Sunday, February 03, 2013

Ferment is the 'artist development' strand of Bristol Old Vic and always a great chance to see experimental work in process ~ theatre arts as an extreme sport, you might say. I didn't see all 23 but the most extraordinary and awesome show for me was Just Because I Have A Launderette in My Thigh Doesn't Mean I'm Milkshake Wednesday, poet Byron Vincent's exploration of the 'fine line between insanity and genius', which pushes observational comedy of the former incontrovertibly into the territory of the latter. The show is mostly prerecorded or read, which seems at first odd for a performance poet whose unscripted fluencyis legendary, but against a clever filmic background this only enhances the impact of his material: his life-journey from an estate where if your tattoos were spelled right you got kicked as a pseudo-intellectual to incarceration on 5-minute suicide watch in an institution that, as his visiting mother blithely comments, would drive you bonkers if you weren't there already. "If a prison had sex with a hospital, the resultant wet patch would be the Psych ward" he sumarises, and ends with a list of side-effect warnings on medication aimed to lift the spirits ~ of which death seems one of the more benign ~ and concludes "Maybe it's better to engage with actual happiness and real suffering." He shuffles off while applause is still frantic, and when we emerge from the Studio theatre there's a January-sales-style rush for feedback forms & pens, and I wish I'd actually written more, but it's hard to explain why you hurt from laughing about the pain of being human.

Chasm of Sorrow gave us 35 minutes of a show in development by performance artist Andrew Dawson about the journey taken by Chekhov to the penal colony on the island of Sakhalin, off the coast of Siberia ~ "A prison the size of Scotland. Nobody went to Sakhalin voluntarily, until 1899, and that man was Anton Pavlovich Chekhov." It’s hard to know what genre to call this: not a play, but more than a slide-tape presentation, as Andrew Dawson narrates with affability and compassion ~ an odd combo, but effective ~ and evokes through physical movement the hard journeys and debilitating punitive constraints. Chekhov spent his sojourn interviewing all 10,000 of the island’s captives, 6 an hour, 17 hours a day: the resultant book didn’t create much stir in Moscow but the experience must have affected his plays, and undoubtedly shortened his life. His words, recorded by David Ricardo Pierce, were affecting but more profoundly moving were the portraits of prisoners with the same demon-facing eyes I saw in the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh last year.

Kilter, operating from a delivery van converted into a Mobile Sorting Office parked outside the theatre, provided light entertainment not only site-specific but audience-specific too. A trio of postal service conservationists sang on letter-related themes while we browsed correspondence on display and added to it by means provided ~ coloured pens and a trad typewriter. A charmingly nostalgic interlude, though I couldn’t assent to their rallying song: When was the last time you sent your love in an email? There are times when the medium isn't the message... :-*

The Second Coming Of Sue reintroduced the alter-ego of Dafydd Jones, a tragi-comic naif and virtuoso pianist whose tinklings and falsetto trills inspire irresistible chortling. The show lifts into another dimension when Sue confides chirpily “God came upon me early this year in the changing room at Debenhams. I was ever so pleased. He’s giving us another chance!” At her urging, the front row audience timidly pat the bump and after more banter Sue returns to the piano to sing a prayer of wonderment and hope for her new baby: Will you be a boy child, will be a lady, or will you be a bit of both, just like Paul O’Grady? which slowly becomes as exquisitely truthful of parental longings as it is absurdly funny. Sue is at her best when she demands & deserves more than your usual tranny. The Mrs-Thatcher-like control-freakery she exerts over her look-(not)alike band is great, as is her survival story as an unloved orphan ~ it’s the dark side that makes her farcical humour so brilliant. I hope that's the way this fantastic character continues to go.

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