art books. as she walks away, I run up and tell Holzer that    that    I’m not sure what   I’m not too sure what I said to her.   How do you tell someone that you’ve never met that they helped you understand art and feminism and that their words founded your voice with you? you can’t. so you stumble and blush instead. she curtsies when I tell her I love her work. it’s not enough, can never tell her how much. after her talk, I ask a question and she chuckles – ‘I can’t possibly answer that in one sitting, that’s a very good question’. she smiles. I am on the edge of my cushioned seat. she hears me, she sees me. this is enough.

on the threshold he slaughters us and time

at Blenheim Palace, Jenny Holzer exhibits a piece called SOFTER. It accompanies a wider gallery installation in the palace. although I can see the glowing pink LEDs inside the huge stone palace it is too late to go in. I book the exhibition for later in the month on the way home. suddenly, the outside of the palace is lit up. we stand in the courtyard and are surrounded by words. words that jump through the rain and run under our feet to rest for half a second on the palace walls. I am shocked. I didn’t think it would be this huge, this all-encompassing. my heart lifts. I am seeing the words that hold steady in my mind, the medium that resonates around my frontal lobe. the silence is most oppressive here. the courtyard swallows noise and so no one is heard, just the occasional sound of gravel and birds.

i bandage it with the voice of reason that was not affected by proximate desolation

this is not completely true. as I stand next to a young family, a young boy and girl play and scream beside me.  their laughter carries with an odd echo. I read about Syrian children, first hand accounts of running under tables and away from bombs. I feel so acutely disconnected.

i bandage it with veins whose warm blood has not yet been spilled on the surface of our sacred soil

the happiness of being there, with holzer’s work begins to wear off as I keep reading the words. it’s interviews, poems, and prose from war veterans, soldiers, victims, children, doctors. it is   harrowing. it is so    immense. it does what it has to. with each rolling credit for bullets wounds and bomb shelters my heart falters slightly more. its dark and I search for my mum. we hold each other in the middle of the courtyard.    I am so sad.   I am so sad.    I am so helpless.    I am so complicit.

the houses on the left are burning, the houses on the right are burning

we leave the courtyard slowly. it has been two hours. the night is cold. we sip soup. this isn’t fair, and mum doesn’t want to have it, it feels weird, it feels gratuitous, it is wrong. we drink anyhow. I film the projections. after an hour or so I feel invasive.

huddled in a gateway on the side where the shadow falls, terrified he cannot become a shadow, he listens

write about war and colonialism and refugees and project it on a palace built on blood money and war victories and housed Churchill as a child.

defiance

mourning

hope

stories of massacre on stone walls

a brightly lit funeral

next to me, a woman cackles in the night. defence mechanism.

 

*italicised words are the projections i remember. they are not my words, or Jenny’s.

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being a fangirl

I read this article and wanted to write something about being a fan.

I’m ten years old, sitting in the back of my parents Honda, listening to their CDs. It’s 2008. My dad has bought the Strokes, Adele, the Killers, the Fratellis, Vampire Weekend, and the Arctic Monkeys. I am still listening to Hannah Montana and I’m upset that we’re not allowed to play the new Kelly Clarkson song. The same year, my parents buy me a purple iPod. It is shiny and new and I can put all my favourite songs on it, and I don’t have to listen to their rubbish CDs.

It’s the summer of 2012, and I’m 14. I’ve left my purple iPod at home by accident and so I can’t listen to any of the music I like. Very Annoying. My dad lends me his iPod, and I find a song called Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. We are staying in a place called Cape Cod so I think that’s pretty cool and I listen to it. What follows is the start of my teenage fangirl identity. Not a phase so much as a way of life, I think. I’m obsessed.

It’s November 2013, I’m 15 and oh boy am I excited. I found tickets to Vampire Weekend’s London show the week before they play. I don’t even have time to get properly excited because once we’ve arranged how I’ll get there and back home again, the day has arrived. I don’t get there very early because I don’t really know the etiquette of being a huge fan just yet. I’m quite near the back, but I think that’s okay. I’m quite small and not sure I’m ready for the huge speakers on the front rows. It’s my first experience of unadulterated joy and it’s my first experience of letting go. My shoulders unhunch from their clenched position up by my ears. I am surrounded (literally) by men over the age of 25 (Very Old in my 15 year old brain). They don’t scream the lyrics like I do, and they kind of edge away from me. It’s fine, I don’t really care, but one of them sighs really loudly and another few roll their eyes. It’s my first experience of being looked at like that. With such patronising contempt. But whatever, at least I’m enjoying seeing my favourite band.

I start a music blog in 2013 as well. It’s mainly so I can write up a lengthy, analytical, loving review of Vampire Weekend’s third LP. No-one really reads it. (If you want to, it’s here. I was 16, be kind).

I see them once more. It is Reading Festival in 2014. I’m crying and screaming so much that a boy asks if I want to go on his shoulders to see them. I look worried; I know what that sometimes means. He reassures me he likes boys so won’t try anything. I grin. Up in the air I float on clouds of love and joy. I feel like I know the people on stage. It’s strange but it isn’t unusual. I don’t think I have quite got to grips with how far this whole thing will go. Still happy, still judged.

As a teen, I am really one of the only people I know that loves them this much. That’s probably egotistical, but I don’t think that at this point, any of my friends have the obsessive personality that I do, and I begin to hide it. I look for comfort and community in other places. Twitter is just entering my world for the first time. I make a separate account, which doesn’t have my last name attached to it. I make friends. Girls, mostly. Girls who are like me and who cry when Ezra (that’s the lead singer of VW) comes on stage. We all in live totally different lives, in loads of different parts of the world. It is a cacophony of angst and love and passion. Again, no-one really knows it exists outside of us. And of course when we tweet a member of the band and they reply to us, nothing really feels better. It’s a rush that someone we think about on a daily basis acknowledges us.

I could intellectualise this and say we were different from the One Direction fans, because the music we listened to was better crafted, more intelligent, and unique. But that would be a betrayal. A betrayal to the fan base as a community of young women and a betrayal to all the other girls who dedicated their hearts to a different band.

By 2016, I can tell you everything and anything about this band. I can tell you that they sing about a chandelier in their third album because they feel the weight of the success of their first album which had a chandelier on it. I can tell you how many side projects the bassist has put out since 2013. I can tell you who Hannah Hunt is (a name of a track on the third album). I can tell how much they got sued for when they used a polaroid they found in their house for the second album’s cover. (They were found out when the woman in the polaroid saw her own face on her daughter’s newest CD).

When I visit New York for the first time I go on a tour of the city, guided by VWs spots and inspirations (I made the tour myself, having mapped it out weeks before). I know every word to every song and every back story so well and the city is so interwoven with their sounds and songs that it feels like home.

***

This is quite weird to write about. I don’t think it’s very interesting, but I think it is genuine and it’s a part of my life I didn’t share with many people.

I don’t think my appreciation and love of their art was any less legitimate because I was young and it was expressed in tweets and posters.

***

It’s 2017, and Vampire Weekend are maybe realising a new album, maybe not. One of the members of the band has left. My twitter account is left untouched for the most part. I’ve formed real life friendships from it. My love for music has expanded and morphed and manifested into a love for theatre.

**

I saw Father John Misty the other week, who is someone I discovered because of Vampire Weekend and I knew all the words to his songs, was quite far back, and just jumped and lost my voice and it was excellent. At the end, someone turned around and said ‘Wow you must be his biggest fan!’ I apologised because I was scared that my joy had infringed on his watching. He said ‘No it’s lovely, thank you’.

It’s a little about forming communities, a little about appreciating art, and little about sharing.

I’m quite proud of how much I loved Vampire Weekend and all those other bands back when I was 16. I’m so so happy that I waited outside venues for over seven hours. I find it hilarious and lovely that I missed the last day of NSDF in 2015 (and so missed finding out I’d won an award) to go and wait outside a concert venue on the other side of the country. I love finding fans in weird and new places (some new university friends often surprise me with similar stories of love and fandom).

As a fun side note, having moved back to my main twitter account where I talk about theatre and stuff, it doesn’t feel much different. We have created a weird little mini fan base in our twittersphere. It is so insular that I don’t think we realise it, but we are all little fangirls writing blogs and tweeting about our favourite directors. It’s good. I’ve moved into a new sphere of fangirling, one that is maybe more accepted because this fan base includes way more men, and less teenagers.

 

(also if you were wondering the gif at the top is VW winning their first grammy in 2013)

Nassim

Nassim @ The Bush

15/9/17

Each night, a new performer takes the stage for Nassim. This time it is Denise Gough, and the Bush is packed. There is a giddy feeling in the air and the audience bubbles with the idea that we will be sharing an intimate space with such a renowned actress. Already it seems on some level that tonight is not as much about Nassim Soleimanpour (our playwright) as it maybe should be. That’s not anyone’s fault, of course, it’s just a feeling I get. There’s a big group of women in front of me. They are dressed very well and all hold glasses of wine. They giggle and chat even as the lights go down. Already I’m annoyed that they aren’t so invested in this. I’m annoyed that they’re probably here for her, more than they are for him.*

Denise walks on stage to applause and an introduction and she seems nervous. Even from the outset, there are small quips and asides to the audience. She’s quick to jump on her own failings and wants us to like her. (This is emphasised when much later on, it’s revealed that the last picture on her phone is a glowing review from her last show. She jokes that even she gets insecure. I kind of feel for her in that moment and I understand her and her performance a little better)

*This all an assumption, of course. They might have been Soleimanpour’s biggest fans. I suppose my point is that it set a certain tone. For me, at least.

***

The premise of Nassim is a familiar one. The actor is unprepared and is given a script they have never seen before in an envelope on stage. Soleimnapour tricks us, but he also tricks the actor. The envelope contains one page, informing us all that the script is in fact in the hands of the playwright, who sits backstage. Denise is stuck between reading from the screen behind her and performing to us. Again, she is probably a little more vulnerable than she would like.

At various points throughout the show, the audience are one step ahead of Denise. We see the screen before she does and we spot her mistakes quicker. The script is playful, but her nervous and quick-witted persona disrupts what is ultimately a play about longing. I think this disruption is purposeful from Soleimnapour. He knows his actor will be on edge, and plays with their comfort zones, pushing them in and out of security.

***

Nassim was a deeply sad play, from what I gathered. But the audience laughed a lot.

Denise admits vulnerabilities and it is in those moments she is the most like us and without performance. Away from the stage, her nervousness subsides slightly. She opens a little more.

When she runs backstage to find him, he shares tea with her. It is a moment we aren’t allowed access to. I liked that. We see them through a screen and don’t see his face. She is less performative and I am more receptive.

How do we allow theatre to be those small moments of privacy?

How do we allow that small moment of sensitivity to be felt?

***

It was difficult to pin down a tone. I think it probably changed from night to night.

During the show I thought of Deborah Frances-White; a comedian. I thought of Tim Crouch; a writer and performer. I thought of Meera Syal, a wonderful Asian actor. How might her performance of Nassim, or White Rabbit Red Rabbit as she did at the Bush, have differed from that of the aforementioned white performers? Might it have been exactly the same?

***

I think there’s something about stories and translation and a telling. I can’t quite grasp it. There’s a lost feeling, a feeling of displacement.

There is the story through the actor, then through the physical script, then through the screen, then through the playwright, both in English and in Farsi.

I’m reminded of Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree; a story told through a number of parallel voices.

***

Maybe the audience should have been shut out slightly more? As an English speaking audience member, I and many others in this country are afforded the luxury of knowing what we are seeing and understanding what we are being told. Sometimes it might do us some good to be dropped in the deep end (see Gecko’s The Dreamer).

I have had my English words handed to me, and it is a luxury that they can be easily consumed by the majority that will watch them, and that this country allows us to perform them.

Perhaps this is missing the point and it’s more about translation and communication. Maybe we should share in our commonalities rather than shut each other out.

I can’t stop coming back to the thought that sharing is a gift.

***

I have one friend from Iran and I have known him for close to 8 years now. We’ve grown apart recently. I didn’t know that he spoke fluently in Persian as well as English until last year. It was a huge part of his life and his identity and I never saw it or knew it. I thought of him during the show.

I hope he’s doing okay.

***

So, we circle back to Denise, to the white women in the audience in front of me, giggling, and we circle back to Nassim standing on stage speaking to his mother in Farsi. She is omnipresent and also just really fucking far away. Denise cries, and she lets go of us and the performance. Soleimnapour chuckles a little as if he knows something we don’t. The women in front of me give a standing ovation. Maybe they were more receptive than I gave them credit for.

***

Nassim always knows something we don’t, and that is one of the best things about the show. Thank you for sharing.

comfort and debauchery

END OF THE ROAD 2017

This past weekend I did something completely unrelated to theatre. I went to a music festival. After Edinburgh, this was a gift and a sanctuary of hedonism and tents. It wasn’t perfect, nothing is, but it was a rest for my weary heart. It reminded me why I love music, especially live music, and why I love the people who watch it. No one is really there to be cynical, because what’s the point? You’d just go see another gig. It reminded me why I love writing about music. It’s a mixture of joy, escapism, spectacle, and romance.

I have made this post fun and interactive! There’s a playlist to go alongside your reading. It features some of my favourite artists from the weekend, and I’ll talk about all of them on the post, so you can get a feel for what and who I saw.

It’s embedded and everything. So fancy.

Before I start, I will also be mentioning someone called Tilly during this post (which as you might’ve already guessed, is going to be quite long). She is one of my most lefty right-on pals. As well as being caring, incredibly intelligent, and totally funny (in the least arrogant way possible), she is also just great fun and lets me dance my silly little heart out. I love her a lot and so should you. It was also her birthday over the weekend, so that’s fun too. Here is a little picture for reference:

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Tilly and I arrive with high spirits and also actual spirits, hidden in our bag. Turns out they didn’t need to be hidden as this was the most relaxed festival I have ever attended. We were allowed to bring whatever we wanted from the campsite onto the festival grounds. This meant no buying expensive beers and overpriced shots and especially no binge drinking shitty wine at 3pm, which is SUCH a rarity in any festival now. The stages are small, adorned with green leaves and wooden signs. Everything looks like it was made by a woman draped in scarves, probably in her back garden. I went to another festival in America earlier this year, and the screens beside the stage were as wide and as high as the stage itself (which was massive). Here there are no screens at all and yet really good sight lines. End of the Road is tucked away in Larmer Tree Gardens, just outside of Salisbury. It’s known as music’s best-kept secret. It could be a country fair, with its cruelty-free alpaca jumper stall and ‘Vegan Junk Food’ line stretching far beyond any other beside it. The crowd is divided into families/older fest goers, and young things like us. Think lots of boys with nose piercing and dungarees, lots of girls with pink hair and cardigans. Everyone was beautiful. The first two days are perfect. The temperature is hot, but not so hot that I wanted to sweat my entire skin off. Tilly and I switch between floating dresses and high waisted trousers, but always accompanied by glitter.

First day, first gig. We had a little bit of inside information and had heard that Mac Demarco, the Canadian born indie rock star, would be secretly interviewed for a podcast on the Comedy stage at 1pm on Friday. We arrived there at 12, to find the longest queue in the world waiting for us. Clearly not that secret. No matter though, Tilly and I are intrepid women so we ran down to the front of a huge grassy slope to a sit in front of a very small stage. Mac did indeed arrive at 1, and was incredibly charming. His demeanour was soft and he almost recoiled from the crowd at times. He played ‘This Old Dog’, off his new record, and ‘Still Together’, an older song from 2, his second album. His stripped back acoustic guitar matched his retreating personality. He was apologetic of some bum notes, laughing with us at the long, high wails of ‘Still Together’. Afterwards, we met him and obviously both froze, because what do you say to the coolest guy ever?

We leave a little flustered but just totally happy. End of the Road was kind to us in the early hours of that first day. Later, we see Parquet Courts and Real Estate in a double bill on the main stage. Both indie folk bands have a weird appeal that made us stay. Real Estate are a band I’ve known about for a while, but have never really appreciated. ‘Talking Backwards’ is a song from my Vampire Weekend days and it was actually excellent live. Martin Courtney has a bashful smile that guides him through each song; lilting twangs bumble along into catchy choruses. They seem quietly happy to be there, grateful of our dancing and the sunset. Alex Bleeker, who looks like a cool and charasmatic dad, leads us in a unified farewell to the sun as it sets over the trees. These songs are like coronas; crisp and light. You don’t feel too heady afterwards.

If Real Estate are a light beer, Mac Demarco and his headlining set is the Jameson whiskey he swigs in between songs. Tilly says Jameson whisky is ‘top class’, and so is Mac’s set. He swaggers on stage with his band and he opens with ‘On a Level’ from his latest record, arguably a much more mature collection than his previous works. Somehow a crowd of sweaty teenagers find they can jump around to Steely Dan style guitar and crooning lyrics. It’s pretty great. His stage persona is like a different person to the shy guy we saw in the afternoon earlier that day. He is more drunk, more sweaty, more carefree. He covers ‘A Thousand Miles’ but only repeats the first line; Making my way downtown, over and over. It’s sarcastic, ironic, cynical. Everything End of the Road isn’t. But it works, and his genuine love for his craft is glimpsed in songs like ‘The Stars Keep on Calling My Name’ and ‘A Heart Like Hers’. There is a generosity in his performance, as he accepts a cigarette from a fan, as he talks about Kiki (his long time true love), as he praises EOTR for its kindness, as he crowd-surfs across the crowd and all the way to Pond. That takes a certain kind of trust and love and irony to let your fans do that. He loses a shoe along the way. It’s fairly brilliant, really.

We reach Pond. That is, me, Tilly, Mac, and the whole of his crowd reach Pond all at the same time. Still on a high from Mac’s set and after-set-surf we get quickly absorbed in Pond’s psychedelic durational indie-rock. A band that has titles like ‘Man, It Feels Like Space Again’ and ‘30000 Megatrons’ have got to be incredibly annoying, right? Well, they aren’t. They’re again pretty humbled and have the best light show of the whole festival. It’s funky and dirty under your nails, clouded by Tame Impala-ish riffs.

First up on Day Two is Moses Sumney. A recommendation from my dad and an excellent one at that. Sumney is iconic; dressed in reflective sunglasses and high waisted linen. He quips that he’s going to play more ‘sad, boring songs, sorry’. We don’t mind. His set is intricate and experimental. He sings a lot about death and recycling. It’s giving and also very private. We are allowed glimpses into his process and his humour, but it is soon masked by his loop pedal chords and piercing vocals. Tilly says he’s like Bon Iver, but way better. She’s right of course. He is way better, and he hasn’t even released his first album yet.

Then we head to Alvvays, a high school sweetheart Canadian band, and it’s pronounced ‘always’ by the way. We got it wrong, too. Their set is so cute. We dance along to lyrics about Canadian streets and prom queens and matrimonial harmony. I haven’t been able to get ‘Party Police’ out of my head. It’s the one on the playlist, so do be warned before you listen, that it will probably be stuck on a loop. Also, it’s where the title of the post comes from (sort of).

You don’t have to leave, you could just stay here with me
Forget all the party police, we can find comfort in debauchery

So I thought Friday couldn’t be topped. We met Mac DeMarco like HOW could that be topped?

Turns out it totally could be. We head back to the stage where we saw Moses Sumney and settle ourselves into the third row for Car Seat Headrest. Fronted by Will Toledo (who had released eleven(!) full length albums on band camp before being picked up by a record label) Car Seat Headrest are an oxymoronic cocktail. The lyrics drip with pretentious authenticity and the music is both incredibly inventive and soulful, as well just being angry noise a lot of the time. Over the past year, I have listened to their album most. It has stuck with me and I’m not really sure why? It’s just very good. The song ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ is my favourite and it was like a spiritual experience when I saw it live. Everyone around me loved that band as much as I did, and we let them know. We danced and pushed and shouted and laughed in the night.

Then we run to Father John Misty. Tilly hates him. She has hated him ever since I played his second record in our dorm at school in December of 2015. She was determined to see Ty Segall instead. But I drag to the first half an hour of Misty, promising she will at least be able to laugh at him. Once she sees how hard I scream when he comes out on stage, she decides we should stay. I lost my voice during this set. FJM is such an asshole. His stage personality oozes cynicism and the gloating misogyny that follows some of his lyrics make me want to hate him. But all rational thought leaves my brain when his songs start. I know every single word and it annoys everyone around me. Tilly loves this and joins in when she can (luckily she doesn’t have the same obsessive personality I do and everyone around us was a little bit less annoyed with her). He begins the set with tracks from his third album, ‘Pure Comedy’, where he tries to distil modern hopelessness with cackling irony. He wades so deep in sarcasm in those songs that it seems like he is stuck there, and can’t return to the humour and love of Fear Fun or maybe even I Love You, Honeybear. However, as much as these songs frustrate me, I still sing along. Then he finally gets onto songs like ‘Nancy From Now On’, and ‘Strange Encounter’. He thrusts his skinny body around the stage and throws his sweaty hair about. As ironic as Josh Tillman wants to be, his sets still give people unadulterated joy.

Third day. So. Much. Rain. Like, So Much.

We take shelter in the Tipi tent, it is warm and comfortable and has some lovely folk bands hiding away. We arrive to see the end of Allison Crutchfield and the Fizz, afterwards taking a nap on the woven flooring. It smells damp mostly, so that’s a little unpleasant but we get over it because we’re pretty damp too. Next up, Spook School. They are an incredible queer punky indie band. Tilly and I dance harder with every song. They sing about being non-binary, about abusive relationships, and about bisexuality. It’s clever, anarchic pop and we dance so hard. It’s so much fun.

We move outside, to see Perfume Genius, another incredible queer artist. Mike Hadreas is a sexy, leather trouser wearing, beautifully and unashamedly camp performer. His elegance and intensity is matched by the sharp skills of his band. We watch as he pulls himself in and out of shapes around the stage, contorting himself to fit different patterns and move outside of defined rhythms. His voice is beautiful and clear, cutting through the rain to the back of the crowded garden.

And that’s it really. It was a weekend of indulgence and pleasure and beer. There were only around 9000 people there. We saw all the same people at the same gigs, including two very young girls with very good music taste, who liked being on the barrier no matter the consequences. I find myself reaching back to certain moments. To the mornings of sausage and egg baps, to the shared laughs between artists and crowds, to humbled smiles from smaller artists given big stages, to the free plate of roast potatoes drowned in gravy. It was really fun to write this long and indulgent post about something I really love, even if no one reads it. Festivals feel like a place where I can let go of everything else, and just kind of enjoy having no real concept of time except to see the next set, and not eating real food for a couple of days, or sleeping in a real bed. It’s a pocket of nowhere and it’s taken down when we leave. It’s a small imagined community of sound and creation and I love it. I felt like this one wasn’t too capitalist either.

Thanks Tilly. Thanks End of the Road. Thanks Mac and Josh.

I’ll now go back to my blankets of hibernation.

X

Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist

Sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic, self-disclosure

Sam Ward is a bisexual, sleepy guy that tells us about five sexual encounters he has via a site called Craigslist. Sam and the audience begin an hour of exchange. It is an exchange of trust more than anything else. We become closer to Sam and to the other bodies around us. We didn’t plan to reveal any of ourselves, and we don’t have to, but we see Sam’s vulnerability and in exchange we let ourselves be vulnerable for him.

Craigslist is essentially a personal ads website that is sometimes used for sex. Sam talks to us about the sex bit and boy, is there a sex bit. There’s no money involved in Craigslist, any adverts that are sexual and involve money are shut down pretty quickly. But much of the sex that happens via the site is short. The encounters last no longer than an hour usually, and it’s unlikely that they’re ever repeated. It’s sort of like a theatre show. Within the performance realm, there’s no acting, there is simply storytelling and metaphor. In each encounter that Sam takes us through, gently, he asks if someone doesn’t mind helping him. So then some audience members become those on the other end of his encounter, and what we see is a creation of connection forming and moving within the theatrical space. The participants, for the most part, are the metaphors. They peel carrots into microphones, confess their love for each other, and pop balloons.

Sam also tells us about Elaine and Arthur Aron who wrote a paper called ‘The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness’, a psychological research paper that investigated how you can become close to another person. They stated that there were 36 questions which allow for the level of intimacy needed to feel truly connected to another person. The first time I saw this show, I was asked a few of these questions and it was not until the end that I realised the affect they had. I felt opened out, like a really old library book that hadn’t been read for a while. Sam is so welcoming, so warm, and the relationship he creates is not between performer and audience, but a communal exchange of intimacy.

An exposure lives at the heart of this piece. A vulnerable and delicate exposure that if mishandled could end up tearing a rift in the tender gap between audience and performer. It is not mishandled here, in fact, that gap seems to fade altogether and what is left is just us, in a room. As we are asked the questions and told of the encounters, our walls splinter and crack, leaving us bare but warm. It seems trivial to say this show was an exploration of how we connect to each other. It wasn’t a show so much as a telling and re-telling, a revealing of body and heart, a shape moulded by experience and by audience; by people. Elaine and Arthur Aron state that a key pattern in the development of close interpersonal relationships is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic, self-disclosure. Perhaps this is what happens in that room, and as we hear his story, a relationship moulds itself in the spaces in between.

Cherry

Cherry, from Loose Cannon, is a verbatim piece focusing on virginity and sex. Why do we have a name for it? Why is it so important? Is it a social construct? Does it have to be special? Do vaginas always bleed the first time? It feels so important when you’re going through puberty, and even after it. Loose Cannon read stories from forums, audience members, and anonymous submissions. We get a picture of something that’s actually a very vulnerable and personal moment, and one that differs for everyone.

There’s a bed in the middle of the stage and behind it is a skrim, held up by a metal bar. There’s a projector in front of it, one of those old ones we used in school, and the lighting creates shadow and movement on the screen. It feels quite makeshift but in a lovely way. It’s like we are in a bedroom, and we’re telling secrets under a blanket fort. The audience are safe and included, and the actors too, although far more vulnerable than us.

I had two favourite moments. The first was when two of the performers (Layla Madanat and Mikey Tsoukkas) played their violins, manipulating and scoring the scene in front of them. The second was when Lizzie Annis sat in the middle of the bed, fairy lights extending out of her at five angles. The brutality of the story juxtaposed the lights and the gentle tone of her voice.

The sensitivity and simultaneous hilarity of the writing and performances are a massive credit to Wain and Brett, the directors. I loved this show, and would highly recommend it to anyone at the fringe, because we’re all virgins once right?

See Cherry @ theSpace 45 11th-26th August

These Walls

These Walls is a simple and clean play that follows the lives of three women who are all imprisoned by some kind of cage. Most of them are metaphorical cages, and they were all based around being a woman. Abortion, sexual assault, domestic abuse. This could have felt gratuitous, like all of these issues were thrown in for the sake of it. However the show was delicately handled, and the sensitive themes were shared with care.

It follows the lives of three women, their lives weaving together in small and precious ways. Isla Cowan’s script feels like a kind of lyrical naturalism, giving the piece a lovely poetic depth.

Eden (Becky Shepherdson), a seventeen year old aspiring to be a medic.

Chrissy (Imogen Osbourne), a twenty something dancer in a club

Althea (Cecily Pierce) a thirty something girlfriend.

All broken, all have something missing and are eventually at the expense of the men in their lives.

The set is interesting, a jagged metre of ‘wall’ separates the women from each other and keeps them to their own worlds. They do cross over these barriers but only very occasionally.

The acting was sensitive and played a careful balance between humour and devastation. The direction was a credit to the script, and each complimented each other well. There was perhaps a slight lack of drive in the show as a whole, but this seems to only be teething problems. The company have great potential, and I’m excited to see their next piece.