On The Verge Festival, the brainchild of Hope Street Ltd, this year brought to the streets – quite literally – a variety of new performances by emerging artists in Liverpool, all held in unusual places. Pushing the boundaries between performance, theatre and art On The Verge Festival successfully encapsulated the audience in a new way of experiencing performance and proved that theatre can be open to all, outside of the outrageously pricey, traditional venue. I attended the intimate one to one performances of UandInal, Forgiveness from the ‘art(s)’ and Drive By as well as the playful out of this world adventure of Alienation. I relieved my sins against art (and more) in confession, was engulfed in a journey of emotions whilst in a parked car, got married in a toilet and spent the evening helping aliens save the human race….
Lewis Sherlock’s Forgiveness from the ‘art(s)’ was my first venture of the day, as I was led towards a small shed-like construction, the anticipation knotting my stomach as to what confessions would escape my subconscious. The non-conventional Confession Box saw me confronted by Lewis himself, in a somewhat Anglican get-up whilst I was to choose a hat of choice in order to ‘begin the concessional process’. Lewis’ performance was intense, as you were locked in a box both physically and metaphorically. My first reactions to the performance was nervous laughter, particularly at the offering of Bombay Mix, but after a slow removal of my guard I was able to expunge my insecurities around art. A small room opened next to me, decorated with Moroccan rugs, nettings filled with random objects and a bookcase with variable reading material – from Modern and Primeval Art to Heston Blumenthal’s cookery books. Part of the forgiveness process was to physically draw your ‘sins.’ I found my stick-man drawing really helped to expel any previous anxieties I had – it took me back to childhood where drawing was for fun and not burdened with artistic narratives. Lewis’ approach was almost mechanical, and yet he was able to slowly tease out a confession all with a few statements. Having hung my drawing in his shack, the cathartic process was complete – and I was able to receive my ‘artistic license’ to be used of course with the greatest of responsibility. Half psychological performance, half playful jibing at the ‘seriousness’ of the art world Lewis’ performance was interesting, engaging and unique in that the lens was turned on you as an active audience member – rather than condemned to a role of passivity, idly watching ‘art’. Intelligent and thought-provoking Forgiveness from the ‘art(s)’ was a real opportunity for the contemplation of how we really think around art – and proved that all can release their artistic burdens with a little help from some Bombay Mix!
Drive By was another innovative site-specific performance directed by Bethany Sproston. An interactive performance, actress Danielle Edwards awaited me in a parked car just around the corner from the Victoria Gallery and Museum. I was to be part of the piece, taken on a journey through life’s different crossroads and the shared emotions that we feel despite the differing memories. Each interaction is unique to the participant, as you again are faced with a certain amount of self-reflection. The process was comforting, though I found it difficult to truly relax – the crossover between performance and reality personally a somewhat challenging experience. Danielle was friendly and approachable, offering tea and chocolate whilst she re-lived the various angst-ridden moments we go through in life. A particularly provocative moment was when I read out a text from Danielle’s ‘boyfriend’ breaking up with her – her reaction was human, natural and she grabbed my hand for comfort. The piece was almost like a counselling session – I found myself revealing insecurities to a complete stranger and it expanded the audience/performer relationship to a whole different level. Sproston’s piece was a practice of empathy as well as a direct challenge to the way we view events in life – after all, when we go through difficult moments ‘do we brake or accelerate?’ A piece that revealed a relational dimension to the artistic practice of performance, Drive By has great potential for reaching a wider audience, particularly the more vulnerable as an alternative listening ear for those who need it.
My last one on one performance took place inside the Victoria Gallery and Museum in a toilet cubicle. The non-conventional setting may seem humorous, though it soon revealed a more sombre and important location with regards to the journey for same-sex marriage to become legal. UanInal is the creation of Spectrum Collective – LIPA graduates Stuart Crowther and Callie Williams – a performance that focuses on both the sensory and aesthetic experience. The performance begun with me knocking on the door, as I was handed scribbled on toilet roll directing my next moves – the first of which was to put on some blacked out sunglasses. I blindly walked into the cubicle, was handcuffed and confronted by an awful smell of body odour and general toilet pungency. My hands were grasped, with mutterings of ‘I love you’ spoken by performer Stuart, all the while a radio was playing in the background. I had begun the uneasy journey of same-sex marriage, from hidden and shamed toilet cubicle encounters of the 1950’s to the present day of legality and freedom to marry. Having been offered chocolate and strawberry’s, the glasses soon came off to reveal my ‘partner’. The removal of the sunglasses was to provoke a symbolic moment, to show that love shows no discrimination of gender and I was soon engaged in a marriage process, where vows were said and a document signed. My initial reaction was again nervous laughter, Stuart’s penetrating stare and clasping of my hands a reminder of love’s universality and boundless spirit. The audience member was truly absorbed into this performance that explored a controversial subject with the upmost sincerity – highlighting the progress we have made in the 21st century, yet solemnly reminding us that there is always more to be done for equality.
As the evening crept in, I made my way to a warehouse-like building on Victoria Street, to experience Alienation, a production brought by Lemon Collective. Alienation was a production that crossed artistic boundaries through technology, experimentation, costume and performance. I joined a small group, abducted by aliens and led through an immersive, multi-room environment as we were given cryptic challenges in order to save the human race. Crystal Maze meets Doctor Who, the production was fun, comedic and full of surprises as we battled through laser beams, alien wildlife and clues, all within a colourful and inventive set – complete with alien VHS systems. A great performance – particularly for a younger audience, Alienation successfully demonstrated what can be achieved with a sense of adventure and imagination, technological scenery and silver lizard print leggings (which will definitely be one for the Christmas list.)
An ambitious endeavour, Hope Street Ltd is unique in that it goes beyond the festival, providing support before and after to all the artists involved with a strong collaborative community spirit at its core. I was involved in a process that enabled intense experiences, in unconventional spaces – all in an accessible manner. A well-organised, produced and detailed festival, On The Verge showed the extended possibilities beyond the theatre of what can be done, pushing all boundaries between performance and spectatorship.