There is a half-remembered discussion of Sigmund Freud I read once in a book and which I have been paraphrasing regularly ever since. It said that for Freud dreams were a way of thinking by doing. You run, you cry, you kiss, you love, you cheat, you argue, you fall, you kill, you eat, you sing, you get lost, you travel back in time, you become somebody else – but you do it all in your head. You do it in your head and so it is thinking, just not a thinking we recognise as thinking. When I am dreaming I am composing thoughts in the way an artist composes a painting or a witch a potion – an assemblage made of bodies and places and actions. An embodied thinking, that is no less eloquent or extraordinary or transformative for being so.
A performance, like a dream, is also a place in which we can build thoughts out of bodies and actions, and in doing so test the relationships between them in a relatively safe environment. But whereas most dreams are a senseless kaleidoscope of half-digested memories and fears and yearnings, in performance we can have a little more control over the thoughts we are constructing. Theatre is a space in which we can ask questions that only our bodies can answer.
For me, a one-on-one performance is a way of asking a number of uniquely embodied questions about the network of relationships that constitute our lived experience of the world. Recently Simon Russell Beale beautifully described acting as “three-dimensional literary criticism”. At its best one-on-one performance is three-dimensional philosophy; an intimate, embodied dialogue. It is a place where we are allowed to rehearse and re-imagine our relationships with each other and the world. A thought buried in a touch of the hand or an awkward exchange of glances or simply the charged space between your body and my body.
I remember standing in an old slaughterhouse in Plymouth, eye to eye with Francesca Steele as she cycled through a series of carefully rehearsed bodybuilding poses, both of us navigating our way through a forest of contested meanings; the stories that are written on our bodies and those we write ourselves. I remember also Adrian Howells washing my feet so gently, with such quiet concentration, and how eloquently that gesture spoke about care and generosity and love. And I remember Jo Bannon, her skin glowing in the enveloping darkness, and feeling the remarkable weight of my looking and the weight for her being looked at, of feeling looked at.
This month at Battersea Arts Centre, Ira Brand and I open a new show we’ve made called put your sweet hand in mine. It is a show about love. When we decided we wanted to make a show about love, we knew we wanted it to be like a dream. And despite wanting this show about love to be a studio show we nonetheless wanted it to feel like a one-on-one performance. To operate in the same way as a one-on-one performance, using the same vocabulary of bodies and gestures and relationships. We wanted it to be an opportunity to use your body and its relationship to other bodies to think about all the people and the things that you have loved. To consider what love is and what other things it might also be. And so although there are scenes, and there are speeches, and a musical interlude, at its heart this is an essay on love that is each night rewritten somewhere in the space between you and the person sitting opposite you.
put your sweet hand in mine is at Battersea Arts Centre 11th-22nd February.
Photo: Gemma Paintin.