You could easily overdose on the sheer volume of site specific theatre at the moment. From the rather intimate BAC’s One-on-One Festival encounters, to the much larger Punchdrunk/ENO Duchess of Malfi, I have been there, done that, and have been left slightly numb by it all. Finally though, Whitespace Theatre have come up with the perfect balance that fits snugly between intimate and epic within a perfectly formed flat in Hackeywick in their performance of 300 Friends.
When the audience of seven assemble outside the large iron gates of The Ironworks (a large modern collection of flats in Hackneywick overlooking the new Olympic Stadiums) you can tell that you are about to witness something rather special. On the second floor of these apartments is a flat, and within this flat lies 300 Friends and the start of something wonderfully inviting to the senses. It is a flat, a real flat with no doubt real occupants who have kindly escaped for the weekend to allow a theatre troupe to move in instead, and boy am I thankful that they did!
300 Friends is a reminder that whilst we are living in a connected world, where Facebook, Twitter and other social networking tools allow for us to have ‘friends’ and to connect more – we struggle immensely to connect to those we are in direct contact with. That while we connect and get lost in our jobs, attempting to move forward to the next pay month, what we really want, our dreams – are often lost in the ethos of another reality, possibly the cyber reality we are so connected into. 300 Friends is about realising this, and acting upon it.
Whilst set within a flat in which the characters all live within, there is the constant sense that the flat is the imprisonment of all those dreams. That when a scene is placed within a bedroom, and the audience crowd around the bed, the characters imprisonment only grows more, where relationships become strained, trapped, and repeated. Even the bathroom no longer becomes a place of solitary moments, it is shared, exposed and remarkably atmospheric for the performance.
What I admire about 300 Friends is how much is packed into such a small space and how inviting the whole process is for the audience. Whilst we have the ‘narrator’ who interacts with us, calling us from room to room, “you know the drill, no time wasting, on with the show” she also seems not quite there altogether. A cross between the subconscious and the ghost of the characters past, she acts as the problem making, the emotion-maker within the performance. A surreal driving force upon the narrative.
Each of the characters within the show have clear defined trajectories that they have been working for or indeed failed with. Be it a loss of creativity, a lack of control-ability or a sense on sheer ignorance they fit perfectly within the confides of the flat. Jess and Jon, the idyllic couple who can’t see the bigger picture. Rosie the lost journalist and Tristan the womaniser who doesn’t even know himself. They are each perfectly formed, and wonderful to watch.
As fragments of their subconscious minds come off in monologues, we as the audience are intoxicated. Partly the setting and partly the devised words that the collective have created through the careful moulding of Sarah Elaine Stewart as director.
During the course of the performance I find myself not only getting lost in the story but being completely transfixed with the knowledge that some items – maybe a photograph, the mugs, the table and chairs, belong to the occupiers of the flat and 300 Friends has been carefully laid over the top of it. So much so that the blurring of performance and reality is seamlessly tied together, made even more true when suddenly a cat appears in a bedroom and joins in on the action.
As the performance took place as part of the Hackney Wicked Festival, it seemed almost to echo the opening of the studies dotted in the adjacent warehouses, where we are invited to witness the creative spaces within. Whitespace Theatre have created an opening for the audience to enter the world of their work, and I am hooked. Heartwarming, complex, and intimate – you’d be challenged not to feel part of the action.
If theatre is about the experience, 300 Friends certainly delivers it.
You can find out more about Whitespace Theatre and future work on their website.