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One of the many extraordinary vignettes from the House of Mid-Winter Thought

One of the many extraordinary vignettes from the House of Mid-Winter Thought

Midwinter Thought – not a one-trick pony

Erica Smith waxes lyrical about ExploreTheArch’s latest production.

Over the last two years, I have attended all of the ExploreTheArch’s productions. There is a formula to them in as much as we know the performance will be about a book, and that paper, puppetry and pulleys will feature. Each time I attend, I expect to be disappointed – for familiarity can breed contempt – and each time I leave feeling inspired all over again.

00MidwinterThoughtThe House of Midwinter Thought was no exception. I entered rather reluctantly, worrying that I might not be able to cope with a Virginia Woolf story called The Mark on the Wall after a night of Outrageous Decadence on New Year’s Eve. The performance was preceded by a short talk by Gail Borrow, we sipped fine wines from The Wine Shed whilst Gail operated a table-top platten press identical to the one that the Woolfs used to print their publications at Hogarth Press. She spoke about Virginia Woolf’s desire to capture thoughts on paper and celebrate the way the mind wanders and wonders. We were then led through to the auditorium for the evening – unlike previous productions, we were settled into comfortable armchairs around the piano for the whole performance.

As well as things on strings, the range of props has expanded. Multiple digital tablets were hung from the windows and used to project simple, slightly out-of-synch films. Speakers dropped from the ceiling, and Borrow’s live performance was accompanied by periods of her recorded voice. She played the role of the Woolf-like narrator, carrying the story. Composer Vladimir Miller was stuck to the grand piano for the entire performance, supported by Alice and Juliet Beadle on violin, flute and saxophone.

00GailSteamAs always, the music was inspiring. For this performance the compositions ranged from experimental noise to rag-time jazz, with a particularly fine song treatment of the beautiful line: “Opals and emeralds they lie around the roots of turnips.”

Projected light was used both subtley and brilliantly to express thought. The props used were as varied as teacups, lamps and a jack-in-the-box. The piano was used as a stage to tell the story – dusty old cases were slapped on to the wooden top sending up clouds of old-lady’s talcum powder, a magical rocking horse representing the Trojan Horse was allowed to rock amongst a plague of wind up caterpillars which whirred and buzzed and fell off the table, creeping towards the audience.

My revelation from the evening was that Virginia Woolf was a dada-ist. I had never thought of her work in that context before – I had always thought of her as a rather frail genteel woman with a nightmare of a mind. Listening to her words in the darkened room, with a wealth of inventive props was the first time I had really understood her extraordinary composition. This performance was my unexpected favourite of all the ExploreTheArch productions so far.

The House of Midwinter Thought runs until Saturday 6 January. Tickets are available online for the Friday and Saturday shows. Tickets cost £13.00.

ExploreTheArch is at Archer Lodge, Charles Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, TN38 0QX

To read about earlier ExploreTheArch productions, follow this link.

Posted 11:20 Wednesday, Jan 3, 2018 In: Performance

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