Hip was a sell-out on the night I attended, perhaps because it feeds into our deepest curiosity about the real people who live around us. It’s the story of a building in the centre of Brighton, the woman who moved in to squat there, and the person who lived in it before.
It was a faintly bizarre experience to hear someone trying to reconstruct the life of a woman I didn’t know, but who it turned out I must have met, and will have known friends and house mates. I have to declare that at the beginning, because it added an unusual colour to my vision of the show – there was no-one else of my generation or older there.
Jolie Booth starts with us all outside the Marlborough, and we’re led back in as if quietly entering a squat for the first time. Inside, the performance is in the round. Booth tells the story of finding Anny Clark’s hip bone, her spices, and more importantly her diaries and her letters. She asks audience members to read out extracts from these as we go on a journey exploring someone else life through what they left behind.
It’s a slightly voyeuristic experience, with that vicarious sense of discovery that you get from going to a Brighton Open House and finding the house more interesting than the art. But where Open Houses are always neat, clean and privileged, Anny’s life was messy, interesting, and full of the counter-culture of the sixties and seventies.
Booth invites people to sit comfortably, and to speak out and add things to her reconstruction of Anne’s life; when she’s unsure whether the Windsor pub is now the Earth and Stars, for example, someone in the audience is able to confirm it. The improvised nature of the performance gives an even more intimate feel to the tour through Anne’s memorabilia, possessions and innermost thoughts, as expressed in her diaries. There is no imposed direction – indeed Booth asks the audience to choose two particular aspects of Anne’s life out of five on offer – which adds to our sense of exploring a very real life, with all its unanswered as well as answered questions.
Booth treats Anne with a respectful curiosity and affection, but it’s still a slightly unsettling experience. I was glad to toast her memory with tequila (part of the show), while still being aware that alcoholism had dogged her life. The show is full of uneasy juxtapositions like that, and parallels too – Booth reads from her own diaries and compares her life to Anne’s. It feels like she found a kindred spirit in Anne Clark, and that is what gives strength to the show; lifts it into a thoughtful celebration of her life, not just a dissection.