Thursday, February 2, 2017

Review: 'Hip' at the Vault Festival, 01 February 2017

In Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury wrote: "Everyone must leave something behind when he dies. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched in some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there." 

Jolie Booth's Hip is about this exact kind of soft immortality, poring over the fingerprints left by a person after their death. In 2002 Booth founded a squat in Brighton and upon cracking it open she discovered the dusty artefacts of a dead woman, Anne Clarke. Scattered about the place were her books, diaries, art, correspondence, photographs, records - even a hip bone (maybe Ann's own after her hip replacement in later life). Booth, feeling the instinct to honour the woman whose house she now occupied, began assembling this papery puzzle.

What she ended up with was a melancholic portrait of a life, peppered with happiness, sadness, pride, disappointment, adventure and hedonism. Born in 1939, Clarke married a young artist and became embroiled in 1960s counter-culture. She became a staple of hippie Brighton; working in Infinity Foods and founding an occult bookshop, managing to fit in some casual hash smuggling along the way. But as the optimistic 60s bled into the cynical 70s life began to subtly curdle, culminating in a mysterious 16 year blank. Clarke's story concludes with a snippy rejection letter from a cigarette company competition and her death at just 59.

Booth stages this with conspiratorial friendliness, playing historical tour guide as she lays out Clarke's biography combined with a smidge of her own. Sat around a growing pile of Clarke's stuff, documents are passed around the audience, allowing us to do our own miniature bit of sleuthing, letters are handed out to audience members to read aloud (nicely bringing them to life) and we're talked through some artwork she created. There's even nibbles and drinks - pineapple and cheese, Twiglets and shots of tequila.

There's a lot of emotions swirling around in Hip. Prime among them is a cool sense of your own mortality - it's impossible not to look at this yellowing pile of paper and objects and wonder what you'll leave behind after you've kicked the bucket. Everyone likes to think they'll leave some grand mark of the world and, at first glance, Clarke didn't. In the grand scale of things, the life of a former 60s radical turned alcoholic, largely ignored by her children as her (and her generation's) hopes were gradually leached away by disappointment and booze, doesn't add up to much.

But as Booth digs deeper, we come to understand that material success comes a distant second to the part of you that lives on in other people - even an unassuming health food shop bean-pourer can be intimately involved in the cultural fabric of the 20th century.

It all makes for a friendly, touching and philosophically taut show, always functioning on a couple of different levels at once. Equal parts funny/sad and always fascinating, this social archaeology is compelling stuff, not to mention that Booth is a great storyteller. It's now on tour - I'd recommend checking it out. Did I mention there's tequila?


Hip is at Vaults Festival until 5 February, then on tour. Tickets and details here.

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