On the occasion of my poetry reading with the brilliant Tomas Weber in Cambridge last November, I was able to introduce Jonny Liron to Jeremy Hardingham, who -- if you've just joined us -- runs the Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio at the English Faculty. We crashed a seminar Jeremy was doing on King Lear, which included a couple of short performances by Jeremy, pretty much in the ballpark of his genuinely extraordinary unfolding king lear a model, which I wrote about here a while back. Jonny was understandably blown away both by the work and by Jeremy in person, and, when I rather intrusively raised the possibility, Jeremy was kind enough to invite Jonny and me down to the studio for a few days' residency, with my sights set on embarking on the next chapter of my working relationship with Jonny and also to putting both of us in a work room with Jeremy -- the first time, obviously, for Jonny, and my first time working with Jeremy as a performer since we did Twelfth Night together back in 2001 (unless you count, as one probably should, a twenty-minute set in our music duo guise as COAT at a cptDoodah! event in 2003, I can't quite remember).
Enough backstory. I'm here to report not much more than having had an amazing few days in the company of two people who stimulate and fascinate me more than I can begin to say. Watching them work together was incredibly touching, as they each felt their way towards each other's distinct languages, wanting to accommodate, embrace, augment, and also, a little, to disrupt. Given that Jonny's still just 21, and that since we did Hey Mathew last autumn he's mostly been doing Beauty & the Beast at South Hill [not quite the same ball]Park, it's incredible to me that he got in the room at all with Jeremy, who, as I've more or less said a few times in these and other pages, I think is basically the most important British theatre maker of our generation. That he was moreover able to work on such equal terms is a testament not only to Jonny's talent, commitment and intrepidity in dealing with a sheerly vertical learning curve (that's actually a learning wall, let's face it), but also to Jeremy's care, adaptability, virtuosity and grace. I felt acutely, dizzyingly privileged and grateful just to be in the room.
So as to have something to aim these explorations towards -- I'd said to Jonny in an overheated 3am manifesto email shortly before Christmas, "Let's go to Cambridge and be NOT IRRELEVANT" -- we'd said we'd show some work on Saturday night, and so we did. Recovery was basically just an extended improvisation (I'll paste below some contextualising bits from the programme copy I knocked up that morning), with all the nervous unpredictability that that entails: an unpredictability that seems curiously still to obtain after the event, when it's weirdly difficult to recall or gauge what just happened... It seemed to me all the things I thought it would be -- beautiful, harrowing, bumpy, confusing, candid, violent, affectionate -- though to be honest half my attention was on the spoken texts I was improvising out of various sources from a just-offstage holodeck. Happily though, for once, a fixed-position video recording worked out pretty well, and I'll post below some screen shots from that: the long-play image quality is poor, obviously, but I think you get some sense of what happened during the 55 minute piece. (Well, what you get in 15 frames is 0.019% of the whole story, and of course not even that, but hey, what more can I do?) Audience reception seemed quite positive on the whole -- they were I think as startled as we were, but their attentiveness was phenomenal: and it was great to talk afterwards to old pals like Neil Pattison and Anne Stillman, and to meet a really smart undergrad called Orlando Reade, who seems to be thinking all the right things in the right kind of order -- make a note of the name.
It could hardly have been a better excursion, really. There's a bit of stuff that I hoped the few days' work with Jonny might touch on that we didn't really get to work with for various reasons: but that's a negligible wrinkle -- there's no doubt that our conversation together is only just beginning, and we'll get to all those places in time, and plenty more besides. In every other way it was an extraordinarily useful, refreshing, frequently mindblowing few days, and one that, for all its intellectual demands and sometimes disturbing outcomes, also quite frequently had me all but supine with hysterical laughter.
Here you go then: what I did on my holidays, ha ha:
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From the programme note:
What else can theatre do?
In RECOVERY, it sets itself against the loss of which it is itself partly composed. Which is to say that theatre thrives on, is sometimes wholly produced by, disappearances: by the ephemeral, the fleeting. But by some particular effort of attention it might also work against disappearance, and be instead a site where memory and precise invocation can conspire to reinscribe in our perception of the world what may have been lost to that perception, often perhaps through inattention.
Tonight’s performance is entirely improvised, within parameters that have gradually been determined by the participants over the past couple of days. Any description of what might be seen would therefore be presumptuous or actually absurd. Some indication of the resources out of which the piece will emerge may nonetheless help inform the task of watching and helping to hold the place in place.
A number of thematic and topical recoveries inform the work (mostly in rather oblique ways): the recovery of lost data from a corrupted disk, say, or of fragments of memory from childhood; the recovery of effects from a burning building; the recovery of a body from illness or attack, or from the distortions imposed on it by extraneous orthodoxies and systematic violence. The choice of materials is influenced in part by textual sources including the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (itself an attempt at the recovery of incident from a period of the life of Jesus about which we know nothing) and the unperformed — and therefore in one sense lost — scores of the Actionist artist Rudolf Schwarzkogler. There may or may not, as it happens, be spoken text, which may or may not also derive from these sources, and may or may not be partly or wholly generated and/or organized by computer: this will finally be decided after these notes are printed and copied. There is music, sound, noise: mostly from a portable CD player set to ‘shuffle’, playing material which the two main performers will not have heard before.
What you will see in RECOVERY is a series of duets, sometimes isolated, sometimes layered. These encounters may take place not just between the two performers, but also between a performer and another person (present in the room, or not), or between performer and material, or perfomer and room... It may be useful therefore to note that what superficially appears to be an encounter between the two performers may actually (from their perspective) be an instance where two separate duets, each involving an invisible ‘partner’, happen simply to be sharing a performance space.
There is no single endorsed way of orienting yourself in relation to this work. You are welcome to sit (on the floor, or on a chair if you prefer) or stand, very close or at some remove; to move around or not, to come and go. Please be aware though, and sympathetic to the fact, that your actions and behaviours may not be very different from those of which the performance is composed, and your presence is not less salient.
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How else can I end this post but with reiterated thanks to Jeremy for making this possible? I've left Jonny in Cambridge, continuing the conversation, and I wish with pretty much every Quorn-like filament of my being that I was there still too: upstream at high altitude. Fellas, I love you.