Offering the audience ‘a big-hearted, life-affirming and intimate exchange’ with Pause;, Accidental Collective, a performance company from Kent, were in London as part of the Gi20 national showcase for new and established outdoor artists at Spitalfields and Stockton International Festival.
As you approach the designated white tent decorated with a number of clocks, each set to a different time, you get the sense of stepping out of the world for a second, entering a bubble where time stands still. With the performers clad in white linens and the white chair that greets you upon entering the tent it is a little unclear as to whether you are entering a spa or a sanatorium. Anticipation and suspense builds, you have no idea what is about to happen to you. However, rather than having this uncertainty as a tool to induce fear in your audience, as often can be the case with this kind participatory performance, you listen to the gentle and quiet instructions of the performer and take your seat calmly and surprisingly feel really quite safe.
This participatory performance from Accidental Collective requires you to book in for a five minute slot either alone, or as a pair. I chose to experience Pause; as a pair and so found myself sat cheek-to-cheek on the white chair with, thankfully, a good friend. We were presented with a menu of treatments, ‘transportative session’, ‘complimentary treats’, ‘aromatic associations’, ‘burden loss’, life mapping’ and ‘release relief’. Accidental Collective claim that the treatments ‘will help you rid yourself of any nagging doubts or worries, refresh your perspective, or simply escape from the everyday hustle and bustle’. As a pair we decide on ‘complimentary treats’ and Daisy, our ‘therapist’ picks up a glass jar from a white shelf which houses numerous other glass jars, containing various objects including an iPod, paper and pens and bubble wrap. For this particular treatment though, the glass jar is empty. Daisy carefully removes the lid and peers slowly into the jar, playfully preparing herself and us, for whatever was about to happen.
My friend and I quickly glance at each other, but the overriding sense at this point was one of calm intrigue. For the next five minutes we were pushed to the limits of English awkwardness when we were asked to compliment each other, then compliment each other face to face and then finally, the ultimate challenge, to compliment ourselves, out loud. The meditative atmosphere created by the environment and Daisy’s demeanour made what could have been a very uncomfortable and perhaps, unnecessary exchange (the kind of exchange between two friends that only usually happens under the influence of alcohol) wonderfully simple, intimate, and quite emotional. We were then offered a happy ending, each given a hand-picked ribbon from another glass jar which was gently tied round our wrists, and we were instructed to keep it, ‘pin it up or place it in your knicker drawer’ and to read every now and then – a neat and fitting end to our ‘treatment’. I left the tent feeling contemplative and read my happy ending ribbon, a poignant and unassuming keepsake from the performance.
Accidental Collective achieved what they ambitiously promised, a life-affirming exchange which on an afternoon of pantomime rants, shouted improvisation and oversized, grotesque puppets (from the other performances taking place as part of Gi20) proved that outdoor performance doesn’t have to be ‘in your face’. Perhaps it is much more evocative when the experience is quiet, measured and one to savour.
It may seem trite, it may make you cringe; it may make you want to run and hide but what this kind of performance offers is a moment out of your day, to take stock and to look at the world slightly differently. There should be a Pause; tent in every train station in the country at rush hour. A simple idea, well parsed. A piece that highlights Accidental Collective’s ability to create experiences that can change the view of the world for a passer-by, even if only for five minutes.