17 March 2014
Scotland’s leading theatre company for actors with learning difficulties performed a promenade piece 'The Hold' in one of the country’s top museums in Edinburgh from 12-16 March. Paul F Cockburn isn’t usually a fan of this style of theatre, but this new collaboration proved to be an exception.
I’m not usually a fan of ‘promenade’ shows, where the audience is on its feet and sometimes guided around the performance space to experience different parts of the show. To a certain extent this is just down to laziness and the realities of sore knees and feet, but it’s also–I accept–a more subtle reluctance to let go of the reassuring fourth wall between myself as audience and the performers on stage.
Setting such a performance within a busy public space (the iconic National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, Edinburgh), with the added likelihood of members of the public unintentionally getting involved, meant that I had severe doubts about The Hold. An hour or so later, I had to admit that, as far as promenade performances were concerned, I’d just witnessed a definite exception to the rule.
The Hold is about the common, everyday objects that are part of our lives, and specifically the memories we attach to them and the degree to which those individual connections relate to our wider cultural compulsion to preserve and display objects perhaps centuries old in our museums. So, from the start, the location of the National Museum of Scotland actually made perfect sense.
At the heart of The Hold is Peter, played with an earnest sadness by John Edgar; an old man, he once worked in the museum and has now returned in order to donate his collection of personal artefacts. He’s being helped by his carer Sally (Teri Robb) for whom remembering the past means checking her Facebook timeline and the pictures she’s put up on Flickr; so, she’s initially not that impressed by the pile of broken plates and numerous other everyday objects in his boxes. Yet, as Peter points out, a glass is the memory of when he first met the love of his life; a colourful ball, the memory of the day he lost his young son on the beach.
As Peter handles the objects, he, Sally and the audience see the memories they invoke played out in the museum, but there are times when even those glimpses of the past are not enough and we’re pulled around a circuitous path between different parts of the museum, where additional displays have been added from Peter’s lives. With a lush, mournful soundtrack from Kenneth Dempster, performed live by a talented classical quintet, you really do get a sense of spiralling down through a person’s memories.
Not that there aren’t any laughs; there are the regular, fleeting appearances of two generations of always-busy museum curators, a father and then son pontificating on “thing theory” and both played with suitable brash impudence by Stephan Tait. As in several previous productions, Tait has been matched up in a double-act with Mark Howie, who gives us a kindly, but ever-hungry security guard.
Thought-provoking, moving and not without a sense of the magic of the place, The Hold is an excellent production which confirms Lung Ha’s reputation for innovative and imaginative theatre.