Be Here Now
South Street Arts Centre
Toot’s show Be Here Now is a heady mix of musical nostalgia. Like smells that draw us back to a time and place long since archived, the songs of our childhood call our grumpy, irrational flighty teenage selves to the fore.
We may not have liked ourselves when we look back at the people we once were, but the soundtrack to those times in our lives, like our first love or a favourite jumper, holds a sanctified place in our hearts.
From inside a lit-up box, like a religious relic, the performers extract a single song. It is a song, any song, that encapsulates all the complex and extreme emotions of a fleeting but life altering teenage love, and we, the audience, play a part in recreating this moment and all that it represents.
This show perfectly plays out the dichotomy of this memory, through the beauty of the '90s mix tape. Song after song, layer after layer, brings memory after memory. Each one comes to the forefront of our minds, a little dusty, and always a touch embarrassing. It is this embarrassment that the company so skilfully plays on to draw out great humour and understated, tender pathos.
The music, throughout the show, guides the direction of the performance of each story, just as the music on a mix tape guides the listener through an emotional journey. This journey is beautifully played out in one scene, through physicality and gesture by Clare Dunn, with all the exuberance and melodrama of a teenager in love.
The performers recreate their own memories, sometimes awkward, sometimes painful, often endearing, and always, embarrassingly familiar. They expertly layer in audience participation that is just on the borderline of awkward, but never crossing over, bringing in, yet again, another layer of slight uncomfortability that allows the opportunity for great humour.
We are asked to tell them a song from our youth, the song that represents who we were at the time of our first love, and we are immediately thrown back to those days of the rollercoaster of uncertainty, misread signals and stolen kisses. We dance with the performers, we share our own stories, we replay their memories, we bring our own misremembered teenage identities to the fore.
It is audience participation at its best, where even the instructions are performed as a story. One exceptional moment, when we are asked to close our eyes and are handed some objects, is played out like a short, multi-sensory game. It is almost like a workshop at a conference, with activity after activity, and instructions to follow with a little time to reflect in between.
But these activities are somehow, perfectly, just about us. They feel as if they have been crafted with a knowing wink to the teenager that you really are, and that we are all hiding underneath the thirty-something smart trousers and blouse.
The set is a collection of boxes, filled with the accoutrements of the '90s: lava lamps, fibre-optic spaceship lamps, minidiscs, tapes, and a hoodie. The boxes are unpacked, digging out these memories from within the set’s own archives and spreading them across the floor like a messy teenage bedroom.
As they are spread across the stage, it is like the '90s has leaked out of the boxes and crept up around us. It smells like Lynx Africa and it sounds like a Friday night house party when your best friend’s parents were away. And the dreams we held for ourselves, the great romantic visions that would be expertly executed, the fantasies and illusions that motivated our behaviour, so often ended up in tearful disaster, or being sick in a box after drinking too much Hooch. But we carried on dancing anyway, because the soundtrack, the mix tape, never stopped playing.
I left the theatre space with a song playing in my head, a song given to each audience member as a gift by the performers, and I haven't stopped humming it since. This is beautifully crafted trip into our own fragile identities, performed with honesty and care. It is another great performance, drawn from the everyday by this innovative and exciting company.
Reviewer: Liz Allum