Uninvited Guests’ historical guided tour, The Good Neighbour (Intrepid Explorers), acts as both an intervention and a ritual of enactment. It engages with the local community through a number of traditions; a walk becomes a march, a celebration, a pilgrimage and a procession.
The piece asks questions about the role of politics, activism and the ways in which collectives can intervene into public life. Reclaiming streets, it takes its audience to local cafes, to street corners and to other Battersea landmarks since swallowed by history. You can almost inhale the thick smog of Victorian London and consider the traces left on the area by the 2011 riots. You’re part of a marching band, a single file procession to honour a hero, a location, a memory. At the end, you find you think about the area differently.
By making visible one kind of community, Uninvited Guests are constructing another, albeit one that is more temporary, whose history will leave fewer traces. For a piece which takes its inspiration from the historical walking tour, it deviates in interesting ways from this template to incorporate and engage with a particular social politics, in part dictated by the local area – Battersea, with its history of radical politics and civic movements – but also by the ways in which the company craft rituals.
The Good Neighbour explores changes within communities and inadvertently engages with contemporary movements such as Occupy; although the piece is somewhat nostalgic for this history of radicalism, suggesting similar social divisions between two different historical periods: 1909 and the Industrial Revolution and the 2011 London Riots, the piece centres around one civic building, positing a question about the function of a local centre, whether it be an overtly political space or not. The character of George Neighbour, a local resident commemorated by a plaque in BAC’s lobby, is central to all three strands of the Good Neighbour project (there are three separate pieces for three separate age groups) is less prominent in the narrative of this walk than in the other pieces, but his connection to the venue and the local area act as an anchor for the piece.
The piece is at its strongest when it takes into account the distractions of this outdoor journey: the loud sirens rushing up and down Lavender Hill, a conversation with a local trying to get rid of a bottle of Jack Daniels on his way to an AA meeting, or the screeching noises of trains passing by, almost shaking the imagined past away. At times, the focus on these two historical and political junctures drown out the contemporary identity of this local area, in a London whose architectural fractures are perhaps less pronounced. Cutting through the smog of these memories is the brass brand itself, a sound of the past that elegantly navigates a range of landscapes, both real and imagined.
What Uninvited Guests have constructed so carefully is a series of rituals that transform our engagement with the local area; we go from being part of an audience, to witnesses and participants, and although the piece doesn’t prompt any particular empowerment, it makes clear some ideas about citizenship and community. Theatricality is not used just as a way of enacting historical moments, but as a way of locating the tension within each of these historical landmarks, be it the Arding & Hobbs department store fire of 1909 in which George Neighbour lost his life or the burning of the Lavender Hill Party Shop during last year’s riots. There are other stories along the way which are recounted, some more confrontational than others, and those serve not only to give the piece some flavour, but to create juxtapositions without making hidden value judgements – to show that the sharing of stories is still essential to keep the past alive.