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The Beginning, Battersea Arts Centre

Devised and performed by Michael Pinchbeck, Nicki Hobday and Ollie Smith

Pros: A fascinating concept, nicely performed with lovely music.

Cons: This is an abstract piece, very in keeping with BAC’s ethos, but unless you are a fan of contemporary art and theatre, this may not be for you.

Our Verdict: A clever, touching and often funny piece. Enjoyable and well worth a look.

Courtesy of Julian Hughes and Michael Pinchbeck

What is a performer? What does it mean to be a performer in a performance? This show attempts to explore the questions which underlie the nature of theatre itself and our place within it – whether audience member or performer.

As we entered the theatre space, the room was filled with the sounds of birds chirping and a guitar being tuned up. There is a camera pointing towards a desk where a performer is rolling the shows credits for us, which is then projected onto the large wall. This sets the tone for what becomes an often cinematic theatrical piece. Three performers talk us through their first experiences of being on stage which are illuminating, touching and easy to relate to. We are asked to question the nature of the audience/performer relationship and what constitutes audience courtesy. Does refraining from interruption suffice? Also, what is the driving force behind the performers desire to perform?

Although the first half of this performance was never fully engaging, I found myself thinking about the questions it raised long after the show had finished. In fact, it reminded me of a time last summer when I went to see Yoko Ono’s exhibition – I thought that I didn’t really get it until I found myself thinking about it endlessly on the way home, mulling over the different concepts and feeling a sort of delayed connection with its message. The Beginning is a very good show for anyone who is involved in theatre as it delves so deeply into its meaning and purpose.

The show feels quite circular in its themes. Concepts, questions and statements often come around again and again in different threads which felt clever and creatively satisfying. One particularly effective moment was when a child’s voice puts forward some very interesting ideas. As the words were far too advanced for the child’s age, I felt a real connection with the childlike imagination of the artist.

A major reoccuring theme, or possibly the main theme, is love itself. An adventure of the heart is explored through the music of Serge Gainsbourg which links us directly into the question of the performers love of performance. In many ways, the whole show is a love letter from the performer to the audience or a love letter to the theatre itself.

Part of why this show works is the standard of the performers themselves. I found myself relating to their stories and really warming to their humour. Michael Pinchbeck is an extraordinary performance artist and has appeared in several ground-breaking productions that I’ve been lucky enough to see. He is certainly one to watch. Both Nicki Hobday and Ollie Smith are integral to the success of the piece and their likeability is partly why the show comes together so well.

The Beginning is everything we’ve come to expect from the BAC – forward thinking theatre with a strong message.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

The Beginning runs at the Battersea Arts Centre until 25th July.
Box office: 020 7223 2223 or book online at https://www.bac.org.uk/bac/shows_list

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