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Spike Presents: An Interruption – An hour of abstract creation let loose in the Alec Clegg studio

Review by Ellie Cansdale

When I walked into the Clegg, I took my seat in the middle row and directly in my line of sight, was a cardboard poster hanging down from the balcony. The texture of it was confusing and when I spoke to Spike Woodley after the show, I learnt that it came from necessity, a creative and timed innocent exploration motivated by aesthetics that led to this poster succinctly demonstrating the abstract nature of the piece itself.

On the stage, a drum kit sat up stage left surrounded by a few chairs. A red electric guitar leaned against the side of one, and a synth sat on another. In the left corner of the stage sat a comfy yellow chair and in it, sat one of the performers, Talia Simmons.

As the lights went down, a chaotic mix of distorted voices resounded around the space, and in a bright purple, Joker-like suit, Spike stood, after entering in a frantic shuffle. Moving his tongue strangely inside his mouth, the voice-over (Spike) informed us that we were about to see an exploration of the abstract. A departure from our everyday lives with a promise of “reality will return after”. This phrase signalled an evening of uncomfortable, edge-of-the-seat performance like nothing we’d seen before.

What proceeded was a grand mixture of creativity left to freely wander the entirety of the space, even directing our attention to the balcony. Several ‘collaborators’ presented their own unique creations interrupting each other peppered with further interruptions from Spike himself ‘playing’ a sort of silent MC. Each new ‘section’ came in a different form, style and tone from a lecture contemplating what it means to be a good person, to a poetic exploration of feeling both too big and too small.

The delivery of each collaborator was highly engaging, each captivating the audience on a different level, and drawing us nearer to the action, as they interacted with us through eye contact and direct speech. Multimedia played a big role in this event. Our focus was directed twice to watch a projection on the floor of the theatre, and even when using conventional theatre techniques, they were employed unconventionally. We watched as Tom Davey spoke to us about the way music affects our mood, dancing around his room to his own music. Later, we were directed to view a series of black & white, disturbing photographs taken by Joe Fenner. His voice through the speakers asserting “the camera is a ghost maker”.

Though the evening didn’t necessarily feel like everything fit together in the conventional sense, it was tied together by a multi-coloured thread, sewn by Spike’s striking yet unnerving persona, Talia’s spoken word poetry and Lewis Fraser’s contemplation of morality that slowly led to his own insanity. At one point, Spike returned to the stage as a strange museum curator, now donning two hair nets covering both hair and face resuming the strange mouth movement to embody this voice. But as much as the effect worked in the piece, this was a specific moment I felt it wasn’t necessarily needed.

Where the abstract nature of the play succeeded however, was characterised in a moment involving a ‘jam session’ which acted as a musical interlude between the other word heavy pieces. Interrupting Talia’s second appearance, three of the collaborators entered and began to play on the instruments that were sitting waiting in the corner. Together they created futuristic, spooky, unnerving sounds and rhythms captivating the audience entirely,

Image taken by Morgan Samuel-King

only to leave abruptly in a noisy exit sending a ripple of laughter through the audience.

Another such moment was that of Morgan Samuel-King’s entrance, wearing nothing but branches and twigs. His abstraction came in the form of a dramatic reading of literature, spoken into a microphone that distorted his voice into a robotic symphony. The words he spoke, scribbled onto a brick, he’d plugged his headphones into.

As the evening drew to a close, we were left an ending consistent with the tone of the evening. Our purple suited MC re-entered the stage, and as he inspected the microphone, he took both hands and spun the stand to point it at us while he stared us down. The lights subtly switched to us as we struggled to read the note at the bottom of the stand. After the front row clapped a few times, the rest of us learned it was our time to leave. We applauded to no bows, and slowly left the space. As I walked across the front, I read the note which stood out as the most concrete assertion of the plays message. “This interruption has ended, please leave the space”.

My conversation with Spike after the show

To better understand the intentions behind the evening, I asked to speak to Spike, preparing a list of questions. It was more of an informal discussion and so it didn’t follow a linear pattern but I have collated it in sections to best represent our conversation.

Where did the show come from?

An Interruption came from the necessity to fill a slot, one that gave him the opportunity to curate other artists' own creative explorations working to craft a whole from these different things. His initial inspiration came from ‘happenings’; a loosely planned or spontaneous event in public, usually with political motivations. Spike wanted his piece to have the feeling of rejecting the conventions of art, working with the world and what you’re given rather than fighting against it. But happenings as a concept still didn’t fully fit his intention, he wanted to explore the abstract, create a “vehicle for people to express their own creativity”. I feel like he truly succeeded in that.

What was your thought process behind the set?

To fit in with his ethos, Spike didn’t want to mess with the space he was using. Ideally, it wouldn’t be in a conventional theatre space, he confessed to me, it would happen more abstractly. The backdrop of the space, a wall and two stage flats, were left there because they were already there, moving them felt like he was trying to control the space too much. This minimalism really worked for the piece, any set would have been too busy and detracted from the actors.

How/why did it become what it is?

Through his discussions and brainstorms with his fellow collaborators, Spike wanted to “embrace the limitations” that they had and allow them to explore their own creativity, providing them with a space to do so that didn’t require a big budget or lots of people. The group of performers mostly come from Look Sharp theatre, a graduate theatre company from the University. They wanted it to not come across as pretentious or disturbing for disturbing’s sake, pushing the audience too far out of their comfort zone that they’re left repulsed not intrigued. To tackle this, Spike chose to give the opening speech where we learn about the show, as well as having a loose structure to it, he wanted to find the “goldilocks zone” discomfort and interest.

How do you choose your words to describe it?

You have noticed in this article that I have avoided using the word performance. Spike wanted to talk to me about the language around this piece. “Language is a powerful tool,” he said. It was difficult to describe it to people to make it inviting and intriguing whilst also not being too pretentious with it. The most important thing was to break theatre conventions, to not force people into the same experience as each other, to not rehearse it too much, to allow little moments of coincidence as speech overlaps that you don’t get when things are structured rigidly. It isn’t a performance, a piece of theatre or a staged production; it’s a “piece,” a “project,” a “collision of independent things,” at a stretch, “performance art”. The people in the space aren’t “performers” but “collaborators”. Audience still fits but that’s too distant. Spike wanted us to feel part of it, part of the moment, highlighted at the end of the piece when we were instructed to leave.

What was your idea behind the ending?

We are so conditioned to the whole ending of a piece of work, where we clap, cheer, leave and often our thoughts on what we saw break too quickly from this; Spike didn’t want this to be an easy entrance back into the real world. He wanted to make it more exciting and active, forcing us to make the ending and giving him a chance to be the audience. I found this a very effective way to end the evening as you didn’t know where it was the true ending, do you trust the note and your fellow audience or go by your instinct.

Spike is hoping to create another interruption to be shared in the near future, keep an eye on his social media for more information.

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