All Those People I Have Met
Hoxton Hall first opened its doors in 1863 as McDonald's Music Hall. It is an exquisite piece of Victoriana, replete with wrought iron balconies and good acoustics, hidden in the East End of London. For the last thirty years or so, it has functioned as an arts and community centre, branching out more recently into staging and co-producing stylistically innovative professional theatre. The 2003 Season of Perception has financial assistance from the Arts Council and the line-up of performances is impressive. Hoxton Hall's existence is a gem of a secret that can't be kept under tabs for much longer.
A2's All Those People I Have Met is supported by the Chisenhale Dance Space and the company has an illustrious if short curriculum vitae in devised experimental performance projects. This production, a fusion of interdisciplinary forms, video and community theatre charmed the socks off me. A2's regular collaborators Alit Kreiz and Anton Mirto have combined with some charismatic locals to present a tableau of human warmth and individuality. It is physical and visual theatre, incorporating video and enigmatic, witty pieces of text that embraces and challenges at the same time.
When I use a term such as community theatre, I'm not referring to the suburban amdram societies in which would-be thesps stage Ayckbourne and Gilbert and Sullivan. All Those People doesn't tell a story in the traditional sense, it is not a linear narrative, rather it presents a series of vignettes, some expansively recurrent and one gets a strong sense of truthfulness supporting enigmas to be unravelled, tantalisingly and subjectively, by each member of the audience. In doing so we participate individually in a seeming reality of experience while collectively experiencing a performance.
But what is reality and what is fiction? Are these engaging performers presenting themselves, or a fictionalised version of themselves, or representing an entirely fictional character? Certainly, the cutest and best-behaved four-month-old baby in London can't be acting. What about the mother who returns later to the stage to attempt a striptease, only to be comically hampered by the dummies and bibs and stuffed toys that have secreted themselves into her clothing? Is she acting out a genuine frustration with the impingement of motherhood on female sexuality? The smile on the face of the nine-year-old girl cannot be faked, nor the blind man's stumbling. A fly-on-the-wall video conversation between a father and his young daughter during a car ride to rehearsal seems spontaneous. The intriguing and beautifully voluptuous lady who tells us she really wanted to do her Chechnyan folkdance for us, but instead would say something in her own words, while all her lines are being fed to her by a chain-smoking prompter in a hole, surely her charm is real even if she is playing a humorous game with us.
Music added to the mood and by the end of the evening I was riveted by the intriguing overlap of potential human stories, smitten by the parade of characters and I left with a fuzzy feeling of warmth. A2 have come up with an innovative model for collaboration between communities and professionals in the development of performances that reflect the vibrant multiculturalism at the heart (and I deliberately say 'heart') of our urban experience.
Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher