Simian Substitute Site for September 2020: A Young Man Dressed As A Gorilla Dressed As An Old Man Sits Rocking In A Rocking Chair For Fifty-Six Minutes And Then Leaves 12
MONTH END PROCESSING FOR AUGUST 2020 [Adventures in the Real World special]
Art [postponed]: At 5.08pm on Wednesday March 4th, I received an email from the Odeon Leicester Square telling me that I'd successfully booked tickets to see No Time To Die. At 5.38pm the same day, The Guardian reported that the film's release had been delayed by eight months, for reasons which seemed a little overblown at the time. Over the next couple of weeks, every future artistic event I'd arranged in my diary vanished in a puff of Covid. So let's start this roundup of August by celebrating the first of those events to get rescheduled after a hiatus of several months. Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers is an exhibition at London's Design Museum (now running till February 2021) celebrating the history of electronic music from its earliest beginnings. Gratifyingly, the Design Museum have done their safety homework - they've limited the numbers, asked you to bring your own headphones for the audio displays, and have put 2 metre dividers along the exhibition route to help you achieve what they call 'social dist-dancing' (groan). As with most exhibitions, the biggest scrum is in the opening section: a glorious collection of historical noisemaking equipment, which fizzles out when you get to the late 20th century and musicians are just pushing blocks of rearranged bits along a timeline on a computer screen. In mathematical terms, the rest of the exhibition moves from pure to applied, looking at the dance music scenes in various cities around the world and the subcultures they spawned, climaxing in a bold attempt to cram the Chemical Brothers festival experience into a single tiny room. Your main takeaway from Electronic may be a gnawing nostalgia for the days when you could jump up and down to a filthy racket in the company of strangers, but there's much more to it than that.
Comedy [relocated]: Throughout the unpleasantness, comedy is one of the main artforms that's been desperately trying to keep things going, and I wrote about some of my favourite online shows back in May. But audiences and comics both know that, much like with dance music, comedy thrives best in the live communal experience. So hooray for The New Normal, a just-finished festival of performing arts held in the ravishingly spaced-out open courtyard of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building in Wandsworth. A quick skim of the programme confirmed your suspicions - it's a festival of acts that would have been at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but aren't. The festival had theatre, music, magic, lots and lots of improvised sketch troupes, and - courtesy of our mates at Good Ship Comedy, who normally operate out of a pub in Camden - two nights of standup, hosted by regular compere Ben van der Velde. The night we caught attended had a ridiculously strong bill of Sara Pascoe, Nathan Caton and Jessica Fostekew, all of whom looked as delighted to be performing in front of a real audience as we were to hear them. (Fostekew described her recent experience of performing at one of those newly-fashionable drive-in shows, where the only way people can express their amusement is by honking their horns, a sound that in every other circumstance we interpret as meaning 'LOOK OUT YOU'RE GOING TO DIE'. Laughter just works better.) Good Ship Comedy are looking to restart actual gigs in an actual room from September 7th, and it'll be interesting to see how that pans out.
Theatre [new]: Indoor shows are going to be a whole other kettle of worms, though. Lots of people crammed into a very small space with Victorian-era air conditioning, all facing towards some actors on an elevated platform projecting noise, air and spit directly at them: it's no wonder that most of London's theatres are still shut. But in August (and now extended through to September 5th), the Donmar Warehouse got around many of those problems by reducing the audience size to a few dozen, having them all face in different directions, and then getting rid of the elevated platform. And the actors. Blindness, adapted by Simon Stephens (from the previously-filmed novel by José Saramago) and directed by Walter Meierjohann, is a creepily topical story about the chaos caused by a worldwide contagion, in this case one which causes people to lose their sight. It's effectively a radio play narrated over headphones by Juliet Stevenson - if you remember what she was like in Truly Madly Deeply, be warned that she's in full tears 'n' snot mode again - and played back to an audience sitting inside an art installation, which focusses your attention on the audio through its use of light and, inevitably, darkness. It's an intense piece of work that gets some of its power from parallels with current events, sure: and if it feels a little over-apocalyptic in parts, there's a weird catharsis to be found in experiencing what our worst case scenario might feel like. But for me, it's most fascinating as an experiment in alternative ways of producing theatre. That's what interests me now about this cliche of 'the new normal': the new bit.
In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site for September 2020 is A Young Man Dressed As A Gorilla Dressed As An Old Man Sits Rocking In A Rocking Chair For Fifty-Six Minutes And Then Leaves 12. Anyone who, like me, usually spends a large chunk of this time of year poring over the Edinburgh Fringe programme may well be familiar with this. It's a show which first appeared on the Fringe in 2009, and has been there every year since - hence the 12 at the end of the title. I'd always assumed that you get just what it says on the tin, a meta joke at the expense of the sort of low-budget experimental theatre that clogs up the upstairs rooms of Edinburgh bars every August. Mind you, I'd never actually seen it: it only plays on one day each year, and it's usually during a week when I'm not in town.
Apparently, AYMDAAGDAAOMSRIARCF56MATL is too strong a theatrical concept to be halted by the mere cancellation of the Edinburgh Festival. So for 2020, the show was re-imagined for these socially distanced times, and performed as a live stream over YouTube (complete with audience chat in the sidebar), which you can still watch. Some may argue that the changes have diluted the purity of the original idea: others may find that it adds several moments of dramatic tension that weren't there in previous years. Watch it and decide for yourselves. No fast forwarding.
AYMDAAGDAAOMetc is just one of a number of shows that The Belated Birthday Girl and I watched in a week in August as part of our virtual Edinburgh Festival: hopefully this month I'll find some time to write about them. You can also expect the launch of another bookful of my London Film Festival reviews, as the hybrid 2020 event begins to get up a head of steam. Comments welcome in the box below, as ever. (Maybe you could try to guess the actual number of virtual Edinburgh shows The BBG and I have watched, if you're feeling cocky.) Keep looking after yourselves and everyone else, of course.