London: a love-hate relationship

London. Some love it, some hate it. I’m currently feeling a bit of both.

Having moved to Putney a few months ago, I am still feeling my way around this city. When I first arrived I hated the place – the grey, the swarms of people, the lack of space, lack of air. Bit by bit, the colour has gradually been working its way in, and I now have a love-hate relationship with my new home.

The first thing that struck me when I moved here was the lack of sky. I miss walking along the beach in Portsmouth, sea blending into sky, stretching overhead in a vast sheet of blue. Because of this it feels like there’s no air. Some days I feel so suffocated I want to run and run until I find a green field and can breathe again.

There’s a particular pace to London life, and joining the millions of people pouring out of trains and onto pavements and in and out of the underground, I feel like a worker ant in a vast colony, a tiny dot amongst the masses. This churning and rippling, and everyone having something to do and somewhere to go, makes the city feel like a great machine. There’s a clunkiness to it but also a rhythmic power – a great steam engine rather than a high-speed train.

Gradually splashes of colour splattered here and there on my view. A stroll by the river, a wander round the Natural History Museum, an afternoon spent sitting in the National Theatre typing a blog post with a large slice of cake for company. I can get on a train from Putney and be at the South Bank within half an hour. That’s pretty cool.

I’ve come to realise that as much as I often want to escape from London, I also find it fascinating. There’s a strange pull to the chaos, like a moth to a deadly flame. I miss the space, I miss the sea, I miss the forest, but perhaps I can one day learn to love this place too.

 

A play in a caravan

Whilst wandering down the South Bank the other day my friends and I came across a caravan. Having earlier this year done a show that was partly set in a caravan (our MA Project at East 15), our interest was immediately piqued.

As we approached we saw that this, too, was a play set in a caravan, but in this case they actually had a real caravan, something we’d tried our best to do but just couldn’t manage with our budget. A mixture of envy and admiration ran through me. This caravan was brown and blue, tiny, possibly a two-berth. Outside stood two young women, one looking official with some pieces of paper and one jauntily smoking a fag. I guessed instantly which of the two would be performing, for it was indeed a one-woman show, brave soul!

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I don’t want to give too much away, as part of the fun of it was not knowing what to expect, but needless to say the 15-minute play takes place inside the caravan, with an audience capacity of 5 per performance. The Alan Key, written by Sammy Kissin, produced by Robin Linde (@robinlinde) and performed by Judith Amsenga, is part of Merge Festival, an annual festival of art, music and performance that celebrates the culture of Bankside, London.

The show blurb outside the caravan reads: “This story plunges us into the tragi-comic reality of what it means to be a human; searching for love and meaning in the assemble-it-yourself age of Ikea. Jo’s bed is falling apart. When she goes to Ikea to buy a new one, it seems her life is on the verge of doing the same. What she doesn’t factor in is how everything is about to change.”

Of course, in a quarter of an hour you can only give a snippet of the human existence, but it is a revealing one and certainly 15 minutes well spent. Audience participation was not discouraged, so I stepped into the world they were creating for us and asked a few questions here and there. Buy into the scene and you become a part of the action, which is all the more fun!

The Alan Key is showing until Sunday 11th October, with the last show at 6.45pm. Tickets are free and can be booked online at www.mergefestival.co.uk. The caravan is outside the Tate Modern, so perfectly situated for a wander around the gallery or a coffee and cake afterwards. Well, that’s what I did!

 Creating theatre on the South Bank 

Induction week is over and the real thing is about to start. Tomorrow is the first official day of term at drama school and we can’t wait to start. We’ve had seven days of introductory sessions, Equity and Spotlight talks, headshots and general getting to know each other, and now we’re ready to get down to some work.

Last week we had a day out in London with the other postgraduate students. It was a chance to get to know people on the other postgraduate courses, explore a bit of London, and create a piece of new work – a 90-second performance.

Otaiti by Francis Picabia, in the Tate Modern - the image we chose as most representing our quote

Otaiti by Francis Picabia, in the Tate Modern – the image we chose as most representing our quote

We were split into groups of around 10 people – each person picked a quote out of a brown envelope, and we had to find the other people with the same quote (to form a group), without speaking any words or showing the quote to anyone. You can imagine the hilarity and mild panic that ensued as we all flitted around the room, desperately miming parts of our quote at each other whilst trying to spot anyone miming something that could possibly fit with ours. It was desperation-fuelled and fun and it certainly broke the ice.

Once in our little collectives each group was given a destination, and after a visit to the toilet for some of us (namely, me), and a stop-off at the school cafe for a coffee, we headed off to the tube, already chatting to new people in our groups, making new friends from different parts of the world.

We had a list of tasks to accomplish and orders to reconvene outside the National Theatre on the South Bank at 5pm, where we would perform our 90-second pieces in our groups.

On the tube we discussed the meaning of the quote to us as a group – what did it make us think of? Did it remind of us a moment in our own lives? In what different situations might it be said? Our quote was from Macbeth (yes, I said it. I will also say Voldemort, if the occasion arises), and is spoken by Lady M:

“Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty!”

We spoke of times when you pray (if you believe in a god) for the strength to cope with something difficult, but we also looked at the element of self-sacrifice in the quote. Lady M is willing to give up part of what makes her who she is – the so-called ‘female’ traits of empathy and compassion – in order to commit the dreadful act of murder, which will help her husband achieve his ambition of being king. We could also imagine this being said by someone wanting revenge.

My group’s destination was the Tate Modern, a breeding ground for inspiration. I’d only been once before, in the summer of 2012, so I was excited about going back there and seeing some of the old favourites, plus any new installations. I was thrilled to see Dali’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus again – one of my favourite paintings – and spent a good five minutes gazing into its rich colours and fluid landscape.

Here our task was to find an image or object that best reflected our quote, consider which of the four elements resonated with the quote (we chose water), and find a new image reflecting the elemental aspect of our quote. The image a few of us settled on for best representing the quote visually was an oil painting by Francis Picabia called Otaiti (see picture). I felt its thick texture, dark colours, and the nakedness and posture of the woman, with her parted lips and upturned eyes, illustrated the sexual and malevolent nature of the words. A beautiful and very powerful painting when you’re standing right in front of it!

Another of our instructions was to explore what sounds might surround the words. We focused on the voice and the breath, and used this in the performed piece we created.

At 5pm we all congregated in a circular area near the Laurence Olivier statue outside the National Theatre, and one by one each group got up to perform their piece, arranging the audience as they wished beforehand. People walking along the South Bank stopped to watch. A few stayed through all the performances, others came and went. When all the pieces had been performed by applauded ourselves and each other, then applauded the public who had taken time out of their day to watch us. That has often been me in the past – wandering along there on the way to a bookshop or a cafe or the theatre, stopping to watch something that’s piqued my interest. This time it was the other way round – I was the one performing, and it felt special.

I had a wonderful day – meeting new and interesting people, getting to work with them, exploring London a bit, having stimulating creative conversations and getting the chance to perform outside the National Theatre….. if only for 90 seconds!