It’s my birthday today! And you know what that means? The same thing it means every night, Pinky. I’m going to the fucking theatre.
Well, sort of. Not quite.
I’m actually just making my way to the Tate Modern at the moment, sinking my way down the long ramp that takes you down and towards the entrance for the Turbine Hall.
But for tonight, that counts as a theatre.
There’s a bit of confusion on the door. A group are trying to explain to the ticket checker that they don’t actually have their tickets yet. They still need to pick them up. After a bit of back and forth, they’re let through, and it’s my turn.
“Collecting tickets?” I say.
“Ah, okay,” comes the reply. And nothing more.
Looks like I’m on my own here then.
I don’t know if you’ve been to the Tate Modern recently, but what’s surprising to me when I walk in, is how little, well, art there is. It’s all about the building. The concrete walls towering up either side of you. The walkways and overhangs and windows and struts and all the other sticky out bits that I don’t have the words for.
And in the centre of it all, running up through this vast foyer space, is a queue.
A very long queue. As long as this building is high. And growing as the dribs and drabs of people walking down towards it are drawn in, like an epic game of snake, winding itself back and trying to avoid bumping into its own tail.
But amongst all this, I’ve just spotted someone. Someone I know. Someone I work with. Someone who scored me this ticket. Someone who is coming towards me, with a wodge of tickets in her hands, ready to give me mine.
“I feel like one of those cool people who knows people,” I tell her, and then realise that I am one of those cool people who knows people.
“Welcome to Sadler’s Wells presents at our temporary venue,” she says cheerfully, handing me my ticket.
As temporary venues go, the Turbine Hall is quite something. Not exactly a pop-up tent in a muddy field somewhere, is it?
I look at what she’s give me. The ticket, and also a little booklet.
“Is that a freesheet?” I say a little over excitedly. “I love a freesheet.”
“I know you do! You must let me know what you think!”
Initial impressions are that despite only being a single sheet of A4, folded twice like a business letter, this jobby has been professionally printed. Just look how the image goes all the way to the edge of the page! Very nice.
“We’re opening soon,” she says. “So this queue will go down quite fast.”
“So you recommend joining it?”
She pauses. “Yeah… seats are unallocated.”
I don’t need telling twice.
As promised, the queue starts moving really rather fast, taking us down the hall towards a huge bank of seating that fills almost the entire width of the space. I flash my ticket at the ticket checker and get nodded into a maze of bollards, where we are snaked through to the right side of the hall.
Further down a front of houser offers me a freesheet from a large pile, but I hold mine up. “Already got one,” I say.
I’m hoping the: I have contacts, you see, is understood between us without me needing to say it explicitly.
“Ah, perfect!” she says. Yeah, she got it.
Half the seats are already occupied by the time I get around. I traipse up steps until I get to the first row that is almost empty and make my way right to the end.
It’s really hot in here. Sweltering. A dry, heavy heat, that settles on your skin like an itchy blanket. I’m hoping having nothing but the cool metal bars of the railings on one side will help. I don’t do well in heat. As soon as the mercury goes past twenty degrees I’m feeling queasy. When it tops twenty-four I’m throwing up. Any more than that and I’m gonna faint if I feel too hemmed in.
Yeah, I really don’t do well in heat.
This is going to be a real fun summer.
The seats are nice though. Much better than you usually get in these set ups. Wide, with plenty of leg room and a decent, if not brilliant, rake.
And there before us, is the Turbine Hall in all its magnificence.
It’s not often that you get to enjoy the sight of such a large empty space. Well, not without the benefit of horizons and opens skies and all that shit.
I can’t help but think though, that things might be slightly more comfortable if they’d left the turbines in. I get my fan out and give myself a good blast, but it’s only a temporary relief. I can’t keep flapping once the performance starts.
As my row begins to fill up, I start noticing the type of tickets people have. Sadler’s for some. Tate for others. And soon enough I start trying to guess which ones organisation each person bought their tickets from. That girl in the orange jumpsuit? Tate. The bloke with the round glasses and neat moustache? Sadler’s.
I think I’m starting to creep out my neighbour (Tate).
I lean against the railings and look down below.
There’s a young woman down there, bouncing around and holding her foot up behind her as she stretches out her legs. She’s very sparkly, dressed in a tomato red ice-skater’s costume.
She’s chatting with one of the security people, nodding her head in response to some unheard question.
A second later, she’s off, sprinting down the makeshift corridor and out into the hall.
She doesn’t waste much time. The name of the show is 10000 Gestures. And the intent is to perform exactly what it says on the poster. Ten thousand gestures, danced and behaved and delivered and executed and discharged. All different. And not one of them repeated. That’s a lot of gestures.
There’s no way she can do that alone.
Twenty more dancers pour out of a door at the side of the hall, flooding the dance floor with a torrent of movement.
All to the sounds of Mozart’s Requiem.
I frickin’ love Mozart’s Requiem.
And yeah, yeah. I know. I’m such a fucking cliché. The Goth girl likes a requiem. Quelle fucking surprise. But I do find it genuinely thrilling. Even without the overtones of death. And it’s not like I’m an undiscerning reqieumphile. There’s plenty of sucky requiems out there. Britten’s War Requiem can go fuck a duck, quite frankly.
But Mozart... Well.
The dancers veer between the everyday and recognisable movements, picking wedgies out of the bottoms and scratching, to performing child’s pose, upside down, while balancing on another dancer’s feet.
Does that count as one movement or two I wonder? Or perhaps even three, with each individual dancer's actions adding up to a shiny new one.
There’s so much going on, I’m never sure where I’m meant to be looking, always convinced I’m missing something better as soon as I allow my eyes to linger.
And then the screaming starts.
Long drawn out wails. Short bleats of distress.
A caterwaul of pain rising up from the stage and going on and on and on.
People start to leave. Scuttling down the aisle, their bags clutched tight to the chests.
And still the dancers cry out. Unstoppable in their anguish. And I want to cry out too, to cover my ears with my hands, rush from my seat. But I’m trapped at the end of my row, stuck in my seat with politeness.
Just as I decide I can’t take another second of screaming, they stop.
A dancer points into the audience. “Boris!” she shouts. I know, intellectually, that she’s referring to the choreographer, Boris Charmatz. But that name, this week, shouted out by a distressed sounding woman, well, it provokes unfortunate emotions inside of me.
I’m not doing well. It’s so hot, and the air is so dry. A tickle has lodged in my throat and it refuses to be coughed out.
There’s a crash, as something is knocked off the seating bank and down past the railings.
A security officer walks over to grab it.
I wonder if I can do the same. Feed myself through the railings to be picked up and looked after by security.
But there’s no escape. The dancers are coming. Leaving the safe confines of the dance floor and merging with the audience. They grab water bottles and chug from them thirstily. Tote bags are whipped out from under seats and swung in lasso mode over their heads.
They climb up between the rows, slither between the seats, and squirm back down, shouting out numbers in French as they go. The countdown of their gestures.
A small boy sitting in the row behind me is enveloped in a dancer’s arms, and she pulls him away from his parents, walking him down the aisle before releasing him. He returns, climbing back up, darting around against the overwhelming onslaught of dancers, his eyes wide with confusion. His mother pulls him back into her arms and he leans against her, safe once more.
A man is hefted up from his seat and slung over the shoulders of a dancer in a firemen’s lift before being carried away.
Hands are clasped.
Freesheets stolen and thrown away.
Clothes removed and chucked about. A flurry of jackets and cardigans.
Something is lobbed at one of the security officers. He stays resolutely in his seat, fixing the dancer with a hard stare.
A dancer wearing nothing put a dance belt climbs over my seat, his bare bottom sliding down my arm as he continues on his way down to the front row.
And then they’re gone.
A few people get up to retrieve their belongings.
Now that it’s over, and the dancers are back where they belong, a gentle giggle bounces around.
“Dancers may interact with the audience.”
That's what it had said in the sign by the queue.
I’m not quite sure that advisory message quite covers what just happened to us. It feels as if something has been broken. Not the barrier between performer and audience, but something far more sacred. Something more akin to trust.
I can’t help but think of Kill Climate Deniers at the Pleasance, where in the midst of a rave, a performer cheekily asks permission to drink from an audience member’s glass. Or Séance, where we were given a last out before the lights went down, and provided with clear advice about how to handle things if we were overwhelmed. Or Let's Summon Demons, where names are exchanged and drinks shared before secrets are exposed and dark forces take hold.
Here there was no escape. No warning. No relationship between performer and performee.
I feel a little betrayed.
I am too hot, and frankly too bothered, for any of this.
And on top of it all, it’s my birthday! Last year I went to Hamilton. This year I get a sweaty bottom on my arm.
I mean, honestly.