Choreographed by Andrea Walker, this ambitious but ultimately sluggish (perhaps confused) dance performance piece wedding hip-hop moves to an indie-pop soundtrack labours mightily to address same-sex relationships within an urban framework not always conducive to acceptance or tolerance for any sensibility outside the traditional. Indeed, it is often a space devoted to the hypersexualised, the hypermasculine, and the insistent denigration of women. In and of itself, this attempt to confront gay love (both homosexual and lesbian) is welcome, but narratively and structurally, the control of the issue is not nearly as steady or sure as it needs to be to successfully work, never properly igniting. The focus is split between two blurry couples, neither one given greater concentration (or proper definition), muddying identification or emotional involvement, and the choreography over time fails to progress or deepen, so that the same movements are being enacted at the close of the relationships as at the start (and I don’t believe this is an artistic statement of impasse or impossibility of connection for the characters). Following one central couple would have likely given the piece greater coherence and purpose. The seven troupe members work very hard, but the limitations of the choreography work against them, only occasionally breaking through to any true verve of feeling. There is a slight overuse of chalk to suggest the consumption of cocaine at club and home, and the intriguing exploration of the complications of pursuing relationships forged at clubs (or between any two human beings, period), all of which are likely to collapse into battles of ego, power, sex and confusion as to how to proceed into something of greater meaning (and combating both homophobia from within and without), never develops sufficiently. Soundtrack choices are outstanding, and in the few instances when the two connect, results are electrifying (the lighting design deserves mention as well, one of the more consistently imaginative technical aspects of the production) -too often, unfortunately, the music overpowers the dance, leading rather than complementing. Especially in the latter half, solely devoted to track after track of the glorious, gorgeous misery of the English band Daughter (scorching the ear with exquisite melancholy), the music dominates the senses, the dancers downgraded to second-class citizens. The piece never achieves emotional crescendo, rather ending dully with no overwhelming consequence or tragedy. We hardly knew them well. Smother has completed its three-night run at the Theatre Royal Stratford
As craft cocktail bars are so prevalently on-trend these days that it grows difficult not to stumble upon one every few steps taken, all that is left to distinguish one from the next is gimmick (the latest pop-up venture goes so far as to, perhaps disrespectfully, appropriate Turing’s enigma machine as a quirky means by which to fancifully order a drink, a sober and purposeful invention now a toy for bored, thrill-seeking millennials), and this unassuming establishment located on a traffic island in the busy thoroughfare carrying traffic from Tower Bridge into South London certainly succeeds brilliantly in that regard-it’s situated in a former public convenience. It joins the illustrious company of the Attendent cafe in Fitzrovia, CellarDoor on the Strand, Ladies and Gentleman in Kentish Town, and WC-Wine and Charcuterie (a very cute titular homage to the original uses of the space) in Clapham Common in refashioning the grot and ruin of these abandoned and singular Victorian structures. In fact, Bermondsey Arts Club was in the vanguard of this movement, opening its doors in 2014, the renovation carefully overseen by fashion photographer/bar impresario George Garnier, who provided a scrupulous polish to the original features, and a few modern updates to warm the environment. As you make your way through the lounge doors at the bottom of the steps, an unexpected vault of space greets you, with chairs and low tables situated around the periphery, a beautiful mosaic floor stretching out beneath your feet, and clear, clean walls of porcelain tile signalling and proclaiming the building’s history. Lighting is set at a flatteringly dim, cosy wattage, offering a restful intimacy. The bar menu is short and simple, most drinks priced at £9.50 (with the exception of a handful of spritzers at £7.50)-the Ron Verde, with spiced rum and hints of both apple and vanilla had a pleasant tropical flavour, while the Extradition, with its concentrations of strawberry and apple along with pisco and passoa, wound up tasting akin to bubble gum, not unappealingly. Weekly live jazz sessions are a fixture on the events calendar. The subterranean fact of this club gives the whole experience of a visit a certain secret and slightly decadent kick, a decidedly novel evening out, and is a perfect choice if you should desire an alternative drinking expedition. It’s easy to feel as if you have absolutely left all earthbound conflicts behind you in the descent.
Robert, a British actor fast approaching middle age and in the increasing twilight of his career, awaits the arrival of late-teenage Alan, a staff worker at a small-scale repertory theatre in Boston where Robert is currently appearing in a production. The room, the address of which provides the play with its title, is the temporary lodging of Robert, and it’s clear in the careful, tidy way in which he prepares, the alert focus of his physicality, that the anticipation is for sexual congress. The monologue that opens the piece grounds the audience in the specific environment of the early 70’s, with all its cultural upheavals and seismic shifts of perception providing a giddy sense of any and all potential and possibility (of course presaging an even greater, and more cataclysmic eruptive shift to come just a decade later). The set production starkly supports the defined era, uncluttered but sharp in its furnishing detail. Alan, tremulous, aching with both desire and fear for what he wants from this meeting, soon arrives, and a slow seduction commences, equally tender and frustrating for the participants in its stop-and-start structure. The two attempt to speak across the gulf of age and experience, struggling to reach a common ground. Self-confidence and uncertainty, determination and hesitency continually snag upon each other, disrupting the dynamic. Alan’s eagerness and curious nature often conflicts with Robert’s rather more straightforward and blunt behaviour. As the play progresses, with earthier appetites sated, the men grow just a bit more reflective with one another, Robert confessing to flight from a broken long-term relationship (his at times glib pronouncements a mask and deflection of a degree of desperation), and Alan to uneasy feelings of isolation and estrangement. Poignantly, though, is that for Alan this encounter is monumental, as it offers the passage to a whole new realm of being, while for Robert the meaning and intention is much more simple and closed (although he is not portrayed as broadly unkind or mercenary), a momentary respite from loneliness and drift. Only in the final stages is there an unfortunate tendency to overexplicate (the bookending closing monologue, needlessly protracted, overstates themes and feelings already quietly and effectively communicated by the performers, Jay Taylor and Oliver Coopersmith). The meeting ends with a mix of satisfaction and wistfulness, a sense of business successfully transacted, two souls on opposing shores, left to reason out where they go from here. 46 Beacon continues through 29 April
A quiet war ensues on the top floor gallery space of this residential building between solidity and impermanence, in that as pieces of art all works are physically present, yet conceptually address themes of transience and ephemerality, the tender moments of transfer from the visible to the hidden, from clarity to obfuscation. Fiona Grady’s spill of pastel-hued geometric patterns across one wall, a simulated wave of colourful illumination, interacts generously with available natural light, enlightening the dull, sluggish crawl of grey of any overcast day and enhancing the sharp, crisp brightness of any given sunny day, a playful, manufactured shadow interacting continually with its environment. Katherine Lubar’s nearly primal images of the play of the stretch and reach of shadow within and just without domestic space (stairwells, front steps) reveal shivers of the secret and mysterious in otherwise open and safe spaces, expertly catching the action of transitioning moments as a day works its way through its cycles to darker, more buried contours. Asaki Kan’s works already contain their own throws of shadow, gently thrumming with a melancholic sense of their own loss and passing. Chris Marshall’s “Bermondsey Window”, comprised of Hartley’s jam and LED lights, occupies an otherwise shrouded side room, the crimson cast of colour hypnotically thinning and deepening in response to exterior light-the room also contains an almost imperceptible hush of light glowing from an open flue in the fireplace. Once aware of it, all senses engage with the alluring tiny gasp of its presence-you want to draw as close to it as is possible, even as it constantly shifts and retreats from perception. The intimate environment of ArthouSE1, closer to the domestic than the public, allows the pieces to reach their greatest potential, as many delicately explore interior spaces both psychological and personal. Many must be found in particularly inconspicuous and untraditional areas-a silhouette of Peter Pan is positioned high up in a small, less trafficked corner of the main room, quite near the ladder which leads out to the home’s roof terrace, as if in a mad mid-leap to freedom; the fireplace holds a pane of glass inscribed with a gentle scrawl of poetry, reflected with the keenest delicacy onto the hearth-the act of having to bend down to read it thoroughly creates a profound sense of communion with its evanescent message. The show is an experience not of spectacular, monumental moments of emotional churn, but instead a series of deftly, softly executed confidential instances of tremendous wonder and fragility, an ever-revolving orbit of tremulous moments of reveal before a collapse back into the elusive. Inside the Shadow continues through 29 April
Less a traditional gallery exhibition than an example of principled cultural archeology, this inaugural, interactive show at the new HereEast campus (the erstwhile media centre complex for London’s 2012 Olympics, now repurposed as a creative hub for the digital and tech industries, as well as host to two London universities, the offices of BT Sport, large-scale event spaces and an attractive canal-facing sprawl of restaurants and bars) seeks to celebrate and archive the progenitors of today’s tablets and iPhones, models of computers now impossibly archaic and cumbersome, only a few decades on from the first explosions of a now-omnipresent and pervasive aspect of existence and communication, a cultural revolution to arguably rival the tumult of the Industrial Age in its speed and reach of sweeping change. The low-res screens, pulsing and shaky, wreak exhaustive havoc on the eyes, but encountering some of the initial websites (including games, animation, web comics, design programs, magazines, possibly even the first meme-cue dancing baby!), what is evident is pure enthusiasm and excitement at a new medium, an outpouring of playfulness and drunk freedom. Installation curator Jim Boulton (digital director at Aesop Agency) is clear about the need to preserve a sense of the history of this evanescent media and its pioneers- the constant flux of change and rate of development has precluded any rational form of reflection or chronicling, and indeed, based as it is on machine, physical life expectancy is limited. Even on the day I visited, a few of the donated computers had broken down, poignant and tender reminders of the ephemeral, vulnerable qualities of the objects. Each computer sits atop an elaborate trunk, as if wheeled directly from a long-term storage facility, and provides the room with any aesthetic that it has, straight rows of ancient screens beaming out messages and programs from across time and space. Wallspace is granted to some of the first experiments in pixel art, the new binary language of computer harnessed to radically innovative art technique and image representation (the rise of the emoticon). There’s a strangely haunting male figure whose shirt is constructed of Cd-Roms recovered from bins, once very personal products to their owners, with information or records of importance contained, scrawl on the labels expressing cryptic references, all original intentions now lost and most likely unrecoverable. Examples of the very first website, modem, and online ordering system are included, as well as a section for kids (of all ages) to learn the basics of coding. Although enclosed within a spacious room generously imbued with natural light from a run of large windows, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that you are consorting with ghosts, walking amidst a graveyard of relics. 64 Bits continues through 21 April