In a new weekly feature, Lyn Gardner will spotlight a show that should have opened this week – but has been forced to close due to the coronavirus lockdown – and speak to the creatives behind it. She will also explore a significant show that opened this week in a previous year
Created by Daniel Bye and Boff Whalley
What is it?
In story and song, Bye and Whalley celebrate the right to roam, including the 1932 Kinder Scout Trespass in the Peak District in which the workers of the industrial north broke the law and walked the peak to highlight the fact that walkers in England and Wales were denied access to open country because it was in private ownership. The trespass indirectly led to the opening up of the rights of way across the British countryside.
The show incorporates Bye and Whalley’s own experience of running, including Bye’s epic non-stop 82-mile run across the Forest of Bowland, Pendle and the Peak District, which he drily describes as “a long day out”. Bye adds: “It was twice as far as I’ve ever run before. You think that it will be hard on the legs and the sleep deprivation will kick in, but it’s so emotionally exhausting too, trying to find your way in the dark with only a compass takes a toll.”
Who are they:
Daniel Bye has made a series of singular shows exploring the world around us including Arthur – a show about our genetic and social inheritance, which he performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last summer with his six month baby son – and the 2015 show Going Viral, which has become highly topical and is available free online alongside several other of his shows.
Boff Whalley was a co-founder of the band Chumbawamba and his theatre work includes the musicals Riot, Rebellion and Bloody Insurrection, Big Society and We’re Not Going Back for Red Ladder.
Where was the show supposed to be?
It was opening at Shoreditch Town Hall on March 31 before undertaking a 40-date, three-month tour to York, Oxford, Lincoln, Alnwick, Farnham, Brigham, Kirksanton, Lancaster, Newcastle, Hull, Beaford, Harrogate, Salisbury, Havant, Poole, Burton-on-Trent, Luton, Banbury, Doncaster, Washington, Birmingham, Didcot, Reading, Stockton-on-Tees and Leeds.
How did Bye feel about the cancellation?
“I can’t predict the future, but because I had made Going Viral, I knew something about how viruses spread so, as early as February I was thinking that maybe some of the tour could be lost. As things became more uncertain, we had to keep working towards the opening in good faith. But the cancellation does feel like a punch in the stomach because it is the most extensive tour I’ve ever managed to book.”
At his most optimistic, Bye thinks there might be a chance the show may yet open before it was due to close at the end of June, but it also has some autumn dates. “The show will happen, but it will be a funding challenge because we will need some top-up money to make it happen. Everybody involved in the show has been paid, but when it does go out on tour some of those jobs will need to be done again.”
He adds: “The people I feel sorry for are emerging artists who don’t have the privilege of being able to book a 40-date tour of an unmade show – those whose opportunities will be affected because their work doesn’t get seen.” He points out that if lots of dates for shows that had been due to tour in the spring get rearranged for later in the year or in 2021, there will be fewer touring slots available for new as-yet-unmade work that people have been planning to make at the end of this year and into the next. “It’s already hard to book a tour and the current situation will make it harder still.”
What will he be doing during the shutdown?
“Sharing the childcare and trying to do some writing,” he says, and points to the fact that everybody feels differently about how the shutdown affects them. “Everyone is in a quite early stage in the grief cycle over what has happened and where they now find themselves. Some are in denial and some are exhibiting ferocious bursts of energy and trying to do things online. But such a short time has passed since everything changed and things are almost certainly going to get worse before they get better, so it’s important to prepare yourself for the long haul.”
ACE funding: £26,825
These Hills Are Ours is produced by ARC Stockton and co-commissioned by Beaford Arts, Eden Project, Lancaster Arts, Leeds Playhouse and Shoreditch Town Hall with support from Artsdepot.
Well, actually, it was a series of shows in the One on One Festival that ran at Battersea Arts Centre between March 30 and April 9. It may seem unthinkable in light of the current situation, but each one involved an intimate encounter with an artist. Lying flat on your back on a plank you could be pushed out of the BAC to commune alone with the stars; you could get naked and explore your fear and desire with artist Ansuman Biswas (I bottled that one) or you could sit opposite a stranger in a public place and through headphones follow instructions that created a shared story of love and loss.
This was theatre that was up close and very, very personal, created by artists who were interrogating what theatre could and might be. It followed in the wake of BAC’s hosting of Punchdrunk’s The Masque of the Red Death, a piece of immersive theatre that popularised the concept of the one-on-one theatre experience.
Ontroerend Goed, Ansuman Biswas, Adrian Howells, Lundahl and Seitl, Rotozaza, II Pixel Rosso, Tania El Khoury, Roos van Geffen, Patrick Killoran, David Rosenberg, Hannah Ringham, Melanie Wilson, Kirsty Harris, Deborah Pearson, Barnaby Stone, Ray Lee and Kazuko Hohki.
What did it involve?
The festival allowed audiences to pick from a menu of shows including ones that became notorious, such as Ontroerend Goed’s Internal, in which the contents of a private conversation you have with a seductive stranger are betrayed to a wider group. There were shows that have become legendary including Adrian Howells’ The Pleasure of Being: Washing, Feeding, Holding in which Howells washed the naked participant in a bath, fed them chocolate and held them wrapped in a towel.
“A day later, I’m still processing how I feel about Howells’s show,” wrote Dominic Maxwell in a review in The Times. “It wasn’t an epiphany, it wasn’t sexual, it was… nice. But afterwards I walked around with a feeling of release. People told me I glowed. And not with embarrassment.” Kate Bassett, in the Independent on Sunday, said: “We had a quiet giggle about this being pretty weird for an actor and a critic, as Howells cuddled me like a baby and stroked my head.”
What was its influence?
The economics of one-on-one performance means it has never gone mainstream, but there is an undoubted hunger for it, and in the wake of the current crisis, one that involves many self-isolating and spending long periods alone, there may be an even greater demand for theatre experiences that offer genuine intimacy.
Lyn Gardner is associate editor of The Stage. Read her latest column every Monday at: thestage.co.uk/columns/gardner