Monday 12 July 2010

One On One Festival (BAC) - mindblowing

*** Edit, February 2011 - if you're thinking about going to the 2011 One-on-One Festival, you might not want to read this, because it's a little bit spoilerish. Suffice to say that the essential shows I saw last time, and which are coming back, are the two Ontroerend Goed shows ("Internal" and "A Game of You"), "Rotating in a Room of Images" and "Rendez-Vous", all of which are outstanding ***

For the umpteenth time I scurried up the stairs to the Yellow block and chattered senselessly at the staff about how I'd been looking forward to this for WEEKS and how excited I was and how the show 'd just seen was nuts and how you've got to...they indulged me patiently. A fair few people seemed as wired as I was. Two years in the making, the One on One Festival is a mammoth project that the Battersea Arts Centre have put together, and confirms for me why it's the most exciting venue in London. A series of loosely related projects, exhibits, installations and performances all based around the concept of a one-person audience: a show created especially for you. I sensed that this might be an opportunity to throw off the shackles and let myself go. I wasn't disappointed. While the real reason I was there was to see my heroes, Belgian geniuses Ontroerend Goed (and I'm about to shell out another £22.50 to see their other show, along with whatever else I missed) but the rest was an unknown quantity. I was not disappointed.

Every inch of the space is used, including all the foyer and bar areas. More than anywhere else in London, it reminded me of being in Edinburgh during in Festival time. Every other person seemed to be either BAC staff, volunteers or a performer. The staff were all great banter, especially the box office girls who had a hellishly complicated system to navigate and still seemed pretty chipper, happy to help greedy people like me who wanted to see show after show, on top of our paid-for allocation. It seemed a shame to be a mere paying punter - as usual in these festival situations, I felt a little wistful that my career path has taken an infinitely less interesting turn.

As for the shows: you just need to relax, let yourself get into the spirit of things and they range from sweet to extraordinary. A fabulous project from BAC - start preparing for another one in two years' time please. Every bit as I expected. And then some. Go, quick. I'm on the phone to the box office to get my second ticket as I type.

Other reviews worth reading here:
Matt Boothman
What's On Stage

Through the wardrobe (Breathe) ***

My first encounter of the evening. The greatest thrill came at the start: to be sat in the dark, armed only with a failing torch, and faced with a knee-high door bearing the placard "Enter when you hear the knock." The adrenaline rushed as I waited for the knock. Once inside, it was tmie to explore, to choose, and to dress. It was a charming encounter - tempered only by the fact that it felt rather hurried when I would have been happy to stay longer.

The Soldier's Song (Quarantine) ***

I think I went into the karaoke shack with the wrong state of mind. I belted out "Please Release Me" with nobody but an army sergeant for company. It was a lot of fun, but I think I was too drained by the time I got to it to get myself up for anything more.

Drag Mountain (Thom Shaw) ***

Theatrically limp (perhaps I couldn't get properly into the "become an agent of gender resistance"?) but visually stunning: there is something truly regal about this drag queen. My creativity - not to mention knot-tying - was utterly embarrassing.

It's Your Film (Stan's Cafe) ***

The ultimate one-on-one experience: a film produced live, and exclusively for one person. Through a screen-sized peephole, two white-collar workers - or are they gangsters? - are on the hunt for someone. With Orson Wellesian cool, they smoke, sling their jackets over their shoulders, smoulder and pout. Will they find their quarry?

You me nothing (Franko B) ***

An ideal warmup to get you to "free your mind". It's an installation where you are the key element. What is there? Nothing. What can you do? Very little. I managed to work myself into an agitated state of mind where the most obvious thing that you would do with the key prop...I just couldn't bring myself to do it. When I finally forced myself to do it, I knew my time in the exhibit was over.

A little bit of a beautiful thing (Barnaby Stone) ****

This one only really grabbed me afterwards. A log which has been through the wars - perhaps literally. Once it had a life. Then it died, and had a new, functional life. Then it had a third life - for 400 years. Now, the log is retiring from active service - with one final adventure.

Barnaby Stone tells the story of the beaten up lump of wood. From the far end of the sanitary corridor (no, really) it seems like he is raping the log with tools: sanders, hammers, pegs. Only at the end can you appreciate just how this log's final journey is to become something of beauty and delicacy that you jsut could not imagine from looking at it.

One key element of being the only member of the audience is that the normal rules of behaviour can be broken. As a regular theatre-goer, it's my instinct to keep my trap shut throughout, applaud at the end and go on my merry way. When there are no other audience members to disturb, can those rules be broken? I found it difficult. As a result, in this show and others, I mainly sat in lumpen silence. I grabbed my present, muttered thanks and scuttled out. I wish I'd shown a bit more gratitude, both to Barnaby and all the other performers.

Talking of shows where you don't quite know how to behave...

Internal (Ontroerend Goed) ****

My head is full of questions.

In the summer of 2007, in a tiny room in Edinburgh, I allowed myself to be taken over by hands unseen, bound and blindfolded, put in a wheelchair, then controlled, manipulated and manhandled for a terrifying yet exhilarating twenty minutes that left me in tatters. The focal point of the evening was a moment on a bed. A voice whispered sweet nothings in my ear in the blackness. It was the first time in what seemed ages that I had contact with a real human being. The voice asked me what I thought. I said that at that moment in time, she was my only friend.

Should I be doing this?

Fast forward three years. I am sitting in a private booth sharing a table - and some vodka - with a stunning girl whose eyes punctured my defences from six inches away. I was mesmerised. I babbled about idioms and dams for a while. I told her about the moment on the bed.

If we weren't in a performance, would we...

"That was me."

Isn't she a great actor. I'm supposed to think these thoughts, aren't I?

I nearly keeled over. That voice had stuck with me all that time, haunted me. And now here she is holding my hand.

In another life, would I...

Ontroerend Goed are masters of finding your weak points. Within minutes, she knew everything about me. In a flash our date was over and we were sharing our experiences in a group post-dating counselling session. No punches were pulled. Some uncomfortable truths came out. Questions were asked. Sophie looked at me again. "Did we click?"

Should I have kissed her properly?

The brilliance of this show is that if you can let yourself go, you'll be cast into a horrible illusion - no, delusion. You'll be elevated to a status you're utterly unworthy of, then become the plaything of a few young Belgians, and tossed away again. The delusion that you are something special is brilliantly executed. I believe professional prostitutes work in the same way. For just a moment, you wonder if the money you paid has anything to do with this. Questions that really shouldn't be asked start flashing across your mind.

What would my girlfriend...

The performers' ability to find your weaknesses and prey on them is uncanny and scary. The delusions are kept up until the end, leaving a disturbing aftertaste. Watching the video trailer afterwards gives a hint. The performers pierce the camera with their eyes and explain why they are searching. Only at the end, a voice off-camera shouts "because you're a slut" and the actor dissolves into giggles. The spell is broken; the session with the prostitute is over and it's time to hand over the cash, before she goes in search of a new punter. Next morning, I was reminded of a song which I played over and over on my way to work: Irene Kral - Is It Over Baby? "Once you told me that our love would never I have to wonder if it all was just a lie...Is it over baby? Have you got a date with someone new?"

Am I falling in love with her? (That one's easy. Yes - three times over).

I'll be back for part three of the trilogy , "A Game Of You" this week. Incidentally, I wonder if Ontroerend's latest show, "Teenage Riot" will make it to BAC - if so, I bet it'll be cheaper than the £19 the Traverse are charging in Edinburgh.


Rotating in a room of images (Lundahl & Seitl) *****

By a distance, the most polished and sophisticated show that I saw at the festival, and pound-for-pound, my favourite of the whole lot. Rotating in a room of images is a full-on sensual experience. It's also downright creepy - shades of horror films, but the best comparison for me would be Lucy M Boston's books about The Children of Green Knowe. In complete darkness, with all sounds blacked out, a child's voice in my head. Imploring, commanding, reassuring. I found myself taking steps through the void. The voice is at once in front and behind, above, below, it is all around. "I am here with you." A hand guides you, leading, cajoling. You are in The Room. Now there is a screen. I see myself projected. There are footsteps behind me. Multiple footsteps. "We are behind you." I spin around. Nothing. I spin back in front. Ghostly figures from another era are with me on the screen. are they my ancestors? Who have I got mixed up with? Where am I? When am I? The ride is not finished. There is a glimpse of another world. Just a glimpse - tantalising but spinetingling. Then a shaft of light and a door leading to the 2D world. Rotating in a room of images is a extraordinary, mind-altering experience - let yourself go and allow yourself to be taken through time and space to somewhere forgotten. Lundahl & Seitl are the closest I've come to another Ontroerend Goed moment - that's a compliment of the highest order. Creepy, exhilarating, magnificent.

Rendez-Vous (Villanella/Hanneke Paauwe) *****

You may confront your greatest fear in this show. I thought my greatest fear was electric shocks (Ray Lee's "Electric" was off-limits for me). I went into Rendez-Vous and was presented with the prospect of my own death. "This is the end of the journey."

I had still not faced my greatest fear.

A figure in white, reassuring words, a welcoming smile. This isn't so bad after all. I know exactly how I'll leave this world, by the way; the strings will fade away at the end of the Adagietto of Mahler's Fifth Symphony, and at the precise moment where I cease to exist, the pure horn note at the start of the final movement will sound. I know this will happen. If I get invited to heaven, then it'll be here (hence my prattling to Sophie about damming up streams). Maybe Hanneke will be there to greet me. But then, a life's retrospective.

I faced questions about what I'd achieved. What I had done. Who had I influenced. Who had I changed. Whose lives had I made better. Had I done everything I set out to do. Would people cry for me. Would anyone remember me.

Are you afraid of death?

I was facing my greatest fear. Not of death, not even of being forgotten - although that was pretty painful. My own answers to the questions did not make for a comfortable analysis. Worst of all: I have done nothing to be proud of. I need to rectify this, do something to be proud of, change somebody's life. But I am about to die. It is too late.

Suddenly, I was in pieces. My imbecile grin as I left, and casual "Yeah, it was wicked" to the ushers, managed to stifle the tears.

I didn't open the envelope until I was nearly home. Kidney punch. But at least a reminder that I've still got time. This is how it ends...

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