Tag Archives: battersea arts centre

The Halfway Point

It’s my birthday. Hurrah! It also marks the point exactly halfway through the year, so now seems as good a time as any to look back at the last 6 months of theatre.  Somehow, even having seen 50 shows in 6 months, I am still (relatively) financially solvent. So here are my monthly highlights:

JANUARY
Taken at Midnight – Theatre Royal, Haymarket
Penelope Wilton was exceptional in the lead role as Irmgard, as she fiercely sought justice and the release of her son, Hans Litten. Her final words, delivered with such tenacity, haunted me for days after:

“I started screaming a long time ago. I’m screaming now. I don’t think I’m even half way through, yet.”

Taken at Midnight – Theatre Royal, Haymarket

FEBRUARY
The Wasp – Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
Simply an excellent piece of writing by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm which constantly pulled the rug from under you with clever twists and turns in the plot. You can see my full review here.

MARCH
Radiant Vermin – Soho Theatre
A blistering performance and a really witty satire on greed and the housing market, delivered at breakneck speed. A real tour de force. You can see my full review here.

Deposit – Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
I didn’t get time to write a review of this one, but another housing market play which explores the claustrophobia as two couples move into a one-bedroom flat for a year while they save up for a deposit. What will give first? Their relationships, their friendship or the dream of owning a property? Beautiful writing that really cuts to the bone.

Deposit – Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

APRIL
A Level Playing Field – Jermyn Street Theatre
Wickedly funny with a strong young cast, we see how a bunch of kids cope (and don’t cope) with the pressures of exams and the threat of failure. You can see my full review here.

The Money – Battersea Arts Centre
A really clever and unpredictable piece exploring the value of money – but you have just two hours to reach a unanimous agreement on how best to spend it (or it rolls over to the next group). As a result, I will be spending mine this coming weekend. You can see my full review here.

MAY
World Factory – Young Vic
A fascinating piece of game-theatre which throws audiences into the cut-throat business of running a Chinese garment factory. Every decision you make has a consequence, affecting the lives of your fictional workers. You will never look at your clothes in the same way again. You can see my full review here.

JUNE
buckets – Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
Another one I sadly didn’t get time to review, but a stunning and emotional little one-act play about seizing the day with both hands and living as if your life depended on it. 25 little moments that will make you evaluate your own life and happiness. Definitely didn’t cry at the end. Just something in my eye.

buckets – Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

Teddy – Southwark Playhouse
Another one I wish I’d had time to review. Stepping into the dingy gloom of Southwark Playhouse, it’s like being hurled back to grubby bomb-scarred streets of South London. Filled with explosive energy and an infectious foot-tapping 1950s-inspired original score, Teddy and Josie capture the birth of the teenager and show us what it is to be young and reckless.

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The Money – Battersea Arts Centre

How often do you go to the theatre and come home £80 richer than when you went in?

No, I haven’t been doing anything illegal or immoral.  It wasn’t even my idea for me to get the money in the first place.  Also, that money comes with conditions: I have signed a contract, promising to spend it in the way that the group has unanimously agreed.

Let’s go back to the beginning…

The Money is a piece of game-theatre constructed by a group called Kaleider. The premise is simple: you buy a ticket and the money from that goes in a pot.  The audience is split into Benefactors and Silent Witnesses, and the Benefactors have 2 hours to decide how to spend the money within the rules of the game.  They can spend it on anything they like – but their decision must be unanimous.  If an agreement cannot be reached in 2 hours, the group loses the money and it rolls over to the next show.  Silent Witnesses have the option to buy in at any point and become a Benefactor.

So what happens when 12 people – most of whom have never met each other – are given a pile of real money to spend, while 4 people quietly observe their decision-making process?

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Once we’re all seated in rows on either side of a table, there is a pounding at the chamber door and a security man walks in with a large sealed box and a hush descends.  A woman slowly lays items out on a tray, the silence only broken by the rifling of notes and the clanking of coins.  There is something about hearing the sound of money that adds pressure to the atmosphere – the responsibility of deciding how best to spend it.  We’re presented with £129.80 in cash, a pro forma and a set of rules.  A large digital clock on the wall stands at 2 hours and it begins its countdown.  Loads of time – or so we think.  The performers retreat to the back of the room and leave us to get on with it.  No guidance, no influence – it’s down to us.

Everyone is a little tentative at first, trying to establish how the show works, but slowly a conversation begins.  It doesn’t take long for one Benefactor to stump up another 20 pence to round it up to £130.  We relax and begin to talk more easily.  We’re fairly sure we want to do “something good” with the money – something charitable.  We’re sitting in a building which lost its Grand Hall in a fire just over 4 weeks ago.  But the words which keep cropping up are “a drop in the ocean” – how the value of money is relative to what it’s being spent on: a week’s worth of food shopping for a family, a pair of West End theatre tickets, a suit for a job interview.

Over the course of 90 minutes we meander through a very unstructured discussion – whether to try to do something with it as a lump sum, to split it between ourselves and each go and do something with it, how quickly it should be spent, who or what on, leave it for someone to find, spend it on ourselves, go and put it behind the bar downstairs (benefiting both ourselves and the BAC Scratch Bar), roll it over to the next group, do something silly and fun with it, donate it to charity, donate it to someone in the group (one person had recently had their bike stolen).  Many ideas and justifications were provided, but little in the way of consensus.

Ultimately you can draw parallels with many aspects of life and politics – how easily money can be wasted, how government departments have to fight over the same pot of money, how hard it is to get people to all agree, the desire to be the ones to decide how it is spent, because the next lot are an unknown quantity and the fear that they may be greedy with it, which is not how we as a group would like it to be used.  This is a very subtle piece of political theatre, which encourages you to explore what you really think, all the while being watched by your fellow Benefactors and the Silent Witnesses.  No one wants to be seen to be selfish or inconsiderate.

Before you know it, 90 minutes have gone and it’s heading towards crunch time – with an eye on the clock, we wanted to make a considered decision rather than a rushed one.  We go around the group with suggestions as diverse as giving to a charity which helps unemployed people to buy a suit for a job interview, paying for a balloon modeller to go to Great Ormond Street Hospital, throwing the money out the window and seeing who picks it up, and paying for the person with the oldest living relative in the group to go and see them and spend some time with them.

It was that last suggestion that struck a real chord with everyone.

After all that discussion, a suggestion mooted by BAC Artistic Director David Jubb in the last 10 minutes was THE ONE.  We had our consensus.  The pro forma was filled in, precise instructions written down and signed by all the Benefactors.  The performers struck a gong as the clock hit 00:00:00 and the decision was made.

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So, in an unexpected turn of events, the lovely people in the picture have paid for me (red skirt) and Katie (over my right shoulder) to go and visit our oldest relatives.  Her grandparents in Croydon and my grandmother in Devon, all in their nineties.  I have been planning to go down to see her, I’ve just needed to get it organised.

So Granny – I’m coming to see you.  I’m taking you out for lunch.  We’re going to go and eat ice cream on the seafront at Sidmouth.  We’re going to wander through the gardens at Jacob’s Ladder.  And if you dare to take out your purse at any point during my visit, you will have broken my contract with these 11 people.  I love you, and I don’t see you as often as I should.  Time with you is this money well spent.

I think you have to agree, I look pretty amazing for 90.

The Money is on until Friday 1st May 2015 at Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, Battersea, London, SW11 5TN. When you purchase your ticket, you will have the option to be either a Benefactor or a Silent Witness. Silent Witnesses can buy in and become a benefactor at any point during the 2 hours.  For tickets and more information, please go to https://www.bac.org.uk/content/35467/see_whats_on/whats_on/shows/the_money

An open letter of love to Battersea Arts Centre

Dear BAC,

I find myself standing in my kitchen crying my eyes out over the devastating pictures of your recent fire.  I don’t think anyone realises quite how much they love a place until a part of it goes up in flames.  I am so relieved to hear that all of your staff, performers, crews, neighbours and Pluto the cat are safe and being looked after. I’m saddened by the photos showing the extent of the damage, especially after all the hard work that has gone into the restoration of that part of the building.

The newly refurbished Grand Hall.

The Grand Hall completely destroyed. Photo by London Fire Brigade.

The Grand Hall completely destroyed.

After the trauma of my Theatre degree (the prospectus never made it clear we’d be studying the weirdest extremes of contemporary performance art) and having to re-sit one of my modules (and see more of this stuff) in order to graduate, I was very skeptical about my first visit to Battersea Arts Centre in 2004. I needn’t have been. Vacaxion! Vacaxion! was joyful lunacy from start to finish and my first real taste of promenade theatre. Crazy Horse Theatre Co took us on a summer holiday in Battersea, from the ‘departure lounge’ of Allders cafe to balmy sunshine of Ilo San Pacaya. It was the first proof I had that contemporary performance could be fun – funny even. But with a degree (eventually) achieved, I shut myself off from anything even a little unusual.  I’d had enough.

About 2 years ago, I’d started seeing plays that had a quirky twist – I wanted more stuff like this. It finally felt safe to go back to the unusual of my own volition. I knew exactly where to look first: BAC. As I stepped into your foyer, with the grand staircase and mosaic floor, it felt strangely like coming home. It was warm and welcoming, with a real buzzy atmosphere. I couldn’t have timed it better: It was your 120th birthday and the most amazing party in every conceivable space throughout the building.  You fed me cake and introduced me to Hackney Colliery Band.  We celebrated the fact that you’d have guardianship of the building for the next 120 years.

In the last 18 months, I have explored rooms – both real and imaginary – in Rebels and Rubble and twice in The Unbuilt Room.  I have been snowed on, crawled around on my hands and knees, and made lightbulbs in The Good Neighbour.  I’ve been talked into holding hands with strangers by a transistor radio sitting on a chair in When We Embraced.  I’ve sat in total darkness and listened to some of the most exquisite sound design in Ring.  I have been bewitched by the choreography of Missing when I visited last Friday.  I have kicked myself endlessly for missing out on 9 years of productions.

I have got lost in your rabbit warren of endless corridors.  I have stood and just looked at curious bits of the building in all its crumbling beauty, history oozing out of the cracks.  Your bee-themed mosaic floors never fail to make me smile.  I’ve thrown money into buckets to go towards your restoration fund.  I have sat amongst excited chatter in your Scratch Bar.  I’ve made new friends in the space of an evening.  I’ve sat with Pluto nuzzling his face into my shins (then felt cheated on when he’s gone off to flirt with someone else).  There have been evenings where it has been a huge wrench to leave to get the last train home.  You have always been more than just a building – it just happens to be in one of the most beautiful buildings in South London.

The glass-domed octagonal atrium near the Grand Hall.  The words written around the top are from Shakespeare’s Richard II: “The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation: that away, men are but gilded loam or painted clay. A jewel in a ten-times-barr’d-up chest is a bold spirit in a loyal breast.”

When I heard the awful news yesterday afternoon, it broke my heart.  I left work, sat on a train going through Clapham Junction, staring out the window, dreading the moment I would see it for myself.  As we passed at 6pm, the roof was clearly gone and smoke was billowing into the sky.  There were still pockets of flames in the corners.  Other people on the train looked, but didn’t fully understand much more than that a large building was on fire.  I could smell the smoke when the doors opened.

For some time now, you have perhaps been my favourite arts venue.  BAC has a heart and a soul that only ever seeks to welcome in more and more people – you cherish, nurture and inspire. You provide a safe space in which to experiment – to try things, get it wrong and then put it right.  You love your community and your community love you.  This is evident in the mass outpouring of support on social media from across the theatre and arts spectrum.  You have entertained me, challenged me and nourished my passion for the arts.  You’ve been there with something ingenious when I’ve wanted to go and see something on the spur of the moment.  Until yesterday, I don’t think I had realised how much a part of my life you have become.

I am so glad that everyone’s alright.  I am relieved that a lot of the building is unharmed.  I cried again when I found out that the London Fire Brigade had managed to save your domed atrium (last Friday I stood in there for a good few minutes just taking in what a wonderful space it was).  I am reassured by your stoic response to this tragedy.  I am heartened by the fact that in less than 24 hours, over £18,000 of donations have poured in to help rebuild your wonderful theatre. I am smiling at the fact that people are already starting to bounce back and to find a way forward.

In December 2013, I came to see your Christmas show The Good Neighbour – your actors told the story of George Neighbour, a man who bravely helped others out from the fire at Arding & Hobbs in 1909, but died when the floor gave way beneath him.  I thought of that story as I walked past the A&H building (now Debenhams) on my way up to you last Friday.  I remember the whole audience being asked to say together “Be strong, George! Have courage, George!”.  It was a truly memorable evening.

So be strong, and have courage.  We’ll be back when you’re next ready to open your doors.  I cannot wait to return.

With deepest love,

Gail xxx

For anyone wanting to donate to the cause, please give what you can to: https://www.nationalfundingscheme.org/battersea-arts-centre/BAC012#.VQQqQPmsWnk

The Good Neighbour – Battersea Arts Centre

On the weekend, I found myself back at the Battersea Arts Centre, surrounded by various adults and some very excitable children.  In December 2012, the BAC played host to The Good Neighbour and it was so successful that people begged them to put it on again in 2013.  So I went along to see what all the fuss was about.  George Neighbour is a young man who lives in BAC and has lost his memory (and is terrified of Christmas and all things Christmassy – and heights, and stairs, and windows…. and just about everything).  Aside from the name on his apron and meeting Queen Victoria, he knows nothing about himself; but he believes the clues to his identity all lie hidden in BAC, so it’s up to us to be ‘very brave’ and find them for him.

We are split into groups with a numbered sticker and assigned a guide to lead us through the building, with all groups taking a different route (although you run into each other quite frequently) and off we go on our theatrical adventure.  The whole format is rather more aimed at children than it is at adults, but is still good fun.  The kids around me threw themselves into the task with great enthusiasm and were absolutely enraptured with the whole concept.

We trailed up and down stairs and crawled through tunnels, searched for bits of paper with instructions and met various characters along the way, each with a small snippet of information which might help us recover George’s lost memory.  At one point, we even got to make lightbulbs in the basement (a line of D batteries, alligator clips, lead filaments and a glass jar) – an experiment that I haven’t done since secondary school!  In the main council chamber, there was a large map on the floor which kids and adults alike were encouraged to draw on with chalk with all the things they’d found out.

But there were also aspects which encouraged us to think about our own memories. One of my favourite rooms that we visited was home to character The Momentologist – he is surrounded by glass jars full of water, all representing the moments in people’s lives; there’s a great analogy here for adults and children alike in that everyone has a jar, but it’s up to you to fill it memories and it’s never too late to start.  He held up an empty jar to say one of the most profound things out of the whole show: “This lady’s jar is empty.  She won’t go outside in case something falls out of the sky and hits her on the head… and she won’t let herself fall in love in case her heart gets broken.” As we all walked out of the room, there was a great contrast between the uncontainable enthusiasm of the children and some very quietly reflective adults.

At the finale we all got to share our findings (my highlight of the evening was the child vividly telling us about “the… the funny lady! And she EXPLODED!!!”). Maybe its that I’ve been spoilt with other immersive theatre productions where you can wander wherever you like, but not everyone sees every room on their route (and if you come back, I’m not sure how you can guarantee being put on a route to see the rooms you missed last time). I for one would’ve liked to see the funny exploding lady.

George’s missing identity is revealed and it is with bittersweet amazement that we find out the truth about him.  There is a sad ending to the story, but it is told in such a way as to be life-affirming rather than upsetting – one hell of a challenge when some of the youngest in the audience were 6-year-olds.  And what a good, brave and kind Neighbour he was.

‘The Good Neighbour’ is on until Saturday 4th January 2014 at Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London, SW11 5TN.  Suitable for ages 6 and up. For information and tickets, go to https://www.bac.org.uk/content/29759/see_whats_on/current_shows/tuck_in/the_good_neighbour

‘Rebels & Rubble’ and ‘The Unbuilt Room’ – Battersea Arts Centre

It’s been about 9 years since I last visited Battersea Arts Centre.  In need of some ‘alternative’ performance viewing to talk about in an essay for my downright weird university course, my mum and I toddled off to see ‘Vacaxion Vacaxion’ by Crazy Horse and ‘Attempts on her Life’ by Martin Crimp.  The former was sheer brilliance, the latter a series of uninspiring monologues.  With essay written, I consigned all forms of contemporary performance to the “never again” box.

But slowly, with productions such as The Factory Hamlet, ‘Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World’ by Bad Physics and most recently, ‘The Drowned Man’ by Punchdrunk, I have found myself at ease with seeing the more unusual things again, with a sense of curiosity rather than dread.  It was pure coincidence that I had booked tickets for performances on the very night that BAC were celebrating not only the building’s 120th birthday, but also getting the rights to the building for another 120 years.  Just think – this haven of boundless creativity will be in safe hands until at least 2133.

Rebels & Rubble – by Il Pixel Rosso

This is an interactive audio-visual tour of the fictional tumultuous history of Battersea Arts Centre.  Starting in the foyer, I was given a pair of headphones and video goggles (20/20 vision or contact lenses essential!  Afraid they’re not particularly comfortable to wear) and led to the foot of the grand marble steps.  This is a solo affair; it is just you and a guide whose primary function is to gently steer you through the tour.

It’s hard to describe, but imagine that you have a camera at eye level looking down and filming your own feet as you walk about – this is what you have to follow.  It’s a bit odd at first and it takes a bit of a leap of faith to walk in the prescribed footsteps (especially in a busy, noisy building where you initially feel quite self-conscious and the first thing they want you to do is climb a flight of stairs), but your guide ensures your safety and you soon get absorbed in the story and following the instructions. It’s an odd juxtaposition watching a suffragette running through an empty hallway when minutes before you’ve seen it crowded with people.  It reminded me partly of the kids’ TV show ‘Knightmare’ (being simultaneously both the helmetted child in the empty room AND the kids in the dungeon watching the screen).

The further you walk, the more implicitly you have to trust your guide.  What feels like walking through a series of doors as you go from one period of time to another, means that you lose track of real time and although your eyes and ears know where you are in the story, your body is quite disorientated.  When I took the goggles off at the end I was amazed at how little distance I had really travelled.

I had some time to spare between performances so I was able to watch someone else go through the experience.  It was reassuring to see that the guide takes very good care of you, helping you with steps and keeping other people from bumping into you as well as handing you various props and creating various effects.

The Unbuilt Room – by Seth Kriebel

This is a piece of immersive theatre billed as being about how places create memories and memories create places.  But it’s so much more than that.  This is a riff on those early text-based computer games which give you options to go north/south or go up/down stairs and rely on using your imagination to bring the game to life.  It does of course help that the game is set in the BAC.

In the foyer, we are formed into a team of 6 (based on the time on your ticket) and sent to a small room which contains 8 chairs and our gamesmaster, Seth.  We are encouraged to talk to each other and he goes around the circle as each of us take a ‘turn’.  He sets the scene of us standing on the outside steps of the building; his voice bright yet mechanical (rather like Kryten from Red Dwarf) describes every location and our options:  “Foyer.  You are standing in a mosaic tiled room with a grand staircase going up, a corridor that goes north and a door to a spiral staircase that goes down.  You can go up, down or North.   What would you like to do?”

Thankfully my team (whom I’d never met before) were all up for working together and with every room we mapped out the geography of the building.  Within minutes of starting, everyone was leaning in, desperate to catch every snippet of information that might be useful as we explored the depths of the basement.  When returning to a room, descriptions were said aloud with the same meticulous delivery every single time, making it almost comical.

We kept going round and round in circles and just as we had made a breakthrough, with almost poetic timing, our allocated 20 minute slot was up and we were all desperate to find out where we could go next!  Immediately after, a few of us went exploring the building to find the hallowed spiral staircase that led down to many – possibly fictional? – rooms and undiscovered places.  It was nowhere to be seen.

A wonderfully structured way to let your imagination run wild and go on an adventure in an alternate reality.  I would absolutely go back for second helpings of this one in a heartbeat.

‘Rebels & Rubble’ and ‘The Unbuilt Room’ are on at the Battersea Arts Centre until Saturday 23rd November.  Both shows are £5.00 each and have various time slots throughout the evening. For information and tickets, go to https://www.bac.org.uk/content_category/1883/see_whats_on/current_shows