Ms Sabin has excelled herself; Curious Zoo is exquisite perfection! If you haven’t got tickets I strongly advise you to go to the Chapter website or box office immediately! Unlike my repeated endeavours to get through to the Tate yesterday I am confident you will be successful in securing tickets. The German electronic band Kraftwerk has collaborated with the Tate to stage robot led performances of their signature albums in February 2013; I sooo wanted to see them! She’s a model and Tour de France featured heavily in my formative years; in fact you could say the band had a significant place in my teenage/early 20s sound track. Before I moved onto Pink Floyd and a long time after Ultravox (Vienna being the first album I bought with my pocket money in the 80s).
Previously I mentioned I was off to see Trifle Gathering; in light of the experience I rather wish I hadn’t as it fell short of expectations. My companion and I tried to work out whether we had misread the brochure or it was a good concept poorly executed. Earlier in the day sitting in the Chapter cafe I weighed up the relative merits of going home rather than staying for the performance. Exhaustion comes over me in (unexpected) waves and staying awake can be a challenge; this day was one such day. And then I was approached by 2 people handing out fliers for the show trying to persuade people to go as only 11 tickets had been sold. Of course I couldn’t keep my mouth shut could I; no I said I had already bought tickets!
In such circumstances how many of you would decide to stay at home? The deed was done and I felt obliged to be there. The theatre was set out in cabaret style and we were cajoled into moving closer to the front (but frankly once I’ve sat down it’s such a palaver (or should I say a performance), to move we deflected the unwanted attention). The three main characters are the Ogden Sisters attired severely in Victorian mourning style high necked black dresses with a fourth gentleman assisting as loosely technical support butler. The setup is a séance with the audience unwitting (and in our case unprepared) participants; initially warmed up with revelations that the psychic (slightly tup) sister can see inside various womens handbags. Disarmingly a number of the audience members were in fits of hysterical laughter – the response that could only come from forewarned friends and family (there were 2 children c 10-12 years old), as they appeared to be most amused by the facial expressions of the performers!
One of the sisters (a man dressed as a woman) moved amongst the tables as the other siblings warmed the audience up in séance fashion basically guiding towards the selected victim. My poor companion was the first subject to be selected, indeed she did have a patterned wallet (as many people have) but the parting shot from the sister of ‘is that a wig?’ – (she has dreadlocks which were piled elegantly on top of her head) – did not go down well! The next ‘insight’ was more amusing as the woman selected had a tiny handbag stuffed to the seams and the sister couldn’t get his manly fingers inside the pockets!
Just before the interval the audience were invited to put on the blindfold that was on the back of every chair. Compliant as a good audience should be everybody tied themselves into the dark; everyone except me that is – things like this make me feel very uncomfortable (OK yes I do have trust issues where strangers are concerned)! My blindfold was positioned to allow me to see underneath and from this advantageous stance I can see the plant sprayers on the table. The ‘butler’ moves through the audience wafting a feather on a stick over the heads/faces of the blindfolded and spraying with both water and something scented. Of course there are squeals of delight/horror most notably from the generously proportioned woman in front of me who was wearing a top cut very low at front and back! As the ‘miasma’ got to us I suddenly remember we’d left a paperback on the table and removed it too late to avoid it getting wet – apologies to Orhan Pamuk!
Stunned as the performance paused for the interval we gathered ourselves (and our possessions) before retreating to the bar for a hot chocolate! Perhaps we just didn’t get it, maybe it got better in the second half but I somehow suspect not. The performers certainly enjoyed themselves, the set was well crafted with attention to detail and there were some moments of comic irony but it just didn’t hang together. We were left wondering who were Trifle Gathering; what was their story and a myriad of other queries we decided to leave hanging!
On the other hand Curious Zoo is a delightfully magical world where Narnia meets Poe; indeed as you cross the threshold you could have been drawing back the curtain at the back of the wardrobe. Starting with the ‘stewards’ who took our names at the gate before allocating us labels I felt a good old Welsh cwtch; attention to detail that created a safe atmosphere into which one could dive in with cautious gay abandon. Curious Zoo is a site specific installation with four interventions performed by 6 performers with the Angel moving freely between them creatively nudging each on in her desired direction.
On arrival the Angel, Caroline Sabin, is perched on a tiny stool on the kitchen worktop with fantastic feathered wings behind her corseted figure. The other performers surround the ancient organ singing as James Williams plays. From then we are guided around the site by a unique communication system perfectly in keeping with the ambience. Gerald Tyler, the Goat, may be found in the shed (his shed which is familiar to those of us who have seen his previous solo work). The shed is crammed full of stuff; broken toys; tools; gadgets none of which should be touched for safety reasons! He laments the toys of today that leave little for a child’s imagination something which he blames ‘Beardy’ for in a large part. Some memorable observations on reindeers were apt and instructive (at least for me). Brace yourself for the Goat’s contemporary innovations applied to a lazy mare!
At one point the Angel dances in the courtyard outside the Shed; she is bare foot in this freezing weather as the artificial snow blows around her before delicately floating onto the garden. A light icing sugar white dusting on the railway sleeper edged raised beds is all that is left behind…
The Owl, Jon Gower with feathers above his ears, occupies the front room bursting from full formal evening dress his passion for nature streams poetically from every pore. A loosely swathed well observation on the parlance state of the environment as species disappear as a consequence of human disregard perhaps? Seated in an ancient leather chair the Owl is surrounded by snow sprayed pine trees leaning against the wall as transitory as the shrews he waxes lyrical about. Narnia is most present here and I would not have been surprised to see the snow queen appear; instead the Angel pops discretely in..her specific purpose momentarily alludes me!
The Faun, James Williams, as slight as the Owl is round, also wears formal evening dress with an energetic wound up spring meets psychotically manic manner. The wicked slightly menacing look in his eye disarms one audience member when he comments casually ‘you do smell nice’. The Faun inhabits the kitchen space with straw stacked neatly in the fridge for reasons that were not revealed. Entertainingly the Faun tells his story with witty musical accompaniment woven into lyrical observations on items of a most personal nature.
And finally to the Polar Bear Family: Mother (Deborah Light), Father (Karol Cysewski) and show stealer Cub (Rowan Cysewski Light). Warmly wrapped in elegant cream faux fur over a midnight blue silky nightgown Mother reads a story of how she found the Cub many years ago. The Cub plays with his Father occasionally glancing towards his mother as she..well if I continued that sentence that would spoil it! The story takes a mournful turn as the developing Cub threatens to upset the male dynamics in the Village but fear not maternal instinct wins through as ever rescuing the day albeit after a disturbing incident with a blackened tongue!
Concluding with a musical flourish we are sent back into the cold with a mince pie! A perfect evening, a warming thought provoking and curiously reassuring experience. Exquisite perfection!
A word of warning do avoid the artificial snow it’s a bugger to brush of boiled wool! A small inconsequential price to pay to enter this space of magical realism – I shall return appropriately in attired leather!