Back to the bean bag

Last Saturday, I once again visited London – missing out on further opening festivities at Studio 144 (my persistent inability to be in two places at once is growing increasingly frustrating) – for the second time in this, the briefest of months.  Needless to say, there were Southampton connections to all of my planned activities – along with the usual seeking out of novelty to bring you, dear readers, (slightly less un)original content.

The first reason to head to the capital was to see Angry! at the Southwark Playhouse, which was directed by a friend.  This has proved a rather tricky beast to describe and it has taken me a full week to arrange my thoughts into a usable (and shareable) order.  To start with, it is not a single play or narrative but rather six individual, gender-neutral playlets of varying length and tone.  The are two actors – Georgie and Tyrone – one female, one male; one white, one black.  After the thumping opening music has boosted a chap’s heat rate to dangerously high levels, they appear together (for the only time) confronting each other.  Thereafter, they take alternate playlets: for my performance Georgie starred in 1, 3 & 5 and Tyrone in 2,4 and 6 but this alternates from performance to performance.  While the playlets are written to be gender neutral, we the audience bring a whole cruise ship’s worth of personal, historical and societal baggage which means that the specific actor appearing in each has an impact on one’s emotional response.  This is particularly strong in 1, where for me the confrontation was around the male gaze – and my insecurity about never having seen the film Bambi – but which would have been quite different with Tyrone on stage.

My feeling is that the first three playlets are (or could be) set in the real world whereas the last three are set in a counter-factual or fantastical world – and it is (just) possible that they share a common world.  Playlets 2 and 4 are brief and tend to the comic, albeit darkly comic for playlet 4.  Playlet 5 has the feel of a dream where each time the protagonist re-examines the light, it changes and with it the whole scene changes (my mind was probably alone in wandering towards Bagpuss).  Playlets 3 and 6 are the longest and have the strongest narrative element.  Playlet 6 is particularly heart-rending – and most obviously speaks to current world events – and because of its powerful, emotional charge, along the fact that it comes last and I’m human (unless and until you can prove otherwise), represented the majority of the impression which I was left with when the play finished.

The staging is relatively simple, with interesting use of lighting – which I am convinced showed shooting stars at one point (or I may have imagined that).  The acting was strong and powerful.  Embarrassingly, I don’t know enough about direction to comment on it – but it certainly seemed to work well with the staging in the round.

Even now, I am still trying to decide whether there were any links or common themes between the playlets, but I am starting to be convinced that there weren’t.  This made the play an odd experience with dramatic shifts in tone, but without any obvious reasons for them beyond that we are now in the next playlet in the anthology.  Each playlet was very dense with language and so there was something of the poetry collection about the whole piece.  Given how much thought it has forced me to devote to it over the past week and the range of emotional responses the playlets generated in me, I cannot deny that it was a very powerful – sometimes distressing – 90 minutes and I am really glad I went: something which I might not have done without the personal connection.  However, I can understand the mixed reactions it has received.

The rest of my day was less challenging emotionally as I raced up to King’s Place to catch a pair of concerts staged by the hang player (and percussionist) Manu Delago (who I first saw at the Turner Sims in Southampton) and some of his friends.  These were both beautiful, evocative sessions falling into a space somewhere between jazz, modern classical and experimental music.  The second was in the glorious space of Hall 1 with a very conventional concert layout.  I think Hall 1 at King’s Place may be my favourite venue for chamber music – having wrested that crown form the City Recital Hall in Sydney (and being a lot more geographically convenient).

However, the first concert – Inside a Human Clock – was a single piece lasting exactly an hour (OK, 59 minutes and 48 seconds – but it does show what good time professional musicians can keep, in marked contrast to the author) and was staged very differently.  The audience sat in concentric circles in the middle and the musicians (or most of them) moved around the outside of the circle.  For some of the participants, this was quite a long walk – or so I thought, until I remembered that Manu quite often drags his friends up an Alp (on foot, with their instruments) to perform, so it probably felt like an easy option.  Within the circle of chairs was a huge pile of bean bags which the audience were also encouraged to recline on during the concert: sadly, no-one was offering peeled grapes…

I was only the second arrival and the staff manning the hall must have seen something in my eye or demeanour that suggested that I might be “up for it”.  I shall continue to insist (until my dying day) that they encouraged me to hurl myself, with wild abandon, into the pile of bean bags: it was not, repeat not, my idea!  As you might imagine, I was all too easily led astray and can assure you that my leap into the pulse-filled unknown was just as much fun as you would imagine.  The only slight downside was I then found myself slightly trapped in a sea of beanbags and only through wild flailing was able to free myself – or at least regain a somewhat upright posture.  Clearly, I spent the actual performance reclining on a great mound of bean bags like one of the more debauched Roman emperors (no horses were harmed in the making of this post).  Eventually, a few others joined me in my bean-bagged splendour: I am nothing if not a trend-setter (so, very much a void).  The concert itself was a really unusual and enjoyable experience, and captured something beautiful in the idea of clocks and the passage of time.  It was possible one of the rare occasions I came close to mindfulness, rather than just being full of mind as it my normal state.  I loved the format of the gig but can see that it would be difficult to practically perform a work requiring a full orchestra: while double-basses did circle us slowly, I think  a harp, celesta or the timpani would have struggled (then again, we do have casters).


Heliogabalus reborn?  He certainly has all the selfie-taking ability of an ancient Roman…

Needless to day, I now believe all concerts should be savoured while reclining on a sea (or at least small lake) of bean bags – science just needs to come up with the silent bean (it already has the musical bean covered: both in the wind and percussion sections of the orchestra) – and am seriously considering replacing all my chairs at home with beanbags.  Future visitors chez moi, you have been warned!

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