Monday 27 August 2012

Robert Wilson's 'Walking' (and so am I).

'Walking' is one of those events that it's difficult to describe without sounding pretentious, somewhere in the terrain between live art and actor-less theatre.  At its most basic, it's a three-mile, very slow, walk round some achingly beautiful North Norfolk scenery.  The leisurely pace is part of the point, encouraging a greater-than-usual contemplation.  As such, it's part of what might be called 'the new slowness', a trend that includes such phenomena as the Clock of the Long Now, Jem Finer's LongPlayer and the Slow Food movement.

Walkers are guided by yellow-jacketed stewards called 'angels', who help set the snail's pace and occasionally whisper you instructions.  At intervals, the walk takes you through massive installations - at the start, a wooden structure surrounding a pit, where an angel escorts you to a darkened room, saying that 'The way will present itself.', which turns out to be New Age-speak for a door opening.

Walkers set off at intervals of a minute and half, and are instructed to keep an even distance form the person in front, so that the effect is of a steady, distant stream of people, extending into the distance like figures from a guide to perspective.  The characteristic flatness of Norfolk is part of the experience, extending the horizon in all directions.  (A landscape-painter friend of mine once told me that in Norfolk, you could see the curvature of the earth.)  Though you have no direct contact with any of the other walkers, you develop a very intense relationship with the retreating back of the person ahead - in my case, a young man with a check shirt and curly hair.

About halfway, there's a break where you sit (by yourself) and get an apple and some water.  This also serves as an opportunity for the angels to re-establish the spacing between the walkers - as with buses, there's an inevitable bunching effect as faster walkers catch up with slower.

The second half takes you through a pine forest, and for large stretches you can't see anyone either ahead or behind,  like a character in a fairy tale, or A Midsummer Night's Dream.  In my case, this was accompanied by a slight shower of rain, which gave me my Spalding Gray Perfect Moment as I came out of the forest and over a sand dune just as the rain stopped, with the sea in blinding sunlight.  In the far distance, I could see the final installation, a teepee-like structure, recognisable from the event's publicity.

At this point, it was almost impossible not to start thinking in mythical terms - the teepee, and the long walk towards it, inevitably conjured up ideas of a rite of passage, or adulthood ceremony.    By this stage, the walker's consciousness is so altered that everything seems like a symbol.  Even the walk back to the minibus, which goes through a naturist beach (unintentionally, I assume)  seems somehow appropriate, like a return to Eden.  It's quite a large beach, so the naturists don't get too disturbed - I didn't actually realise what was going on until I noticed a man getting stripped for a swim, and not stopping once he got to his costume.

I blagged a lift back to Norwich, and thence to London, where I've currently got a show on at the White Bear Theatre.  Which sort of brings me to the point of this post.  As a theatregoer, I'm a sucker for anything site-specific, installation-based, or immersive, even though it's completely different from what I do myself - script-based work, mostly in theatres, and often (though not in this case) written by dead people.  Sometimes, at events like Devoted and Disgruntled, surrounded by improvisers, devisers, live artists and physical theatre-makers, I feel like an oddity, the White Man in Hammersmith Palais.

What does this prove?  Nothing much.  In adolescence, we often define ourselves by our tastes - Alan Moore has written that a lot of his fans just like being the sort of person who reads Alan Moore comics.   I once had a student who said, of a Shakespeare film, 'I didn't like it, because it's not how I would have done it.', apparently with no sense that she was saying anything odd.    In later life, most of us realise that this is a mug's game.  After all, how sad would it be only to like the sort of things you like?

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