Night Watch at Cambridge Junction

The Night Watch

Edward Rapley signs up for a Live Art long haul at Cambridge Junction

So once there was Sampled: a weekend festival of ‘performance ideas in progress for audiences and artists, providing a platform for risk-taking performing arts to meet audiences at vital stages in their development’. And then, in 2014, came Night Watch, offering ‘a new all-night, all-day festival that presents the best in contemporary theatre, dance, live art, installation, music, food…and football.’

Night Watch arose as an answer to the problem of staging Sampled as a two-day festival over a Bank Holiday weekend, as had happened previously. Looking back, producer Daniel Pitt realised that the Sundays were always more sparsely attended. The high cost of accommodation, with hotel rooms running around £100 per night, was reckoned to be part of the problem. Visitors couldn’t afford to stay the night and were simply heading back home. Why not just do the whole thing in one go, no second day, just a continuous 24 hours of performance providing new temporal contexts for work? What is possible when you can have a show at 5pm and 5am?

Thus, born equally of pragmatism and novelty, Night Watch crams two days’ worth of regular programming into a single stretch, running from noon Saturday until noon on Sunday. Unlike Sampled’s tasters of work-in-progress, Night Watch featured a selection of finished work.

‘How long will you last?’ daunted the publicity. I wanted to go because the flyer looked like it was for a gig or music festival, only packed with artists and theatre makers – plus the idea of staying up for 24 hours of art struck me as just the kind of thing I should be doing with my life…

Action Hero Slap Talk

Action Hero Slap Talk

12:00 Saturday

I sit down to soak up two hours of Slap Talk by Action Hero, wherein Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse have created a tumbling procession of insane and unstable braggadocio, delivered from teleprompters, captured on camera and simultaneously relayed to the audience on a pair of monitors, where we see egos flare, spar and deflate in digressions the length of which you might otherwise find only in the novels of Proust. The hilarity and inanity of the staged smack talk between boxers as a proxy for tragic-comic nature of real conflict.


We, Object by Figs in Wigs takes place in the main studio. From the title to the pun-heavy text, this show references seeing things from a knowingly shifted perspective. It takes the form of intentionally bad dance routines, intentionally bad jokes, intentionally bad relationships between the performers and repetition. It washes over me without stimulating anything but intense frustration.


Back in Slap Talk, Stenhouse is bragging about a childhood spent in punishing pursuit of victory before Paintin turns this around, suddenly approaching the interaction as a counselling session with a reluctant client. A simple inversion which questions the inhumanity of the focusing on triumph at all costs.


Escorted into the dark I get to experience tenderness and delicacy during Jo Bannon’s one-to-one show Exposure. It is a gentle piece of work which allowed me to see someone I have known for years in a profoundly different light. The muted confrontation, ‘performer’ and ‘audience’ each equally observed and observer, feels intimate and open. I see and feel the individuality of another, highlighting something of the uniqueness in myself.


What is the role of the compère? For me they provide continuity, offering their charm in support of the artists between which they are merely a bridge, entertaining or amusing the audience the better to serve the work of others. It’s a wilfully simplistic conception of the role and naturally it can be approached very differently. Lucy McCormick and Jennifer Pick from GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN are playing with being anti-compères. They share a look of bewildered apprehension, as if being continually judged and found wanting, they seem unprepared, often scrabbling around without any material to back them up; they are riotous and abrasive. For the next 18 hours I do my best to avoid them.


Throb is a physical work by Panic Lab, two young performers, featuring loaded images (glowing heart in a jar), and almost endlessly cyclical repetition. Well-crafted in its own way, it’s clearly been rehearsed to within an inch of its life. Perhaps everyone has to discover and retell this narrative of nearly-lovers. Perhaps. I really wish they didn’t. In this case the performance lacks breadth, is played without connection to the audience, and ultimately does not draw me in.


Eat, sh!t, and die (the exclamation is the company’s own) have made a playfully simple installation. Filming a space and projecting it simultaneously on a variety of time delays. Ghost30 allows you to interact with your past self. Starting at 30 minutes behind, the past is projected more clearly and in the present you appear as a ghost from the future. The real fun starts when they bring the delay down to 30 seconds and you get to set up games for yourself to interact with. It’s is their final project as students and much of the material they provide to encourage interaction misses the mark: how interesting is it to watch yourself eat sweets when you can transform yourself into a manic blur of arms and legs or set up dance routines with yourself? The presentation, A4 sheets taped to the floor, is poor – but the idea and the invitation is fun.


I’d seen A Conversation by Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari of Shunt just a week before (it is an excellent show) so I take the time to talk to Daniel Pitt about Night Watch and The Junction.


Talking and walking around. I eat some food.

Sleepwalk Collective Karaoke

Sleepwalk Collective |Karaoke


Karaoke by Sleepwalk Collective – iara Solano Arana (Spain), Malla Sofia Pessi (Finland) and Sammy Metcalfe (UK) – features two almost static performers, a minimal set and projected text. The power of words to re-frame and transpose is central to the work with the hypnotic, suggestive voice of Arana and the prosaic tones Metcalfe leading us through shifts in meaning and as we phase across perspectives. Some vast overarching story is being implied about the world. The invented authority of the projected text, instructing the performers and giving the scenes context, stands in for any feelings of certainty and control. We never know quite where we are. As the layers build we have performance laid over song, truth over artifice, future over present and happiness over sadness. I found myself a totally lost within the logic of the show, perhaps it’s the end of the world, or maybe we are on holiday, drunk. Everything is implied and intangible.


Search Party’s My Son and Heir is happening now; I’ve seen it already and you can read that review here.


Somewhere around this time I play Invested by Theatre State. It’s a game involving headphones that happens outside in the large non-space of the commercial piazza: faceless food vendors and grey street furniture. The game doesn’t work because the rules aren’t clear and there is no way to enforce them. It takes an effort of will not to just walk off.


Christopher Brett Bailey’s show THIS IS HOW WE DIE is a visceral, world-burning piece of theatre. Featuring Bailey at the helm of a self-penned script delivered with blistering pace from the page, there is the feeling of an out of control machine tearing itself apart. The text is bleak, funny, sparse. Bailey’s variety of pace drives us through love, sex, hatred, stupidity, and death. The lighting is incredible, given the constrictions of a festival get-in – it’s a real feat, subtle variations, and beautiful trickery and attention to detail serve to lift the work even higher. As to the performance, it is Bailey’s timing and presence which underlies the workings of the piece. Just when you think the whole thing could fall over if he goes on without us, he’ll look up at the audience and lasso you back into the piece with his attention. The show builds finally with the impossible intensity of a star collapsing into itself. This is a brutal, vital, incredible show. The myth of the individual genius is a tired story and of course something this powerful is the product of working with people who are all really good at what they do so credit to: dramaturg Anne Rieger; musicians George Percy, Alicia Jane Turner and Apollo; and the lighting designer Sherry Coenen.

Night Watch at Cambridge Junction

Night Watch at Cambridge Junction


Inside there is the largest number of people I have seen so far in attendance, prompting a reflection on audience. Live Art has a tendency to be inward looking, in part because it carries the cultural logic of traditional Fine Art, the gallery culture where the creation of the artist is paramount and the experience of the audience is secondary. This makes sense in a way: a painting or sculpture does not need an audience to exist. Bringing this logic to performance is fundamentally flawed –performance cannot exist without an audience. In a way Adrian Mitchell’s observation on poetry might easily be adapted: most people ignore most Live Art because most Live Art ignores most people. Despite a genuinely brave and novel approach to the marketing of the event, it is still largely being performed for other performers. The wider cultural context can’t be ignored: the general public just doesn’t know who these people are or what they do or why it might be interesting to watch.


Richard DeDomenici and Kim Noble offer alternative commentary to the World Cup football game featuring England, which is taking place that evening. It’s funny enough to hold my attention for 15 minutes but it’s nothing more than a partially executed joke. In the event, there are technical difficulties which combined with my complete lack of interest in football and there being nothing else programmed for the duration of the game means I take this as a good time to dip out to the mattress strewn ante-chamber and get an hour’s kip.


Awake again, there is the expectant atmosphere of a party about to start. A band sets up, some people are dancing, a pair bashing away at laptops, code projected behind them, bass and beats. I’m feeling pretty groggy. I drink a cup of coffee.


Us by Ann Liv Young pushes at my bruised cognition in wonderfully awkward ways. She is using a character with all the appearance of Darlene from Roseanne and all the naïve positivity of a dreamy art-hippy. There is earnestness and stillness in the show, which comprises Ann, another performer as her best friend, and a technician/documenter who frequently gets snapped at for being in the way or missing cues. The performers spend time reciting their poetry and singing along to a wide range of popular music. This niceness is all just a layer of play, a subtle parody, there is a serious tension in the room, people who know her work are expecting this to go somewhere horrible. In the meantime the show plays with the awkwardness, earnestness and ridiculousness of people who want everything and everyone to be OK all the time. The artist emerges from behind her character at last, with a manic glee as she pelts the audience with what appears to be shit. I get slightly splattered and decide to make as swift an exit as I can. There is no reason why it couldn’t be the real deal. In the event it isn’t.


Thus begins my long drawn-out association with Sarah Rodigari’s Filibuster of Dreams. Standing solo, with printed texts surrounding her, she explains the nature of a filibuster in American politics and proceeds to fill time with text. She makes the point that real life filibusters are not creative or imaginative; they often feature a politician reading the phone book. This one starts with a litany of good wishes for those who are not in the room. The text is somehow eternal, a force in itself, it has no need of an audience, it will and does continue without them.


I wash my hands and make some bread. It is dyed green. I drink a second cup of, now bitter, coffee.

Sarah Rodigari A Filibuster of Dreams

Sarah Rodigari | A Filibuster of Dreams


Back in the Filibuster the brutal repetition washes over me and about six other people. I’m the only one awake. The task Rodigari has set for herself feels powerful and consuming as she begins to toast every person in her phone’s address book. Platitudes, honesty, micro-stories, all feel meaningful and meaningless.


What do you do at 4am? You watch the most intense, raw, broken, boring and beautiful acts in the Live Art Lock In, curated by Aaron Wright. As we enter there is someone in a full body PVC suit, a geometrical godlike figure with a diamond shaped pyramid for a face and large fixed triangular wings. It is a vacuum piece so the material is drawn close to the skin, encasing the torso and arms perfectly, it becomes clear that breathing is difficult. A small puddle of sweat forms at the performer’s feet. This is Adam Electric. The audience are offered shots of tequila, the salt goes on the performer’s breast, the booze is poured from a glass gun onto her stomach and the lemon is held in her mouth and comes with a fierce kiss. I’m slightly shifted sideways by this point. The things which stand out are:

Egg Johnson’s piece, where a kiwi-like apparition with a proboscis rigged with a contact mic creeps and edges its way onstage only to destroy its own egg – felt self contained, beautifully inward.

The various mugs of Nigel Farage playing out to the backing of ‘Venus As A Boy’, while a languid performer naked in full-body black paint chewed on a white rose, reminded me of the simplicity with which Live Art can détourn meaning and appropriate images. Thanks Season Butler, now I see him like this and life is better.

Katy Baird, who had been dispensing the tequila, attacks the cabaret staple of lip-sync with joyous aggression, simultaneously destroying a laptop.

Women’s Institute vs. Grindr by Lucy Hutson is funny and aching, blending desire, body image and home baking. Hutson really stands out for her charm, the pleasure she has to be with an audience opens up my battered imagination. The work is nuanced and complex.

Mette Sterre’s porcelain-faced being handing out sweets; feels uncomfortably eerie, I don’t trust this figure and imagine I’ve been slipped cyanide by a performance murderer. My imagination is not being very kind to me.

Finally, for me, The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein takes to the stage. Here is an artist who wants to do something different. If others play with the machinery in the factory of art, she does something utterly opposed to everyone else. Holstein slams about in my head like an emissary of the vast, overfed, bored baby that is the terrible zeitgeist of a decaying culture, tumbling inwards upon its own destructive hypocrisy. Sickly and extravagant, with practised and honest apathy, she spits out a violent sexual text about God destroying her house with his cock. It’s nasty and graphic; Holstein interrupts herself with observations on her own considerable boredom with the performance, her paltry fee (£100), and the low quality of this act compared to her real shows. By now I’ve had enough – this kind of confrontation is too much this late/early, and I silently agree when someone calls her pretentious. But her work sticks with me, an artist who actually wants to do or destroy something.


I’ve had my fill, my mind has soured. I wander out to catch a few more moments of Filibuster, the room at 6:20am is full of silent sleeping forms, Rodigari continues. I decide that a simple chronological approach is the best way to write this piece.


I go to sleep, someone has stolen my sleeping bag, it’s warm enough without it and I’m too tired to move. It is somewhere around 6:30am. I am determined not to miss breakfast. The bread I made will be part of it.


I miss breakfast.


Christopher Brett Bailey has adopted the role of my producer – he pitches my three- hour trilogy to Daniel Pitt for an immediate performance. He has decided £500 is a good fee. I watch through the window and it looks like they are both taking it very seriously. It’s never going to happen. Sammy Metcalfe is laughing at things far too easily. Everyone looks crumpled. The compères have not slept at all, they are broken, their eyes sit sunken in black pits, mumbling constantly and quietly into their head mics. It provides a pleasant background, they have been partially undone by the weight of the task. I don’t envy them in the slightest.


Ann William’s Woman’s Hour highlights a principle of artistic creation: don’t borrow, steal. She has pilfered Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and lifted it right out of context, so like a fish out of water, its absurdities flap and flop about. Usually the performance is done live as the programme is broadcast, but it is a Sunday so we are getting Friday’s edition. As it plays out, Williams dances in response to the content and rhythm of the words. A three-way debate about contraception becomes utterly ridiculous. Williams is playful and clown-like. Hearing the recording for the first time, she is actively listening and responding, which gives her good timing. The performance trails off slightly and it’s hard to tell if this is because it’s just a rather boring edition of Woman’s Hour.


The final performance is The Future Show by Deborah Pearson, which I’ve written about here before. This time round the fictional nature of the piece is more pronounced and the act of its writing more clearly visible.


There is a fanfare to bring the event to a close, everyone cheers and we all get a bespoke enamel badge made by Low Profile. It feels good to end with a celebration.


Night Watch is a triumph of programming, bringing together a bunch of the best shows in the UK right now. It’s a valiant experiment in form that asks for more from both audience and performer – although attendance could have been better, raising questions about the marketing of Live Art. I got to see a huge range of work and to experience just what it means to be there as an audience in the early, early morning when your body is begging you to sleep and you want to be there, really be there, not just a sleepy simulacrum of yourself – you want to continue that exchange as the rays pass back and forth between performer and audience, all in it together.


Night Watch ran at Cambridge Junction Saturday 14 to Sunday 15 June 2014, 12 noon–12 noon.


This entry was posted in Features and tagged on by .

About Edward Rapley

Artist, actor, performer, and writer. A proud member of in Bristol. Trained at Ecole Philippe Gaulier. He has had the good fortune to be supported by Arnolfini, Bristol Old Vic and The Basement in the creation of some of his four solo shows. In his writing for Total Theatre he attempts to met each show on its own level and respond to the thoughts and dreams it sets off in his head.