Here she meets the mysterious guide (Omid Djalili, looking uncannily like Orson Welles) who takes her on a journey of transformation through the building.
In fact, it’s the building, its secret nooks and crannies, and its history as a place of social, political and performance radicalism that is the real star of Performance Live: The Way Out which premiered on BBC iPlayer over Easter as part of the BBC’s Arts Quarantine season. It is now available on demand. It’s part of a strand of TV and theatre collaboration that has previously featuring work from independent artists that has includes Eggs Collective, Ross Sutherland and Kate Tempest as well as Paul Mason’s 2017 Young Vic show, Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere..
Kate Tempest, performing at Battersea Arts centre
TV loves alighting on the bright and shiny and often over-looks all that is most vibrant in theatre and performance until it is a proven hit and moves into the mainstream. It means TV coverage of the arts is often mono-cultural, only showcasing the usual suspects.
The Way Out is glossier than some of the previous offerings—it’s shot using a single camera in director Suri Krishnamma’s moody film that has a film noir-ish Alice in Wonderland feel about it—but it also celebrates diversity of indie artists. Essentially it is a series of turns or a box of tricks in which Battersea Arts Centre is the box or a mysterious, mind-expanding playground, one full of unexpected sightings. It’s as if the art is leaking out of the very walls of the building.
Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere
The rooms give up secrets like little gifts. In one, there is a full-blown cabaret club where the all-singing, all hula hooping Cocoa Butter Club are following Hot Brown Honey’s advice to “decolonise and moisturise.” The sense of stumbling over something hidden reminds of Punchdrunk’s The Masque of the Red Death which ran between 2007/8 at this address.
The camera lingers lovingly over Lucy McCormick singing while draped over the grand staircase, and Le Gateau Chocolat is all diva-ish glamour somewhere in the attic which has improbably sprouted a garden. The spikey and engaging poet and winner of the 2019 Outspoken prize Sanah Ahsan is resident in the atrium with its gorgeous stained-glass dome that was saved from the fire that gutted the Grand Hall in 2015. In the hall itself Too Hot for Candy perform amidst twirling umbrellas.
Cocoa Butter Club
It doesn’t all work, and some of the cryptic script written for Djalili’s Guide is portentous and a little lame in its platitudes. “Every exit is an entrance but not every entrance is an exit.” But there are some magical moments including choreographer and dancer Botis Seva’s sinewy yet wistful physical peon to the sands of time whose grains always slip through our fingers.
If, like me, you’ve had the pleasure of visiting Battersea Arts Centre over many years and seen many shows here, this film lovingly celebrates the building in all its rackety glory and reminds of all those performances that remain imprinted on the mind and also in the very fabric of the building.
You can watch The Way Out for the next two months here.