Created by well-known local playwright Tim Crouch, and housed in a mocked-up bathing hut incongruously placed on New Road, Host bills itself as a new style of “relay” theatre. There’s a five-minute script, but there aren’t any actors – just two members of the public, who take on the responsibility of performing Crouch’s words. One of them reads the script aloud, while the other listens on. And then, the reader hands over the script before leaving the room – so the listener becomes the performer, ready for the next participant to step through the door.
The play itself is about a relationship; a relationship that might be on the rocks, though neither party is entirely sure. It’s modelled on a real-life story, a story I recognise and happen to know quite well, and Crouch has done a fine job extracting an even-handed piece of short theatre from a complex and controversial tale. As the structure of the piece demands, most of the talking’s done by one of the partners – and the script concisely reflects both the hurt and the aggression that he or she feels.
It must be said my experience wasn’t entirely representative, because by complete chance, the man I found waiting to read me the script was both a professional actor and a personal friend. But in a sense, the whole point of Host is that nobody’s experience is representative. The other participant’s gender, whether or not you know them, whether they choose to read you the script in a menacing or a pleading tone – all of these will affect your experience of the work, and perhaps influence the impression you pass on to the next person in the chain.
There are a couple of logistical glitches. The stage directions demand that you speak while holding your listener’s gaze, which for someone unaccustomed to reading from off the page is actually a very difficult thing to do. And the title of the piece – clearly visible on the front of the script – is a blatant spoiler. So when you walk into Host, keep your eyes on the other participant and don’t look down at the table.
But the really intriguing thing about Host isn’t the play itself, but the concept. Shortly after you’ve visited the bathing hut, you’ll receive an email containing a copy of the script – and an exhortation to set up your very own chain of performances. The idea’s to create a nationwide network of hosts for Host, all emanating from a single original performance at the bathing hut in Brighton. And I can never resist a challenge like that one, so I gathered an impromptu group down the road at the Spiegeltent and found out how my own production might go.
Alas, it wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped. Listening to the script again was interesting, because the second person who read it to me interpreted it very differently from my original friend. It’s tempting to see my own hand at work here – to claim that by telling and retelling the story, I’d created a distinctive variant of the tale, which would now continue down my new chain. But I don’t quite believe it. If you give the same script to two different actors they’ll perform it in two different ways; I think it really is as simple as that.
And recreating Host’s magic in another location proved a lot harder than it seems. The instructions say you just need the script and one very simple prop, but that’s underselling the work they’ve done on the bathing machine. There’s a confessional quality to the space they’ve created, a total privacy once the door has closed. Perhaps some people ignore the script and end up hugging each other; there’s something special about the fact there’s no way ever to tell.
So in terms of a life for Host beyond the Brighton Fringe, I’m somewhat unconvinced. But so long as it’s here, it’s well worth finding ten minutes to take your place in the relay in the hut on New Road. Whether you find yourself sharing the time with a stranger or a friend, it’s a moment that’s sure to linger in your mind.