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Sprint 2016 review at Camden People’s Theatre – ‘a vital seedbed for emerging artists’

Thom Jordan in Thorn at Camden People's Theatre, London. Thom Jordan in Thorn at Camden People's Theatre, London.
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It’s impossible to condense or categorise Camden People’s Theatre’s Sprint Festival. From the 40 odd shows (some of them very odd in fact) themes emerge and flicker and fade. There are shows about growing up and growing old, about single parenthood, religion, racism. And the whole festival is rounded with a rave. But there are two constants: that political and social themes inhere throughout; and that Sprint is a vital, nourishing seedbed for bold, new and emerging artists.

In Thom Jordan’s show Thorn, biography and fiction elide as he takes us on the autobiographical journey of a young evangelical preacher. It takes maybe 40 of the 50 minutes to see why he was nominated for Best Emerging Artist at the Adelaide Fringe. Thorn is a deceptive show, tightly woven, designed to convince its audience of its earnest truth. But all the innocence and naivety that is the impression at the beginning disappears and the darker, less godly side of preaching is exposed.

What Thorn captures expertly is the allure of faith and the intoxication that evangelism can offer – the sense of community, the reassurance, the excitement, the adrenaline. It’s impossible to tell whether Jordan is preaching or performing but, the show suggests, maybe there’s no difference. Layers of narrative peel slowly back as the truth and lies collide, until our sympathy fades altogether.

On the same night, and in extraordinary contrast, is Gur arie piepskovitz’s montage piece Don’t Fuck with My Unicorn. It starts with a Tennessee Williams intervention as a deliberately po-faced re-enactment of The Glass Menagerie devolves into brash and grotesque sounds and colours. Performed by MA students from Goldsmiths, the piece has a flavour of A-level devised work about it, but its thrust is cuttingly satirical.

From Katy Perry to Lecoq, the base world of nipslips and Vines is fused with high art to suggest that the distinction is completely spurious. What’s the difference between someone injecting their arse with silicon and a performance by Marina Abramovic? Don’t Fuck with My Unicorn is a bewildering celebration of those quirks – like a unicorn’s horn – that make us unique, and a skewering of contemporary culture at every level.

Finally, Grown Up, created by Gameshow and Emily Lim (who directed Brainstorm at the National’s Temporary Theatre) poses a list of questions from young children to adults who live and work near CPT. The responses are drafted into a script and performed by a child as part of a scratch performance for what will be an ongoing process. Though nascent, it’s a beautiful piece of innocent curiosity and accidental profundity that reveals both the inner child in grown ups, and the emerging adult in children. It may be 20 years old this year, but Sprint is still running full tilt.

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