This weekend I have had four diverse artistic experiences and they made me think about the experience of being at an event and the similarities to the state of dreaming where you are in a surreal dream world but are also awake and aware of your surroundings. For me my visit to the V&A, the British Museum, Arts Educational Schools and Battersea Arts Centre all added to my exploration.
First I gathered with a group of friends, newly found and longstanding, to explore the hidden world of Shunga Japanese erotic painting from the 17th and 18th century. At least it was hidden from my experience until the British Museum mounted a massive exhibition currently playing to packed houses. We explored the scrolls and hangings which showed every form of sexual act surrounded by interested onlookers carefully reading the interpretive panels to understand better. Difficult to enter the world of octopus and girl, master and slave, concubine and kabuki in a crowded gallery. I didn’t find myself in their dream world much…but I will make sure I never make love with a little pussy cat in the room. Interesting for such an erotically full frontal exhibition there was little choice in what we could buy as postcards or prints of anything we had seen. [I recommend reading Brian Sewell’s review in the Evening Standard – read it outloud in his accent for maximum effect. I also recommend Wagamama nearby to continue the Japanese evening with friends]
Saturday morning was a three show day and started in a tiny alcove in a disused staircase in the unused gallery area of the Victoria and Albert Museum. A walk through the magnificent Buddha galleries, up a steep and very empty stairway, and there was a tiny theatre space created by and for Metta Theatre to present 4 preview performances of Alice before re-grouping and setting off on a UK tour in the spring. I’m on the board of Metta and so try to see most shows and this one was a delight – and here my sense of lucid dreaming and theatre really kicked off. Two puppeteer actors, a pile of books, a small table cloth, a gun, a first world war gas mask, a lamp became in quick beautiful succession the real Alice at age 63 sheltering from the 1st world war in 1915, the little girl Alice shrinking into wonderland, a real young man in the trenches, the caterpillar, the white rabbit, the griffin, the mock turtle and the red queen. An hour of magical storytelling for adults to reenter their own wonderland of memories whilst being aware of the space and the company we were keeping. At the performance I saw the photographic department through the next room was in full operation and so the sound of trench warfare (c/o metta) was intersperced with bright flashes of light through gaps in the archway (c/o VandA) – theatre and life, dreaming and wakefulness, allowing us to be heart-opened by our ability to fill in the gaps as a single butterfly passed the shoulder of an old lady signifying the receipt of the real telegram announcing the death of her son. Beautiful. Thank you. Catch it on tour.
No time to dawdle or I’ll be late. From South Kensington to Turnham Green and a matinee performance of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s Soho Cinders directed by Luke Sheppard and choreographed by Drew McOnie. Arts Educational School foyer has been transformed into a space larger than most studio theatres, but we were in the old part of the building and a rain swept snaking queue took us out and into the old theatre where I had last seen an amazing Kiss of the Spiderwoman. George and Ants sure know how to give you earworms – beautiful haunting melodies that stay with you for days. Since I last saw the piece in its presentation at Soho Theatre it feels tighter and stronger. It was given a cracking production by a fine cast of Arts Ed students. I suspect they will all get picked up for work and there were a good selection of agents around me. I learned lots from one group talking loudly about their clients, the state of the nation, and the challenges of being an agent. I love a bit of gossip shared to a large audience who couldn’t help but listen. But once again the magic of a well crafted show took us into the fairytale world of the Cinderella story but with enough twists and turns to delight is as adults. The use of narrators to pre-present us with the setting for the next scene gave us a chance to hear and see the whole ensemble individually, and the show is a perfect one for drama school and young professionals. Once again the theatre took us into a dream world whilst leaving us awake to the audience around us.
And finally tube to Richmond, packed rugby crowd train back into Clapham Junction and along to Battersea Arts Centre to sample their burger special (great venue – recommend the hallumi) and joining more friends to see Fatherland by Nic Green. And beforehand we drink a toast to the souls who have passed through 120 years of Battersea Town Hall – tonight the bar of audiences were invited to raise a toast to a suffragette and champion of the women’s movement. And from there to a space to enter another dreamworld. This time the world of heritage, unknown father, dances and rituals of Scottish roots, and the primal sound of hypnotic repetitive drumming. We were invited into Nic Green’s world whilst being aware of our own wakefulness – not least because I and a few other men became part of her performance (not as scary as it sounds). Sometimes you enter a dream unsure of what it is you are experiencing and why we are in this person’s dream. Only after when I met her did I realize how much I needed to be there to see her work. Only after did I learn that we have an absolutely fundemenal thing in common – we both have only met our father once in our lives. She created Fatherland to explore that. I entered her dreamworld unaware that I would also be on an exploration. Oh and the single malt from Islay toasting her land and her journey and our experiences helped too.
Quite a 24hours of creative stuff. Theatre can get under your skin, can enchant, can confuse reality with fairytale, logic with imagination. It can be naked and painful, naked and playful, but hopefully at its best it reaches into your heart and soul and changes you.