Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Get Holy

It's tough work to get me away from the Southside of  Glasgow - the promise of avant-garde performance might get me into town, a month long festival can convince me to go to the  east coast. I might miss the embrace of my family and the warmth of Wessex, but it takes something special to persuade me to visit London.

So, my sister can thank Chelsea Theatre for the appearance of her stinking brother on her couch at various times between October and February. It's time for Sacred - if the name isn't enough, the line-up of this festival has got me checking the times of the night buses to the Big Smoke.

Apparently, Chelsea Theatre are expanding Sacred throughout the year. For the first time since 1973, I am considering whether my ambitions would not be better served in the English capital. Performances from Tim Etchells out of Forced Entertainment, fifteen new works and a special event at Battersea Arts Centre, a swatch at Durer and Dominic Johnson attempting to develop a secular ritual to address catastrophe: it's as if Torture Garden, Tramway's programming and the best bits of the Fringe are being rolled up into a single season of delightful awkwardness.

First up is So Below, from Chelsea Theatre Associate Artist Karen Christopher and Gerard Bell. Christopher used to part of Goat Island, regulars at Tramway and often stars of the New Territories festival. They split up a few years back  - sensibily realising that nothing gets old quite as quickly as the new - and finished with a grand tour of the UK in a show that celebrated the very idea of ending (best part: the extracts from Lenny Bruce's last gig, or the ritual building on stage of a minature cathedral, to folk style choreography).

I have only seen Dominic Johnson twice, and both times on the same weekend. He turned up at Torture Garden, and proved that even the most bloody performance can be  beautiful, before heading to the last ever Dr Sketchy's in The Arches. Too the musical accompaniment of Glasgow band Gorman, he... well, I am not sure I can describe what he did, but the pictures drawn at that Dr Sketchy were a little more explicit than usual.

Departure is likely to be as provoking as either of these events: his work crosses over from the fetish scene into Live Art, using the strategies of religion to find a secular ritualism. The rather polite claim that he uses "tattooing and techniques borrowed from body modification" masks his interest in the revival of neo-primitive culture: what is ffashion for some is shamanic in his art, evoking the mortification of the flesh once popular with saints. His genius is in finding new ways to express difficult moods: his themes this time out, disaster and catastrophe, were due his consideration.

Keeping things cheerful is the special event at BAC: Sight is the Sense that Dying People Tend to Lose First.  This is the Tim Etchells' number - Etchells being one of the people responsible for my decision to chuck in the teaching gig and run away to join the critical circus. As artistic director of Forced Entertainment, he cracked open my skull with Bloody Mess - I was in the middle of doing a Jesuit retreat in daily life at the time, and the combination of Forced Entertainment's anarchic theatre and the prolonged periods of meditation compelled me to accept that performance might be more relevant than Latin.

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