Thursday, September 2, 2010

Treacle in St James

photo: David Stokes

This year Jersey Arts Centre has showcased the uniqueness and versatility of St James as a local performance space in an initiative inviting theatre groups and artists to take up residency to explore, experiment and devise new work.

January saw The Frequency D’Ici take shelter in the church after an apocalyptic flood, in a scratch performance of Free Time Radical.

In June 1157 Performance Group’s Tao of Hamlet deconstructed the classic text in a haunting, evocative and richly visual experience.

Not to be outshone, in March the Arts Centre youtheatre presented an innovative mad-Brechtian-science-lab Life of Galileo and a delightfully quirky, psychedelic and immersive Alice in Wonderland in July.

Each of these productions transformed the energy of the space, and the relationship of the audience to it, in a new and exciting way.

Last night was the turn of Robert James Anderson in a solo show which encompassed piano playing, running, original and haunting love songs, delicate poetry, strutting his stuff beneath a disco mirror ball while women tucked dollar bills in his pink underwear (in a neat bit of audience interaction in response to his written instructions) strong coffee and green tea, a suspended mirror, video, acting as his own lighting and sound technician and culminating in possibly the first live art/performance art experience in Jersey Arts Centre’s 27 year history.

Belying the T shirt he wore at one point which read ‘Average at Best’, RJA is multi-talented, and good at judging mood and at modulating his relationship with his audience, moving fluidly between comedy and intimacy and eliciting participation at key moments.

The highlight of the evening for me and many others was the live art sequence in which audience members used paintbrushes to coat his now naked body in treacle (which dripped off him onto paper in luxuriously viscous drips) and others then washed his body in a tender ceremony of almost religious simplicity, which it was a privilege to see.

This was a show of many parts and which could be developed further in different directions. Expectations about rehearsing and perfection versus spontaneity and liveness differ between theatre and performance art practice. At times I imagined I was in a Manhattan loft apartment watching the unfolding story of a character, who might or might not be Robert James Anderson, going about his day, exercising, dressing, composing poetry and singing torch songs.

There was a baring of skin but also a baring of emotion and, what held it all together, a generosity of spirit that engaged and embraced the audience.

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