I like the Cube Cinema in Bristol. I have only ever seen theatre there so I need to rectify that soon and go see a film, but I immediately feel comfortable as I walk in. There are no airs and graces, it’s a bit dingy but in a relaxed, friendly, comfortable way that reminds me of good times as a student and the bar prices put a smile on your face too! Tonight, I am here with a fellow Kid Carpet fan friend of mine to see The Castle Builder, a Tobacco Factory Theatres BEYOND offsite show that also co-stars veteran street performer, puppeteer and actor Vic Llewellyn. In 2006, Vic was working in Norway, and was told the true story of a psychiatric patient who spent 5 years building an extraordinary, huge castle in the local landscape, which remained undiscovered by the authorities for years. Inspired by this tale, Vic and Ed started talking about writing a show based on the Norwegian story. Their research led them to other stories of amazing people, the Outsider Artists who devoted their lives to creating fantastical structures, living their lives on the outer limits of creativity and building regulations.
If you have seen Kid Carpet (aka Ed Patrick) do kids theatre you will know a few things already about how this show will go. There will certainly be music played on ridiculous instruments, audience participation and a range of weird and wonderful props. If you don’t know Kid Carpet or Vic Llewellyn, then the opening scene where Vic smashes a wooden chair to smithereens with an axe while Ed sings about it will certainly let you know you are about to see a show that is probably quite different from anything you have seen before. The performance style is silly in a bit of Vic Reeves/Bob Mortimer chaotic style; the show is a bit ‘wonky’, and if you like your humour surreal and a teensy bit anarchic it will certainly make you giggle. What you might not be expecting from a show where grown men leap about with cardboard boxes on their head and ride mini bicycles around the stage is that it is also thought-provoking, life affirming and more than a little bit joyous.
Vic and Ed clearly feel that these outsider artists were magnificent humans and we should all strive to be even a little bit as excellent. The people who feature in the stories were often seen as the ‘mad’ ones, but Vic and Ed tell their tales with almost reverence, so you end up questioning whether they are the sane ones in a really mad world. Karl Genzel was a schizophrenic outsider artist who made the most incredible and obscene sculptures using chewed up bread. His doctor eventually encouraged him to move into woodwork! Genzel was one of the artists whose work featured in a Nazi propaganda art exhibition in 1937, which showed modern abstract artists work juxtaposed against the work of mental patients in a bid to undermine and denigrate the work of the respected abstract painters. This certainly backfired, all it did was allow the world to see that ALL the work was amazing, and should be celebrated equally, and regardless of who made it. So many names were mentioned, so many wonderfully eccentric people making their mark on the world. Tressa Prisbrey started building a “village” of shrines, walkways, sculptures, and buildings from recycled items and discards from the local landfill. She began her labour of love in her 60’s; eventually it housed her collection of bottles. All one and a half million of them. She filled quite a few of these with her equally large pencil collection. Raymond Isidore started decorating his house with mosaic after his wife asked him to make the outside sink watertight. He never stopped, finding his inspiration in dreams and covering every single surface of his house in broken crockery. All of the stories were outlandish, all of the people put a smile on my face. And that chair that Vic smashed up? Each night, a new ‘maker’ creates a piece from the remnants of the chair. When tonights maker brought her creation to the front of the stage there was an audible gasp at quite how beautiful the thing she has created was. We left on a high.
The show encourages the audience to make something, to leave their mark on the world with art or music that speaks to the heart. One of the songs asks us to consider how we view what is important in terms of creativity and art making in all its forms. Is art only good if it is being collected? Are you leaving a mark, or leaving no trace? The show is a call to arms for creatives, but also for those who don’t view themselves in that way. It’s an encouragement to live the best life you can and engage in your passion fully and wholeheartedly. I am about to engage in a year of living a little differently, of throwing myself into horticultural therapy, growing and being on the land, and I left inspired and ready to get going. But I am also an artist, one who struggles with concerns around whether my work is ‘good enough’. I was reminded of what is important; I like what I do, and every once in a while when I am brave enough to stick it on a wall someone else likes it enough to buy it. So in this year ahead as I embrace my passions, I’ll keep on painting and try to leave my own little mark on the world. Thanks Vic and Ed for reminding me of why I should keep on doing what I do.
The Castle Builder is on at The Cube until Saturday 25th Feb. Go see it, and don’t forget to NOT switch off your phone…
Review by Karen Blake