I went to The Arches on a rainy January evening for Into the New – a three-day festival of cutting edge performance work by final year Contemporary Performance Practice students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
The course is known for creating the future generation of Scotland’s theatrical risk-takers and performance artists, so it was no surprise to spot theatre maverick, Stewart Laing of Untitled Projects, in the audience; perhaps scouting for new talent.
Aiming to “intrigue, challenge and provoke”, the Festival contained eight individual performances, a symposium, and a menu of live acts served up alongside your dinner in The Arches Cafe Bar.
I only had the chance to take in two performances – Kerry MacFarlane’s In Another Life, I’m an Elf and Paul McGhee’s Pinky Promise, but both were very different from one another, giving me a good sense of the Festival as a whole.
Kerry MacFarlane’s In Another Life, I’m an Elf explored the cross-overs and differences between Kerry and her online World of Warcraft persona, Hannya. Kerry addressed the audience directly, with her dual personality displayed through the use of monologues, clothing and environment. Meanwhile, audience members were assigned interactive roles of playing Hannya’s opponents in battle or as her strategists in war. These enjoyable yet slow-paced sections had an affinity with 80s TV show Knightmare.
After witnessing her dual life in action, Kerry told the audience about the childhood experiences that inspired her with a great desire to fly, to battle, to escape, and her joy at being able to fulfil those fantasies through Hannya. Hannya also had her chance to address the audience directly, and what concludes is Kerry’s realisation that Hannya can be part of her healthy adult life, so long as she remains a complementary companion and doesn’t consume her completely. It was a fairly simplistic character arc of self revelation, but it was executed with warmth and wit, and it did leave you with a satisfactory feeling of disquiet as to whether Kerry would actually take heed of her learnings.
Paul McGhee’s Pinky Promise was a piece of performance art, which took place in a bare, dimly lit and quiet room. In the centre of the room, there was a man lying near naked on a hospital fold out bed. I thought he was a mannequin at first, as he was so still and slim. There was a jug of oil with a label letting you know that the intention was to oil the man. I dipped my fingers into the oil and rubbed some onto his shoulder, but others had been braver as his whole body was oiled. He gave me a grateful glance between shallow breaths. I then cleaned my hands with the soapy water provided and looked at a wall-chart, which listed a long medical history.
The description in the programme says: “An explanation into making promises. How do we keep them? Should we keep them? And what does it mean if they are broken?” I interpreted Pinky Promise as being about the promises, or assumptions, that we make with partners, family and friends, to be there for each other, no matter how long or difficult a situation. In the very real circumstances of illness, some people will go on the journey with you and others, maybe even your partner, won’t be able to fulfil their vows. This is what I took from Pinky Promise, but I’d love to hear how other people have interpreted it, so please leave a comment if you saw it.