Like the Barker day at Riverside Studios I’ve posted this strand of reviews top-to-bottom chronologically, thus posting the last review first so that the weekend can be read downwards (if you see what I mean).
Roughly half the shows I saw at the opening weekend of this year’s Pulse Festival were one-person shows. The stated reason for press being invited to the first weekend was that there was an emphasis on local, or local-ish, acts (which, if nothing else, made me feel jolly smug about being “in the regions” while that particular row raged on the Guardian Theatre Blog). There were also scratch performances generated at/by the New Wolsey Theatre and the East Anglia leg of Paines Plough’s excellent (on this showing) Come to Where I’m From initiative, while lot of the rest of the weekend showcased stuff that will be going to Edinburgh under the Escalator East to Edinburgh umbrella.
This partly accounts for the one-person-ness of many of the shows. One person shows are, after all, cheaper to transport and set up than a fully cast production of Les Miserables. The Edinburgh effect doesn’t, however, account for why so many of the one-person shows were first person “me-monologues” (I’m not counting Bunny among these. Bunny was at least written by a writer and performed by an actor. And Jack Thorne isn’t an 18-year-old schoolgirl from Luton. So even if there are biographical elements in there, they’re certainly not first person).
I’ve got a confession to make: I don’t really like “confessional” shows. I don’t like the idea of them at all, and I rarely like the actuality. In fact, if there is a solo performer on stage, I’d much rather they were talking about anything other than themselves. There have been major, shattering exceptions to this (notably by Lucy Ellison). Ordinarily, though, when it’s just a solo performer telling a story about themselves in the first person, particularly when you suspect it’s a very one-sided version of a completely “true” story, well, it almost always smacks of solipsism, doesn’t it? As an artist there are all the stories in the world you could choose to tell, and the one you choose is about yourself?
As a result, the following write-ups seem to become an assessment of how well the performers manage to look beyond their personal experience, or how much they manage to bury the origins of the source material for their shows. Or simply whether they manage through good writing, charm, great performances, artistry or insights, to lift the experience beyond someone forcing you to listen to them tell you stuff about their life that you haven’t wittingly asked to hear.
[There are some more upbeat accounts of other stuff seen at Pulse on the way, btw, but rather than wait until I’d finished writing everything, I just wanted to get these pieces filed and out of the way to clear the decks a bit... Seriously, Poland 3 – Iran 2 was one of the best things I’ve seen this year, the Paines Plough thing was lovely, and there were also some scratch things I’m not allowed to write about properly, but will try to cover in some way…]
* Blog title taken from the 4AD album of the same name which in turn takes its from a line in this song, which is on the album...