June 1, 2016
A wise man once said, “I’ve always been me, I guess I know myself.”
But just because Drake’s found his own inner peace, it doesn’t mean that the rest of us have – and luckily, Hidden Door 2016 is on hand to help you rediscover your zen. Or, at the least, to learn how to spend an hour without once checking your notifications.
Tuesday’s line-up centered around connection and communication: Storytelling, panel discussions, poetry jams and immersive performance pieces all worked hard to get people chatting upon the cobbles. However, upstairs in the Mini Theatre, the brief for the worryingly titled Lethally Harmless: Parallel seemed contradictory: Six strangers, one hour… but no talking?
After a small, nervous group gathered outside the doors to the theatre, a nice man explained that instead of verbal communication, we’d be relying entirely on body language. Then he presented a very worrying Terms & Conditions sheet, warning against distress, disturbing images and flashing lights – much less nice. Once in the room, we took off our shoes and the session began… and although the 60 minutes which followed definitely were difficult, they were also definitely not deadly. I can’t speak for the experiences of the other five participants, but Parallel was conducted with such warmth and openness that it became surprisingly relaxing after the initial awkwardness subsided. For the naturally gobby (hiya), shutting up for a solid hour might seem off-putting, but the time flew – and learned us all some important lessons.
Following such a peaceful session, the tumult out on the cobbles felt a shock to the system. The sun was still shining, noodles were still being slurped, and two identically dressed women chained by the neck were still getting up in everyone’s personal space. The queue for Magnetic North’s production of Walden moved fast, and soon a small audience was sat upon curved, wooden benches surrounding a big pile of sand.
The show is adapted from the reflections of American writer Henry David Thoreau, and focusses upon the two years he lived in complete solitude, in a remote forest next to Walden pond. Frustrated by life’s unnecessary distractions, Thoreau decided to take decisive action and strip back his day-to-day existence to its barest roots. In detail, he describes how he builds only what he needs, grows only what he can eat, and how he develops an intimate, practical relationship with the natural world around him. Thoreau’s dedication to living simply, without the bustling streets of urban society feels incredibly, worryingly alien to our modern-day, digitally connected world – but sounds a far more satisfying solution than, say, one of those naff Mindfulness colouring books. Using just sand, stone and wood, Cameron Mowat’s thoughtful, engaging, conversational performance turns Thoreau’s experience into tales which feel familiar and relatable – and asked proper questions of the habits we have built for ourselves.
One more break for air, and it’s back into the Peely Stage for Annie Lord’s Bones. The short, sharp, site-specific reading begins in the womb, traverses the slaughter house history of the Kings’ Stables Courtyard and culminates in one of the world’s most important scientific discoveries. Lord’s delivery is soft, but photographically precise – each word is carefully chosen, each sentence is measured. Assisted by projected images and historical artefacts, Lord captivates the room with visceral details, hooking her story upon flesh and bone – and the skeletal frames which support (and outlast) us all. She leaves the stage, and audience members clutch their hands, visibly moved.
Outside, the clock’s nearing 10.30pm and the festival is still in full swing. Withered Hand holds forth in the Long Room, charming a buoyant audience with heartfelt tales of the musical variety, and closes out a day of unexpected discoveries and human connection. In the courtyard, though, enigmatic strangers are still pacing the stones in sharp shoes, clutching suspicious briefcases. Are they part of Eureka’s interactive crime-solving adventure, perhaps? Or just snappily dressed punters? The adventure continues on Wednesday.