“A bunch of people who have never met and don’t know what they’re doing?” Mark, unimpressed, reads the show’s information on Bristol Old Vic’s website. “Sounds like every meeting I’ve ever been to.”
OK, these 45 Bristolians, brought together on stage for the first time, might not have performed as one before but it soon becomes apparent that they’re a unit, fused by their humanness, locked into each other as they explore their individuality, while flaunting the homogeneity of our species.
Having performed in the USA and Europe, Theatre Artists 600 HIGHWAYMEN make their UK debut at Bristol Old Vic with The Record, an In Between Time collaborative production with various local organisations. On taking my seat, I’m first struck by the vastness of the Old Vic stage; it’s very rare to see that huge space stripped bare to the walls so that you can detect easily the black radiators and speakers that touch the very back of the theatre. There is a prolonged, even eerie, silence and the woman on stage is accompanied only by two (as yet mute) musicians, exposed and alone. This must be nerve wracking indeed but she shows no sign of that. Gradually, she is joined by fellow Bristolians, as each discover herself/himself, slowly becoming aware of the surroundings, of each other and of us. We, the audience, seem to follow suit. Watching.
Set to an rich and amorphous soundtrack reminiscent of Steve Reich, delivered by Brandon Wolcott and Cellist Emil Abramyan, The Record is performance art, the type you might expect to see on a screen with headphones attached at contemporary venues such as the Arnolfini or ICA. It uses movement (sometimes a lack of it) to convey our absolute uniqueness but inescapable uniformity. The brief must be, ‘come as your are’ because there are no grand costumes here, just clothes, the outfits we wear daily to display who we are in all our difference of shape, skin colour, size and age. This piece of theatre strikes me as physical and exploratory, a treatise into who are we and what binds us together. And, you know, we have a lot more in common that we sometimes realise.
The Record runs at Bristol Old Vic until 11th Feb. There will be a post show Q&A with 600 HIGHWAYMEN after Friday evening’s performance
Image by Maria Baranova, with thanks