I like a traditional boozer: wood panels, carpet, functioning jukebox, and a decent sherry. So it’s no surprise that the Heart and Hand in Brighton’s North Laine has long been a favourite. Years ago I noticed a framed poem on the wall; odd, I thought, it doesn’t quite suit the rest of the décor.
Now, thanks to Jolie Booth’s forensic and enlightening piece, I have knowledge not just of the poet, Lee Harwood (check his Guardian obituary) but also his muse. The poem, titled ‘The Heart and Hand, North Rd Brighton, for Ann’ [sic], is dedicated to one Anne Clark and it is Anne’s world that we’ll inhabit for too short a time tonight.
The show starts outside the Marlborough Theatre, as a promenade with a nod to psychogeography: ‘Here is the Clocktower, here is Pizza Hut.’ Jolie is our tour leader, telling the story of how she squatted a Brighton flat in 2002.
We follow her inside and quietly up the narrow stairs, and enter a 1970s counter-culture happening, with the audience as guests at a bohemian party. Jolie performs a little ceremony, Rumi is recited, incense burned, and we summon the previous occupant of the flat who died four years earlier. Here comes Anne Clark, whose possessions remain in situ: diaries, letters, artwork, records. Jolie rescued the ephemera of Anne’s life from the bailiffs and it has become central to her life now, as a maker of interactive theatre. The setting is spot-on, with a lava-lamp, floor cushions, Little Feat on the gramophone, cheese and pineapple on sticks. There is subtle and evocative lighting and effective use of a hand-held torch – it’s a squat after all.
Once settled, and with the spirit of Anne now present, Jolie begins to show us what the bundles of correspondence left behind reveal, about a woman and a life. We get to feel the yellowing paper of her many letters to friends and family; some of us read passages aloud. An overhead projector magnifies a court summons (unlawful behaviour on the Victoria Gardens) and photographs of the pubs Anne frequented. Most revealing is a timeline Jolie has compiled from thorough reading of the diaries. They show a big gap in knowledge for the last twenty years of Anne’s life; what happened? There are parallels too with Jolie’s own life and experience, as she’s also a longtime diary writer and they actually used the same brand. She tells us that such coincidences appear daily, as if she has triggered something, something connecting her to Anne. People Anne worked with, at Avalon Bookshop, or Wax Factor, provide new background. Her daughter has been in touch. The landlady of the Heart and Hand is coming to see the show.
It’s impossible not to be moved by the stories and the gradual piecing together of a history. We get to choose subjects for deeper exploration from bags labelled Hedonism, Work, Mother, Travel, and more. There’s a description of a proper 1970s threesome, photos of her working at Infinity Foods, a poem about dusting – or rather, not dusting.
Jolie is the perfect host, gently authoritative, in control of her material yet slightly in awe of it. As performance it is fascinating to watch and be part of, and there are some nice directorial touches – the eponymous hip-bone gets used as a telephone, a vibrator becomes a flute (Emma Kilbey and Brian Lobel contributed to the making process.)
Jolie describes the show as ‘ultra-real theatre’ by which she means that the audience is welcome to use their phones, move about, and interrupt as they wish. In this environment there is little opportunity for conversation and the action is quite tightly controlled. It’s a shame, because there is so much more to discover and to share.
We’ll just have to repair to the wood-panelled, carpeted, multi-gendered bar of the Marlborough pub instead. Jolie proclaims, over a Tequila toast to Anne Clark, ‘thank you for trailblazing your way through life.’ In an age of instant communication and fleeting memories, Hip is a hugely enjoyable, engaging and at times profound reflection on what we create and what we leave behind.