Thursday, 2 June 2016

Review: Everything by my side, LIFT 2016 at Crossrail Place

(c) Laura Limp
"There was a moment in time..."

The things we end up doing for theatre, like climbing into a bed in the middle of a busy footbridge in Canary Wharf for a good quarter of an hour... And not alone either, there was a woman in there too, I can't even remember the last time I was between the sheets with a member of the opposite sex! But such is the set-up for the Argentinian Fernando Rubio's Everything by my side, part of the 2016 London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), and what a subtly beautiful thing it is.

Seven double beds are lined up in the tunnel and in each one a storyteller awaits, as each member of our group is allocated a number and given the simple instructions - take off your shoes, get into bed, and remain silent. Once there, it's a most incongruous feeling, such close proximity with a complete stranger and the noise of commuters continuing to rush by. But slowly, as the whispered tale begins, as the storybook opens, an extraordinary sense of intimacy builds up.

The story, insofar as there is one, is fractured, snatches of dreamlike meanderings all hooked on the same starting phrase but spiralling off in different directions. But what affected me most was what happened when there was no talking. The moment of elongated silence that began the experience, with just a noisy set of footsteps echoing away, almost as an impromptu countdown; the first time the actress took my hand and just straight at me; the gentle caress of the cheek as emotion threatened to take me over.

I always find it fascinating to look at the way in which I participate in these kinds of immersive theatre experiences. In my head, I'm always absolutely up for it but once the reality kicks in, it is often a different matter - here, it was the directness of the eye contact that took me by surprise, I found it hard to sustain at first. But as with the best examples of the form, there's no challenge here, no coercion, just a gentle reminder that there is no right or wrong way to do it, just your way. Everything is ok, Everything [is] by my side. 
Running time: 15 minutes
Booking until 3rd June at Canary Wharf, then 4th-6th June on the South Bank - it's free, but advance booking is necessary (it's also playing at the Latitude Festival if you're headed there)

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