Hey Mathew

We saw this production at the theater in the mill on Thurs 23/10/2008 and some again on Sat 24/10/2008.

The review is by a very nice gentleman we had the pleasue of meeting on the opening night: Daniel Austin (his blog: http://www.onmakingtheatre.blogspot.com)

On 'Hey Mathew' …

23 October 2008 | 24 October 2008
Theatre in the Mill | The University of Bradford

This work-in-progress collaboration between four experimental theatre makers, Chris Goode, Jonny Liron, Cis O’Boyle and Jamie Wood, and a number of international writers, creates an expectation of trying to understand, without necessarily defining, the nature of that experiment and what theatre has been made.

Is it ‘rich, complex, powerfully erotic and suffused with poetry’? Does it ‘set up a stimulating encounter with a seductive and visionary mind’? Is it an ‘immersive theatre work’? Does it explore ‘the boundaries of our artistic freedoms’?

For the most part, Hey Mathew does do all these things. But there are boundaries and experimentations and freedoms that have only begun to be explored and which, no doubt, as the piece expands and continues ‘to be made’ will develop.

The seductive and visionary mind is that of Paul Goodman (1911-1972). ‘To a whole generation of American youth, Paul Goodman was an intellectual hero. Poet, playwright, essayist; anarchist, pacifist, provocateur; pipe-smoking academic, radical queer renegade: in the early1960s, Goodman was one of the most visible and important thinkers of his time’.

But at the age of 20, Paul Goodman’s son, Mathew, died in a climbing accident.

The diverse aspect of Paul Goodman’s being is reflected in the diverse aspect of this theatre piece.

To simply define what this piece is about would somehow diminish its qualities, its tones, its nuances and its value because Hey Mathew seems a deliberate ‘jigsaw’ that should not be put together as it refuses a conventional linear structure. It is multi-layered and too beautifully convoluted in its ontological ideas, and occasional metaphysical impulses – which remain at its core – for the complexities to be fused together and thus made conventionally complete.

If, as Gaston Bachelard expresses, in The Poetics of Space (1958), in his chapter on ‘The Dialectics of Outside and Inside’: ‘We seek to determine being and, in so doing, transcend all situations, to give a situation to all situations’ then Hey Mathew takes as its form that concept.

The images on the pieces of the Hey Mathew jigsaw – and it was another member of the audience who used the jigsaw imagery in discussion afterwards – are clearly defined and in experiencing the piece the audience, the watcher, the other Mathews (and we all become Mathew at some point during the performance when we identify with images, themes and concepts) don’t really want it to be complete. Mathew’s death completes Goodman’s life and our experience of that life.

The dramatic strengths of this theatre experience lie in its promenade qualities, which allow the audience to have equal ‘presence’; its exploration of the body, and of death, where the body ‘acts’ and is acted upon; and the central performance of Jonny Liron as Mathew (and as Jonny Liron) giving the piece its energy and ‘force’.

Goodman says, in his introduction to Three Plays (1964), on Art of the Theatre: ‘whatever is on the stage must primarily be a presence, a force, an act’ and these dynamics are all inherent and inextricably interwoven throughout our experience.

The body that promenades most is that of the central performer: Jonny Liron. The audience watch, listen, think, shift slightly, melt, turn, sit, stand, occasionally laugh and applaud at the end. This applause was incongruous (at the first performance) because we had shared something quite intimate, personal, non-performative at times, and at others times hugely energised in its performance qualities, but it was as though the applause-piece-of-the-jigsaw belonged to another puzzle. However, the applause was prompted by a ‘thank you’ and as the credits rolled on our screen – our window / a window – the applause seemed a more natural response at the second performance. This may, however, have been because the audience at the second performance tended to remain seated on the floor from the outset.

There are a number of dialectics taking place throughout Hey Mathew. These dialogues and debates are: the being and non being of life and death; the private and the public and how these relate to notions of outside and inside; the performative body and the non-performative body; and the persona of Mathew and that of Jonny Liron and all that comes with that.

These dialectics exist in a given room. Not set up as a conventional theatre space but a conventional studio space nonetheless. But this is a room in which we are welcomed and invited – by one of the collaborators, Chris Goode, who sits, for the most part, at the edge of the room on the floor reading from his laptop – to imagine that we have been carried in whilst asleep; to imagine that we are here freely but that we do not know that the door may have been locked without us perhaps knowing. He acknowledges that this is all about us: the creative team and we the audience, and suggests that it would not be possible without all of us. Our imagination is thus unlocked, opened, and we are able to freely imagine all that will now happen and the associations that will come with those experiences. It is almost a didactic device but there is a gentleness here that has been inspired by Goodman: ‘what is needed is a gentler curiosity’.

Within this room are other rooms, clearly defined for all Mathews present. There is a central space with a chair and where, at the start of the piece, Jonny arranges, re-arranges and distributes, at times with some precision and sometimes less so, clothes (costumes perhaps) to other spaces: the other rooms. There is careful and studied preparation and order here, of a life: Mathew’s life and Jonny’s life. But Mathew’s body is a dead body and Jonny’s body is not. When Jonny finally takes off his clothes, having played with putting on shoes, and a coat, he draws us a picture of Mathew’s body with these clothes over the chair and the floor. The image is one that remains in the imagination throughout to remind us of Mathew’s – and our – dead body.

Our experience throughout is a private, intimate one and we are constantly reminded of the delicacy of this because a blind at one of windows, within the room – the bedroom – has not been fully closed and you are thus aware that beyond this inside, intimate space, there is an outside that may be something other. There was a poignant moment of osmosis towards the end of the piece when a reflection of Jonny, fighting / boxing, was cast through the window so that he appeared on the outside of the room and thus suspended in the outside air which curiously reflected a ‘dancing’, ghost-like image of Mathew as he fell to his death in 1967. Perhaps no one else in the audience was witness to this which felt, in the moment, somewhat of an epiphany, a resurrection, a glimpse at what might be beyond the room and beyond being.

The darkness on entering the space (and through the window) at the start of the piece, and the created rooms within, were reminiscent of the exploratory atmosphere and fragmented aura of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Dark Pool installation (see image above) at the Fruitmarket earlier this year at the Edinburgh Art Festival. Chris Goode comments on his Thompson’s blog that: ‘In common with all the installations in the show, particularly the (apparently) breezier interactive adventure of The Dark Pool, the devil is in the incredible level of detail, and in the absolute finesse of the scaling.’ Hey Mathew creates a similar interactive adventure as the audience explore the rooms-within-the-room at the start and become involved in an incredible thought process about the various pieces of its jigsaw.

The intriguing, mysterious and flickering flames of a candelabra, the cosiness of two lamp-shades (each covered in a scarf) sat on the floor by both the bed (with its warm, orange blanket) and in the dressing room of cardigan-kid, and the unlit but swirling mirror ball all ‘whispered’ a gentle, safe and intimate experience for us. Cis O’Boyle’s lighting, as she defines it, is a hidden art of light reflecting – whispering – and illuminating the rooms: ‘we see things in a way that light is reflected off them. If we change the quality of the light then we change what we see.’

Jonny Liron, the performer, the actor, is the body we watch and study in a comfortably intimate way: as he dresses, undresses, explores his rooms; as he dances a ‘hoody-street-dance’, fights, role plays with comic-book heroes, climbs; considers one of the co-directors, Chris Goode, with whom he has collaborated on this piece; as he, on projected video film, voyeuristically films himself in other rooms – a kitchen and a bedroom – sleeping … et al.

An accident occurred some fifty minutes into the piece at its first performance – when Jonny was standing on the box of the hoody-street-dancer, the top of which collapsed under his weight – which was, in the same moment, both a spontaneous, unrehearsed ‘theatrical accident’ (which are always inspiring and offer up new ideas and avenues) and a real, conventional ‘accident’ resulting in injury.

Blood flowed from Jonny’s body on both legs below the knee, and on feet, and whilst both performer and audience were comfortable with the improvised, humorous, physical response from Jonny, there was discussion about accidents and injury and heath and safety and risk assessments amongst the audience afterwards: a genuine concern for his well-being.

No director would have directed an injury but the blood was a welcome body fluid as it reminded us of Mathew’s spilt blood as he fell from his mountain in 1967. We were thus reminded of the fragility of body, that it contains elements on its inside which spill re-actively outside itself. This development is perhaps not what Chris Goode had in mind when he posted on the Hey Matthew blog in his third week of the making-process, his ‘desire for roughness and responsiveness and slipperiness and not-knowing'. The slipperiness of the accident lent itself beautifully to the many dialectics of the piece and was acknowledged and consciously interwoven in a new piece of dialogue from Chris Goode at the second performance. Acknowledging the hurt, the injury, the hospitalisation, the initial bandages, was inspired, though an obvious natural development because what happened, happened in the room the previous evening and so could not be ignored. The sight of the already scabbed scars on the body at the second performance – there were five with one significant bruising – again reflected Mathew's wounds as he fell.

Movement in the piece has been explored and developed with the co-director, Jamie Wood, and his work adds a dimension that informs the performative and non-performative qualities. Jonny Liron is an actor, performer and theatre-maker and in Hey Mathew he dances, performs, acts, fights – and moves – with ease, a conviction and an energy that is natural within him and his body. His role-play-flight-sequence with comic book super-heroes is structured by Jamie allowing flight and physical power to be embodied by us all. Here, Jonny is at his most comfortable, his most imaginative, creative and, surprisingly, his most non-performative.

He is again comfortable, physically, within the projected, video diary sequences as he drinks, films himself, reads, sleeps, writes and dances. These are honest, real, and natural images that allow the audience a way of accessing the interests and desires of Paul Goodman and to see Mathew in a way that is nostalgic and reminiscent of being young.

What cannot be ignored with this work is that the Hey Mathew blog invites us to comment on posts, texts and ideas by the collaborative team and other bloggers. The blog is a pre-cursor to the performance experience, and becomes an extension of the rehearsal and performance room itself in that the medium will generate words which will generate ideas. We can be a part of this process, in our homes (in other rooms) and contribute to its outcomes but only if there is rigor and a thorough exploration and analysis of the process throughout the life of the blog. We certainly gain an insight into that which the collaborators choose to post and comment upon. What is useful is the blog’s library whereby biographical, historical, philosophical and source material can be accessed to inform the ideas and the work. It allows you to know something about the project before you know the work.

We were invited, three weeks into the process, to consider whether twenty phrases that became twenty moving images could be spotted. Aspects of these jigsaw-phrases are identifiable but require more detailed review and analysis and are worthy of a separate response. They do provide a framework for the jigsaw that allows an audience an invaluable way of understanding both the non-linear and the movement structure of the piece.

What has not been covered in these thoughts are: the interwoven and poetic contributions made by the writers; the haunting, and sometimes upsetting, atmosphere created by the music; and the consciousness within the piece of the narrative role played by Chris Goode. This will have to remain for another time and a further draft.

Nonetheless, this piece is rich and complex and poetic but it is not so powerfully erotic. The eroticism remains too distant and detached from us because we remain simply watchers of erotic acts and being and which seem not to be designed to arouse. Again, a separate study of the erotic aspects of the piece is needed for a full and proper analysis.

Hey Mathew is, also, an immersive, open and inclusive experience for an audience because the ideas are explored in a fluid series of movements and tones and media that allow our being – our bodies – to consciously and subconsciously absorb, and assimilate, images, personas and spaces at a pace that is, at times hypnotic, peaceful and always enchanting.

The persona of Mathew is worn ‘lightly’ throughout and it is this lightness of being that gives the piece its true strength, allowing Chris Goode to express a love for the central performer, for Jonny, that is refreshing, honest, both performative and non-performative, but which doesn’t allow, at present, a true embodiment of that which is an expression of freedom: of true artistic freedom.

The experiment in the making of Hey Mathew will remain in how it might further develop over time. A dedicated and thorough pursuit of all that has been so far explored – and made – would develop a piece that allows the above dialectics to sit contradictorily but comfortably together but by pushing the boundaries:

Hey Mathew … is Hey Jonny … is …

31 October 2008

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