Theatre in Wales

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This Club is Well Worth Checking Into

After Hours at the Polestar Club

Centre for Performance Research , Aberystwyth Arts Centre Studio , June 14, 2013
After Hours at the Polestar Club by Centre for Performance Research The Centre for Performance Research is nothing if not resilient. In its fourth, or maybe fifth, incarnation it has removed itself to Aberystwyth’s Science Park. Its unique performance and theatre archive, comprising thirty thousand items plus, is now sealed by its host of the last generation and rendered inaccessible to scholar, student or interested citizen. Unloved in Wales, it may well end up finding a kinder home in England.

A gusting internationalism has always blown through CPR and “After Hours at the Polestar Club” is true to form. A programme note of appreciation to a local Aberystwyth university department is common for a studio production; thanks to the University of Lapland or Sweden’s Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna are not. The event moves on to Chapter and the Green Man Festival but the Studio is as good a fit as could be for the first performance. The dome and its two circles of steel are the perfect complement for Christine Watkins’ arctic-cosmic exploration.

The three performers are all in black. Maria Hayes is at an easel drawing with a quill in black ink in real time in accompaniment to word and song. A camera casts the emerging images onto a screen with the black and white polarities reversed. The images assume a quality of shifting ambiguity, a planetary view turning into a possible picture of blood vessel and inner bodily feature. But that is just one interpreting eye at work.

Sianed Jones, her blonde hair arranged in a dramatic one-sided arrangement, sings her first piece in a deep Nico-like chanteuse tone. The audience are seated around fifteen silver, circular tables and she moves among us to demonstrate she is also possessed of a strong soprano. The music composition, that takes in double-tracked scat, is hers while the text is that of Christine Watkins. Christine Watkins, in neck-length ear-rings, adds the spoken word to image and music, mingling cosmic fable with a frozen maritime tale set in a frozen north.

The rhythm of the piece is composed of long, unhurried sequences over the seventy minutes. It opens with what appears an inter-planetary text exchange, typed out on the screen. A metaphor of a gate swinging on its hinges may be suggestive of an existence that is part-determined, part-open to prevailing forces.

The audience’s tables themselves have glasses and a last artful secret that later audiences may discover for themselves. Glasses are raised in a collective toast to the magnetosphere. This must be a first for theatre.

The performance of “After Hours at the Polestar Club” is timed to take place the night before two days at Aberystwyth of exploration of the art-science borderline. Christine Watkins’ text makes reference more than once to the “measurers and discoverers, picturers and ponderers.” The arts and sciences have elements that diverge but they have areas that over-lap. Paul Dirac, a 1933 Nobel joint prize-winner, said he was driven by the sense of beauty to be found in the equations that were his creation. For all the tribulation and the detail in the making, artist and scientist have a similar impetus. “After Hours at the Polestar Club” has it, the sense of excitement and exhilarating adventure.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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