Night Watch Festival

*Originally written for Exeunt*

12.01 The doors open and coffee has been slurped and it’s quiet too quiet but it’ll get busier surely? and we go to see Action Hero start Slap Talk which sees the pair look into cameras and speak off autocues will last five hours which starts with the words Are you ready?

Yes.

12.15 Sat in a semi-circle on the J2 stage and Ahilan Ratnamohan performs SDS1 with choreographed football tricks and rituals We help him crowdsurf and strap his ankles and boo like he’s just missed a goal and it’s dark and I’m already tired I haven’t slept well When can I sleep?

13.00 Back to Slap Talk to hear talk of kittens and pandas and Youtube and laughing and crying It’s funny and painful And they’ve only been going for an hour but they already look tired I don’t envy them How will they go for another four hours?

13.20 Head upstairs to the mezzanine to have lunch and read some of Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis which is about celebrity and brashness as the excited voices of Lucy and Jen from  GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN emanate from downstairs giving us an idea of what’s coming up in the next few hours And an installation by Eat, Sh!t, and Die called Ghosts invites us to enter a space and perform to a future audience who hasn’t yet arrived So I sit in the box and eat sweets and read and look over to Deborah Pearson who is working on her script for The Future Show which will be on at 11am tomorrow which feels like ages away

14.00 Figs in Wigs perform We, Object in J2 which is “not a show about small objects” even though there are lots of small objects in it But its actually more about contemporary femininity and agency and there’s singing and jokes but It’s not quite my cup of tea And something about the show feels a little shallow, a little less complex than meets the eye Then Lucy and Jen are back and Why are they singing at us?

15.00 I only now realise the floor in the foyer is covered with coloured tape so it looks like a map of a toytown

15.30 Fifteen more minutes in Slap Talk and Gemma and James have started laughing intermittently and How is it only half past three?

15.45 Throb, which is performed by Panic Lab in J2, has a beating heart in a jar and seems to be tackling dying and care through choreographed movement but it’s difficult to tell and Woah there’s Penis No. 1

16.15 Last forty-five minutes of Slap Talk and it takes you to somewhere strange and unknown Because the writing is beautiful but banal and it’s performed with such relish by the pair that you kind of want to join, to join in the fun, to join in with their game, but of course we are a part of it We’re here And it’s over and James says “Thank you” and we clap and Wow five hours already

17.00 A Conversation by Nigel and Louise and Things notch up a gear as there’s gin and vodka and – at last – genuine interaction between those of us who have shuffled around silently for the past five hours It takes inspiration from The Ethel Cotton Course in Conversation which is as funny as it sounds and yet asks us quietly to properly listen to and converse with one another And it even makes comments on colonialism and cultural imperialism as we ask whether our British form of etiquette in in fact one of our most widespread exports How cam Nigel make us laugh so hard with just a look?

18.00 In a tiny room with Cheryl and Tess from TheatreState and eight other audience members and we introduce ourselves and talk about team work and we are told we’ll be playing a giant outdoor game of Capture the Flag at 1am and suddenly I’m apparently the leader of Team Nancy Dell’Olio and Shit just got real because I can be a competitive bastard when I want to be But at least there are now some people whose names I know because before it felt a bit like everyone knew everyone else while I was left wandering around on my own and I wondered well If it’s bad for me how do ‘normal’ audience members feel Even though actually Unfortunately It seems like the artists at this event outnumber the punters

19.00 Seven hours in and Sleepwalk Collective’s Karaoke starts to take us into the realm of dreams And it’s more nihilistic than I remember but on second viewing the hope in its optimistic ending shines through It’s what I need right now, to be exported to a no-place and a non-time where you let the show wash over you and enjoy the music and allow the voices to sooth your brain And I’ll dream about this later

20.15 Another show I’ve seen before and My Son and Heir is even funnier second time round and I’d missed the bittersweet ideas of parenting which Pete and Jodie tackle back when I saw it in Bristol but Still it’s a show about being angry at those in power and how we allow that jingoism to wash over us And I remember A Conversation earlier in the evening and realise how terrifying nationalistic our country can be as the women on the Royal Wedding DVD cry and scream as a man they’ve never met before who happens to be a Prince passes them in a posh car

21.30 It’s sunset and Sheila Ghelani takes a few of us on a ramble around Cambridge, down a brook and into a forest watching for owls and bats and insects and mammals which always remain just out of reach She gives us bumbags which have torches and maps and sweets and a talisman which we wear as we wander and watch and stop and look and see Really see Really notice

23.00 Back at the Junction and they’ve set up a big screen to watch the football in J3 so we all gather with beers and crisps and listen to comedy commentary delivered by Richard Dedomenici and Kim Noble who play classic football songs and Karaoke Nessum Dorma throughout and Kim takes it a lot more seriously than Richard And though around two thirds of the room are just enjoying the atmosphere and laughing along there are some people who are taking the whole thing far too seriously and I wonder whether there were even here for My Son and Heir and A Conversation And I think how does football manage to consistently to turn smart intelligent people into idiots and it’s half time for both the game and the Festival And the game is over and we lost What a shame

01.00 The time has come for Capture the Flag and half the team have deserted us but I won’t be defeated So as Cheryl and Tess hand us headphones which will play epic music and instructions we have a pep talk And suddenly we’re on the ‘pitch’ running around like action heroes to the sound of soaring orchestras And Now I’m being told via my headphones that I’ve been chosen to desert my team and work for TheatreState so walk into the centre of the pitch to the sound of Tina Turner and dance as my team-mates look on bemused but now they’re surrounding me and I’m trapped But have been told I have to steal my flag to grab it and make a break for it back to Cheryl who tells me I’ve won I feel awful and great and it’s addictive but I know I’ve done the wrong thing and Is this what competition does to people?

01.45 I saw hi to Jodie and Pete from Search Party and Iara and Sammy from Sleepwalk Collective But it still feels like most people here know everyone else and I reckon artists outnumber ‘audience’ by around four to one So it begs the question who is this festival for and has it been marketed correctly? Do people really want twenty-four hours of theatre?

02.00 My fears about self-indulgence start to be corroborated by Ann Liv Young’s Us which has bits of poetry and song but is a bit of a shambles even for two in the morning and seems to be completely devoid of meaning or beauty even though it keeps going on about those things and Young seems to hate her audience which feels like a fundamental flaw in anyone who performs to anyone else and then she and Theo pretend to shit in buckets and Woah Penis No. 2 and then they throw the shit at us but it’s not real And some people seem to be loving it but for me Us has little worth and displays little talent or thought

Stop.

Pause.

I need to leave my mind open

03.15 There’s music banging away downstairs so I explore a little and find Cheryl and Tess and Matthew in a small room getting through the Apple Sourz from earlier so we create a mini rave with torches and bad music and alcohol with too much sugar in it

03.50(ish) I lose track of time and Sheila Ghelani’s installation about Eliza Brightwen and looking is just what I need It’s like the Radio 4 programmes you hear in the middle of the night and my eyes are beginning to close I don’t know if I’m drunk or tired or high on caffeine or all three And it’s starting to get light again outside and

Stop.

Pause.

At some point I saw ten minutes of Sarah Rodigari’s Filibuster of Dreams but I can’t remember when

I head to J1 to rest a while in the soft crash space, complete with teepee and soft lighting and soft mattresses And I dream about England.

05.30 It’s bright outside and I wander back to J2 which smells of sweat and beer and things seem to have got weird as a naked man is on stage sponging himself down asking the audience “Is this sexy?”

Penis No. 3

I can’t quite deal with this right now

Stop.

Pause.

More sleep.

08.00(ish) I’m awake with coffee in one hand and Relentless in the other as Jen and Lucy carry on “compare-ing” and working out what kind of posh coffee they’d be as we wait for the first show of the morning Which is a bit of a misfire to be honest as Susannah Hewlett presents a mock-up morning TV show as Chris Titmas with live cookery and weather and news and adverts and interviews but some of it is borderline offensive And again there are a few too many in-jokes So I feel excluded

I lose track of time but at some point after we follow a work-out by Lemonade and Laughing Gas in order to retrieve a much-needed breakfast sandwich filled with bacon and eggs and hash browns and tomatoes and

Stop.

Pause.

It’s almost over now. Only two more shows to go. People start to leave and the venue starts to calm down. The buzz is still there but it’s less easy to feel. Everything suddenly gets a little more contemplative as the loud, urgent brashness of the early hours eases into

Anna Williams’ Woman’s Hour, which sees Anna improvise a dance to Friday’s edition of the Radio 4 favourite, covering topics as diverse as contraception and football and Fathers’ Day. It’s just what we need right now and is as thoughtful as it is funny, with Anna commenting on her list of influential inspirational women and recreating the back-and-forth-ness of the show with humour and generosity. I feel this is what we deserve.

10.45 Another soothing voice as Deborah Pearson recites this particular version of The Future Show. She muses on what the immediate and distant future may hold, throwing into focus ideas about writing and art. I think about my own immediate and distant futures. I wonder to what extent we write our own stories and to what extent they are written for us. I feel content.

11.45 Lucy and Jen wait for us in the foyer with the former dressed in a bunny costume and they hand us all a badge to let us know we made it and I think breifly about how strange it is for a group of people to get together for twenty-four hours to watch theatre and performance but something about it makes real sense with the whole thing feeling like some durational performance in which we are the performers so we cheer and we dance

Stop.

Pause.

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