In the morning, I am sent a text message from an unknown number asking me to meet them on the bridge in St James’s Park to collect my deceased pet dog. Giving your personal number to a performance is strange – but the instructions are stranger. This invitation is tantalizing and, as I cross the bridge, the suspicious Georgia stands in green dungarees, clutching a yellow balloon.
How To Hug is next level immersive theatre. Not only is this performance in public, it is one-to-one. Georgia Figgis gives herself over to you in waves of compassionate energy. Surrounded by trees, colourful birds and the breezy water, Georgia tells me of her fear: how the world of touch somehow seems illegal. This character has no judgement, only pure bubbly acceptance. Figgis is childlike and bashful, but measured in all of her movements. With hypnotising eye-contact, she draws out some of my fondest childhood memories. It is difficult at times to differentiate her genuine self from her character – I feel as though I have just met a stranger in a park.
The whole performance is semi-naturalistic and, in such close proximity, it is easy to pick up on the nuances of emotionality. Some of these are obviously forged, but Figgis maintains the character with consistency and endurance. Figgis has tears streaming down her face towards the end of our time. Georgia asks me, “If the world were different now, would you hold my hand?” I am struck by her honesty and how there seems such a truth to this connection.
Perhaps the central plot elements featuring a run over animal may not have been the wisest of decisions, as this morbid starting point did not seem to fit the touching elements of the text. Georgia talks to me about puppets, flying to the moon, holding hands and marmite sandwiches. The ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ imagery clashes with the smushed pet dog concept and makes me wonder if there may have been a better route in drawing me to the park. It does, however, lather on dark humour with flare.
Frumpish Theatre beg of us to consider the importance of maintaining communication throughout desperate times. Frumpish tells me how this was heavily inspired by Marina Abramović’s, The Artist is Present. What stands differently is the personalisation of the performance to each and every audience member. One is not just a spectator to Figgis’ monologues – they are an active part in controlling the ebbs and flows.
The central theme is reconnection, following the loss of such a luxury during a pandemic. We sit apart, as far from one another as the bench will allow, taking in the serenity of the gardens. The yellow balloon flutters by until a child comes along and bursts it – a totally unplanned happy accident. This prompts Figgis to begin crying further. This show will move you. We have all met strangers who have treated us kindly and perhaps this is exactly what Frumpish Theatre seeks to reinforce. When the world is harsh, one must be even kinder to those who need it.
How to Hug is playing in St James’s Park until 22 September For more information, follow Frumpish Theatre on Facebook.