It is a rare thing when performers casually greet you and ask you to hang on a couple more minutes before they open house. It is even rarer when it is them, rather than the stewards, who show you where to leave your coats and bags before guiding you to your seats (or cushion, rather). It is these well-thought-through details which create the relaxing, honest and welcoming atmosphere that endures throughout Wild Thing I Love You.
Entering Warwick Arts Centre’s Helen Martin Studio, our first glimpse of the glowing light streaming from the small canvas tent in the centre of the room is a beacon of homeliness. As we choose our cushion or spot on one of the benches, Ella and Nicki are crouched down, beaming at us, full of the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. They are here to tell us their story, of a trip to California in search of the legendary Bigfoot, and through their energy and openness, it is clear that they couldn’t be happier or more grateful to be doing so.
This production is immersive in all senses; crammed full of fragmented audio recordings made on dodgy cassette tapes, videos streamed to us through a bulky 13” television, and tasters of the crunchy peanut energy bar, Clif. They all serve to infuse the show with the personal element that is crucial when exploring such an uncertain topic, and aid Ella and Nicki in delivering a unique and honest account of their experience. More memorable even than clips of the famous Patterson-Gimlin film is the nostalgia induced by the treasure chest of trinkets that create this production. Reminiscent of a child’s camping adventure, Wild Thing I Love You blends maps, string, and tiny paper models of buildings and cars to recreate their journey throughout California. Their attention to detail, from informing us of local lake names, and including titbits of information that they picked up along the way, down to casually checking whether anyone has nut allergies before serving us the peanut bar, which I might add, was lovingly chopped up into smaller sharing pieces using the camper’s essential, the spork, create a distinctly conversational tone to the entire performance.
For a production concentrated on exploring the existence of a mysterious character such as Bigfoot, the natural air with which the audience are included is essential. Whilst the creature’s existence is shrouded in mystery, the truthfulness of the performer’s experiences and their engagement with the local community in the state’s national forest couldn’t be more certain. They are not out to convince us that there is a giant gorilla man lurking in the woods, there are no dramatic claims or proposals that we are asked to believe, they are merely there to present us with that possibility, and to do so by bringing us along on the most realistic re-enactment of their own journey as possible. If anything, the simplicity of their performance highlights the wider questionability of documentation. If we can’t trust Patterson’s recording, then what certainty do we even have in theirs?
Wild Thing I Love You is a beautifully simplistic production which indulges the audience in questioning the fantastical and pays homage to a community spirit thousands of miles away, whilst all the while allowing us to relish in the nostalgia of playful story-telling.
Wild Thing I Love You is touring until 21 March. For more information and tickets, see Ella and Nicki’s website.