How are you? (genuine question)
I’m a little fretful going into Neither Here Nor There. I’ve taken on a few too many hours at work the past few days, and I’m the kind of tired that makes talking effortful. I’m not good at chit chat at the best of times – I don’t enjoy introducing myself to neighbours, making jokes with customers, I’ve always written better than I speak – so I’m thinking I’ve probably come to the wrong place tonight. I’ll know later that’s not true.
Why speak, and when?
I’m taking six minutes to write each of the paragraphs in this review. Writing as if speaking (not quite free-writing, I’m giving myself time to think, but the thoughts might be loosely strung together, in the wrong order, with spelling errors and unfinished sentences. I craft too much and say too little, too afraid of inaccuracy, mediocrity, embarrassment, regret. What can I say when I just have to speak? Can I be truer to myself? If I run out of things to say, the paragraph ends, and there is silence. Silence is ok too, Sonia says, you don’t have to fill it – though when it happens in the show it’s immediately obvious I’m gonna need a lot more practice to get the hang of it. I find myself getting carried away almost involuntarily on a wave of stuttering half-sentences I’d rather not be saying. Some things I only half-mean, many things are repetitions of things I’ve said to other people in other situations, there are things I want to say but don’t because i decide I need better words, or can’t quite locate the thought.
There’s Sonia Hughes and Jo Fong, the makers and hosts of this piece. I’ve not seen their work before, but I know they both work a lot with Quarantine. They are both middle-aged women. Jo is East Asian and Sonia is black. Jo used to live in London, now she lives in Cardiff. Sonia passed a man in the street shouting “DEATH TO ALL TRAITORS” (he didn’t specify what they had betrayed) – a man who just needed to say something, so went outside and said it. She speaks first, and she’s incredibly funny – it feels a bit like stand up (but without all the artfully concealed effort). I don’t realise at first how much it disarms me, makes me forget my tiredness. The audience are mostly (I think) involved in theatre and performance in some capacity. The people I spoke to: a friend of Jo’s, an ex-dancer (or just on a break), Sonia, a theatre director. I guess that’s ok, at least to an extent. Theatre people are, of course, people too. It makes for a certain kind of conversation, probably. I mean it’s not ok, obviously, if we’re the only people who come, but I just mean that it doesn’t get on my nerves here as it might have done on another day, in another show. The first person I speak to has a beard that makes me think he’s very trust-worthy, a voice that’s nice to listen to – jokes suddenly come easily to me, which is a rare feeling. The effort starts to wear away. I’m warming up now, too – the paragraphs are getting longer.
What’s comes after the question?
Small talk is difficult, but I like speaking in structured situations. Here we have six minutes to respond to a question handed to us on a little card. One person speaks, uninterrupted, as the other person listens. You change partners. At one point you listen to a song. Sonia and Jo speak to the room for six minutes each. It’s a nice amount of time – just a little longer than a long unit of thought – it encourages you say what you need to, then think about what could be said next. When I tried to write a solo show just on my own I hated it because it all that happened was I stopped myself from doing things. As soon as there’s someone else in the room, it helps you figure things out, even if all they do is listen. The guy I talked to first found himself arriving at conclusions by the end of his six minutes, trying to answer his own questions.
What do you need to do?
Neither Here Nor There. The title is a kind of shrug, a title which takes the stately pace of the walk round the block that begins the show. A comfortable show, a hot water bottle show. More fool you. These questions are anything but inconsequential. They are here, they are there. In fact, they’re essential. These (moderate) speed dates are skip past flirtation – it’s straight into the big stuff. How do you want to live in the world? What’s the shape of your life? What responsibilities to you feel, to yourself and to others? What matters, at the end of it all? This review maybe skirts might smell I always (over-)worry when writing in the first person about the dangers of navel gazing and hand-wringing. The experience of the show isn’t like that. In an airy room looking out onto the street, it’s clear that we have to look in to look out, and vice versa. Change begins inside of us, and in the spaces between us. We have to speak into the spaces that are open. If I manage to draw a conclusion, it’s that speaking brings into being responsibility. Let’s all be braver, now – why not?
[the length of this song to read and edit what I’ve written]
Neither Here Nor There was at Chapter Arts Centre from 7-9 June. It tours to London, Ffwrnais, Norway and Edinburgh from June to August. More info here.