Post written by: Erin Walcon
On Sunday 2 April 2017, I attended the evening performance of Invoking 50 Articles, an original piece by the Trio of Men in collaboration with the Choral Engineers, a community choir quite unlike any you’ve ever encountered before.
The show was inspired by the events surrounding Brexit, but the piece itself was decidedly apolitical, boldly steering away from divisive and polarising debate, and instead encouraging us to look at the triangle for comfort and security. Slightly tongue-in-cheek, but also slightly serious, I think?
What was thrilling to me about watching this piece is the awareness of how far we’ve come in Torbay over the last 4 years.
When we began the Doorstep work here, back in 2013, I remember attending a meeting at Battersea Arts Centre where I said ‘I’m not sure we’ll be able to showcase original non-scripted performance work by adults in Torbay within the life of this project. We will try, but I’m not sure the landscape is ready for it yet.’
How pleased I am to be proven wrong.
Under the careful producer eye of Mair George, and with the artistic leadership of Hugh Nankivell and Steve Sowden, this piece of theatre (or music?) (a performed concert?) (live art?) (choir?) filled the beautiful Spanish Barn at Torre Abbey with the voices of the Choral Engineers, singing an original score about the ambiguity in which we all seem to be living.
As ever, with Hugh and Steve’s work, the music was lavish, lush and layered, with a sense of sharp intellectualism made juicily palatable through a wry sense of humour. I laughed a lot – at the video introducing the ‘comforting’ triangle especially, and I found myself close to tears at the end, as the choir finally left, singing ‘We’re leaving.’ Only a few days after Theresa May really had invoked Article 50, this final exit and the subsequently empty stage gave me a lump in my throat. Absence, and emptiness finished the piece.
There was something strangely right about the piece being invoked in the Spanish Barn – the stone walls and eerily echoing interior felt like a fitting space for this ritual.
As I was leaving, I thought about why I felt sad. It wasn’t a wrenching sadness – but the kind of sadness you feel after a funeral. It was as if I was somehow making my peace with the fact that this reality is happening. (Perhaps my denial powers are strong?)
There was a wistfulness to the work, and a sensitive touch which left it open for all of the audience to access, regardless of their political stance. The word ‘Brexit’ was only invoked once at the very beginning, and the choir wore orange post-its with an X or an O on them, gently hinting at their vote, but never explicitly outing their individual politics.
The stacking of individual articles upon museum-style plinths began the piece, and at various points we as the audience were invited to engage, by holding a hand or being given a gift.
The warmth and acceptance, the open invitation, the gentle ritualism of the piece was very special, and I left it feeling as if these spaces are badly needed – space to sit, together, and make sense of the chaotic world which seems to be spiraling so quickly at the moment.
Perhaps it was the music, or the stone walls, but it felt a bit like going to church. Only a very odd church, where a triangle is mopped onto the stone floor every few minutes, and where a dog is inexplicably included in the service. Perhaps it’s a hunger in me for rituals – for gatherings of people who need to make meaning together, who need a breathing space, and the comfort of common acts together… the holding of hands, the giving of jackets, the singing. Above all, the singing.