Benjamin Monk feasts on the best of Birmingham’s European theatre festival at HOME
As the first visiting production of HOME’s inaugural, off-site season, Best of BE Festival assimilates faultlessly into their host’s makeshift occupancy of Number 1 First Street. Quirky, mismatched furniture and low-level lighting transforms uninviting offices into a welcoming cultural experience—a dreamy location for the Birmingham festival’s fascinating four-piece programme of European performance.
Specially invited for Manchester, ‘Beating McEnroe’ opens the evening. With furious energy and genuine affability, Jamie Wood playfully deconstructs the ritualism of tennis. Posing with shamanic faux-gravitas, dressed in towels and a lion hat, madcap chapters blister through John McEnroe’s and Björn Borg’s rivalry as a reflection of Wood’s fraternal youth. He intelligently utilises childhood, imaginary play as a form for audience participation and engagement, with some throwing tennis balls and encouragement, others recreating Wood’s own past to his directorial agitation. The spectator-actor collaboration in creating fantastical roleplay proves hilarious, and in considering the power of familial/celebrity reverence, becomes ultimately disconcerting.
Julia Schwarzbach’s ‘Loops and Breaks’ considers the audience’s place within performance structure further, to exhilarating effect. You collect an envelope holding an instruction, such as selfie-taking or slapping Schwarzbach, to be enacted on stage while she performs and dances. Upon finishing her routine, the envelopes are swapped and her performance repeats, ready to be interrupted again. Creating a fluid, visual score defined by the improvised encounter is the piece’s triumph. The subjective uniqueness of each departure point is invigorating and empowering, retaining individual focus amongst wondrous, overwhelming chaos.
‘From The Waltz to the Mambo’ was frustrating—despite astonishing physicality from Milan Ujvari and stimulating ideas on the limitations of hierarchal educative discourse, his emphasis on physical skill hampered the communicative effect. The final piece, Mokhallad Rasem’s ‘Waiting’, projected filmed footage onto ripped, white bedsheets, dimensionalising a talking head public’s ideas on the topic. Posited as waste for the privileged, hope for the rest, split between time, place and selves, the idea of a wait’s transitory space is precisely and touchingly expressed.
With a meal included, the opportunity to talk with artists, audience members and HOME’s artistic team emphasised the community ethos of both institutions. With some critics questioning the success of this in other venues, it is clear that there’s no place like HOME for the Best of BE Festival’s eclectic, pioneering programme.