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Back at the start of September, Corinne and I found ourselves in Shunt Vaults as the über blogger part of Write By Numbers has already attested to. We specifically went to see a piece by some friends of ours (by the company Made in China) and it was exhilarating and relieving that their piece was by far the best thing we saw in the Vaults (exhilarating, because it is always pleasing to see friends doing so well, and relieving, as you don’t have the conundrum of ‘to lie or not to lie’ if they are not doing so well).
What really got me thinking about this piece however, are the demands and lengths the incredible performer went to achieve her performance: Cycling non stop on an exercise for 25 minutes whilst delivering a monologue. And every few minutes giving bursts of acceleration as the performer peddles as fast as they can. And in said bursts they complete tasks. And not simple things like, not dying of cardiac arrest, but tasks like applying make-up. Changing clothes. Necking a WHOLE bottle of champagne (I’m being serious). Eating a whole packet of chocolate digestives (if shoving them into your mouth all at once can be considered eating). All of which was done whilst riding an exercise bike extremely fast (I felt the need to reiterate that point). In the lulls of speed the performer had to concentrate on the small matter of delivering their monologue.
Suffice to say, all of the above was highly impressive. So much so that I can honestly say the virtuosity, the sheer ability, the commitment – however you wish to quantify – of the performer is what made this performance for me. The content was funny, well written and meaningful but it was the lengths the performer went to that made the performance. In fact, as my title suggests, the performer WAS the performance. Why is it that seeing someone push themselves to what we perceive as their physical and mental limits so enrapturing? Is it that we are really fascinated in seeing people: Struggle? Sweat? Suffer? Fail?
When I have my writer head on, stretching the boundaries and pushing the envelope of what performers can do doesn’t often occur in my thinking. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever considered writing a stage direction that reads something like: and the actor does double back flips around the stage for forty minutes (which isn’t to say that this was the case with this piece, as it was clearly devised etc, but just except my hyperbole for the time being). Such practice may not have necessarily occurred in the writer segment of my brain before, but it most certainly will do now. At least as an option.
Write By Numbers
Charlie and I are sitting deep under London Bridge Station in Shunt Lounge. We’re about to watch a show which involves a marshmallow and a teddy bear. I’m rather hoping that I might get a marshmallow*.
The Stage Manager closes the black curtains to my right. That’s it; we’re contained in the bowels of the world.
“We’re trapped now!” Charlie exclaims. “Maybe forever”.
I consider this for a moment.
“There are worse places to be forced to spend eternity”.
And oh, there are. Because Shunt Lounge is the type of place where you just stumble upon the unexpected (last night: a room full of taxidermy which we were led to by a path of candles, the candles making me think of sinister fairytale entrapment). It’s the kind of place where I come out with fifteen new ideas for shows which I want to create (and that’s not just the epic portions of vodka speaking). It’s a space that just crackles with creativity and insanity and weirdness and all those other things that make it very special indeed.
But it’s not going to be there much longer what with the London Bridge redevelopment taking over (I heard a rumour – which I hope to be unfounded – that it is to be filled in with concrete as foundations for whatever it is that is being built on top of it. Talk about a flippin’ metaphor). There’s a new venue in Bermondsey Street which I’m sure will be as wonderful and ramshackle as the London Bridge vaults by the time that Shunt have got their hands on it but, well…I’ll miss the magic of this place.
*I didn’t. Bah.