Pros: Combining projection, a delicate script and gentle interaction this show is a well thought-out and emotive piece.
Cons: While only lasting 45 minutes the show was a slow-mover.
97 Years is a delicate study by Jo Hellier of her grandfather and his life. It focuses on a luscious garden, overflowing with apple trees and flowers and buzzing with life, a video of which is projected onto a large screen at the back of the room. As we entered the room Jo was sat centre stage on the floor, organising a pile of apples from ripe all the way through to black, mouldy and shrunken. She takes her time picking through the heap, not afraid to get her hands dirty. We sit on the floor or stand in a semi-circle around her, waiting.
97 Years is an attempt at recording a life story. This is her grandfather’s biography. Jo uses technology available to her in 2014 to turn what perhaps would have been a book 100 years ago into a memorable interactive performance where she can share her grandfather’s story. She uses projection, a compilation of beautiful homemade videos and sound morphing technology to turn the Members’ Bar at the Battersea Arts Centre into a ‘somewhere else’ space. A place where we can partake in Jo’s personal moments with her grandfather, somewhere Jo can relive those unimportant in the grand scheme of things, yet treasured instances. There is no plot, no start and finish; just a moment as Jo simply tells us. A moment that will pass for us all.
Jo takes technology I have genuinely never seen used in a live performance before and makes it her own. The sound and video manipulation is activated by the small audience who all, in turn, are given control of the show for a few short minutes through a well thought-out pulley system. This is all guided by the calm voice of Jo who clearly knows exactly what she is doing. I know a lot of people don’t like audience participation but it is not what you are doing that is interesting but what effect your actions are having on the video and sounds in the room. Don’t worry, no one will be watching you.
It’s a very simple yet effective show and over the course of the 45 minutes I grew nostalgic for my own grandfather whose mannerisms I saw mirrored in Jo’s grandfather on screen. I think this made the show agreeable to me however my companion wasn’t so convinced I don’t think.
While I enjoyed the effects our small audience were having on the show it was a slow-paced piece that had a certain level of repetitiveness. I would have enjoyed hearing more of Jo’s grandfather’s stories. However it is understandable that, being such a personal piece, we as total strangers would not be offered any more insight into their lives. Finally, at the end we were left wondering if the show was actually over. This was clearly done on purpose but I personally find such endings a little flustering.
I enjoyed this show, particularly because it reminded me an awful lot about my own close relationship with my grandfather. I was also impressed by the use of stark video and sound technology to produce a beautiful piece of art. However this show is definitely not for everyone as it leans closer towards an art installation than a classic piece of theatre.
Author: Jo Hellier
Director: Jo Hellier
Producer: Supported by Arts Council England and MAYK Bristol. Part of the Spill National Showcase 2012 and Spill Showcase 2013
Box Office: 020 7233 2223
Booking Until: 1st February 2014