Before HIP starts outside the Vaults in Waterloo, the audience are told to gather behind some railings at the front of the venue and wait. It’s a potentially difficult beginning to the performance – a self-conscious crowd, commuters glancing curiously over, people arriving for other shows – but any awkwardness disappears when suddenly a woman appears in front of us, excited and eager to tell her story. Performer Jolie Booth is immediately in control, inviting us to imagine that we’re looking up at the window of the Brighton squat she once lived in. Once she has led us in to the performance space, ostensibly the inside of the squat, the story of two lives begins to unfold – hers and that of Anne Clarke, a previous resident. The way their stories are revealed is moving, fascinating and beautifully handled.
Booth’s intention that the performance be ‘Extra-Live’, and therefore relaxed and inclusive, makes for a touching and intimate evening – a playfully theatrical experience that rises above mere theatricality. Booth’s charm makes her a captivating storyteller and her research into Clarke’s life and obvious care for and connection to her subject shines through as she invites the audience into a sharing of hopes, aspirations and objects. She asks audience members to read out extracts from Clarke’s letters and passes round pictures, diaries, food and drink. As questions of memory, friendship, community and activism swirl around, we are each encouraged to embrace the here and now, as well as the past. The end of the show merges into a Q&A session, which while interesting, somewhat breaks the spell. Perhaps the imaginative framework that Booth so successfully harnesses at the beginning of Hip could be utilised to draw it gently to a more succinct close, so as not to spoil the reflective, open and warm atmosphere she has worked hard to create.