Hidden J

26 Jan

Today I watched Hidden J on video, made in (I think?) 1993. It begins with Claire coming on stage— a semi-basement space, with brown theatre flats leaning against walls– and sitting right downstage on a chair. She has a large sign around her neck that reads LIAR. Then the others come out and in “everyday” mode, set up the space. They build a small house/ box set/ in various combinations, which they consider, pull apart, rebuild, upstage. this seems like a tiny work demonstration of how they do theatre in fact The box they build is like a tiny theatre inside the theatre, complete with red curtains that pull across. There is a low wall downstage they climb over to get in and out through a big window, through which we can see what is happening in the box.

All in silence. There’s a table in house/ room. One woman is curled by house, outside. Torch. Robin wearing… is it plastic devil horns? holding up lights? argument in stage-whispers. Terry with tinsel halo, wearing a sign I can’t read in the fuzzy video, sits on a stool under a lamp (like Lili Marlene) outside the box/ house. She reads from an old book:

“1604. Hard year and deficient in crops. 1605. Flood everywhere. 1606 Nothing recorded. 1607 Nothing written down. 1608. Hard winter. 1609. Hard winer. Another one. 1610. Elvis. 1611. The Beatles. 1612 Failure of crops and very hard year”….

Building continues, changing room around. Recital continues. The list is a mixture of contemporary history and kind of weather reports. (up to 1634). “1618 Moon landings…1620 Saint Jasmine performs a miracle”.

Building the room just keeps going, the room has many different shapes, now it’s like a punch and judy box ( you can see in, there’s curtains, a table inside.)

Claire (wearing her LIAR sign) speaks:
“The countriy waanted to burn out of shame and all the cities wanted to burn with shame for what had happened in them”. (trees, grass, dust, railways, birds) all from shame. (a long poetic list about shame continues)

Lights come on inside house.

Claire “these things happened in 1804 when the pits were closed and the peace wasn’t holding”

Can we have the music please.
Instant chaos with loud music and inside the lit room box, is a loud and drunken party (it looks great, the little diarama box).

(makes me want to write a play which begins on the whole stage and gradually contracts to a tiny box as other things take over outside.)

The music is really bad; sounds like someone made it on a casio. Silly stuff with phone inside party. Silly party hats. People climbing in through the roof, from the window, running round in and out the room. Drunken roaring. nothing is comprehensible. Cathy with bottle sitting outside on stage, passes out and shrieks. Richard appears naked at the party. The others dress him in a silly grass skirt and vest.

Richard stands in front of box, red curtains now drawn. In his silly outftit. “Well, er, thanks a lot for coming. I’m sure there’ll be some speeches later on… a couple of quick thank yous on this um special day…. (pickes up goes through pile of papers). I’d like to thank the caterers… I’m glad we’ve all dressed up for today, I know that I personally,….. on the other side of the stage, Cathy (is it?) speaking in a language which sounds Russian made up. Richards’ is like a terrible wedding speech that he can’t remember or do properly.

Moments, motifs recur through show: Cathy on the phone; Richard’s speech; Terry’s story-telling and also Claire’s. Claire finally speaks, from her downstage chair with the LIAR sign. Tells of a country full of lies and deceptions. Her speech despite the liar sign sounds true. It’s flat and quiet and very different to the chaos and ragged stuff of the party, the drunken naked Richard, the back and forth of confused post-party people.

Cathy on the phone, speaking in a made-up language– the phone and this language recur through the show– mostly Cathy, later Robin. This goes on and on, sometimes with hanging up, then hoping someone is on the phone. There’s a shape to this, it slowly and raggedly gets more rage filled and screaming. At one point everyone else is outside the house sitting in the dark while Cathy is raging and weeping on the phone. The made up language sounds like Russian or Serbian. This is terribly hard to watch, it’s reminiscent of childhood, listening quietly in fear and shame while parents rage and scream in some other room. Slowly the rage winds down and it comes to its end.

some of Terry’s stories, which interweave with guy stuff between Robin and Richard to do with confusedly trying to get the other to do something, what isn’t clear..
“There was once a woman whose house was burned. They lost…. (long list, sitting by the lamp). The story all haappened in 1690 or in 1974 when a man from Doncaster had a curse put on him from being lazy”

Back to Cathy’s phone thing. She hangs up. Richard tries to arouse Robin from sitting, does little grass skirt dance.

Terry “This is the story of a bad time. Everyone was drunk and they tried to stay up all night. The story happened in a Council estate in Palestine and the woman died. It happened in 1984 or 1969”

there’s lots more and i’ll write more of it later, my notes are as crazed as the performance, they are a list of all the things that happened, which all had “meanwhiles”— movement and performance scores or riffs that recur, with repetition, throughout the show. I’m getting a feeling for the rhythms of their work, very much variation and repetition— setting up patterns and pushing them and letting them collide and also, like waves, sometimes just recede and leave us in the breathing space, the flatness and emptiness between tides of action, event, story.


2 Responses to “Hidden J”

  1. David Williams May 2, 2007 at 8:23 am #

    Hi Christine,

    It’s a interesting work, isn’t it? Jagged is the term I usually use to describe it. As someone who also possesses a large collection of FE videos (about 18 shows), this one is particularly fascinating as it’s the only one I have that is performed only for the camera, with no live audience present. Perhaps perversely, the Hidden J video seems the most intimate of the performances, one that i can react to unmediated by the ‘real’ audience who were actually in the right place at the right time to be there in the theatre that night. So in a bizarre way, i almost feel like I’ve seen the show, that they performed it just for me…

    anyhow, I enjoyed the RT piece.



  2. xtine3 May 2, 2007 at 1:51 pm #

    Yes, great point–there’s an intimate, Hitchcockian voyeuristic intimacy to it for me. I love the set-within-set aspect of the shows too.

    Glad you liked the RT piece. -Christine

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