Outside the ‘Studio’ section of the Vauts, the audience congregates, standing by a wall painted with an image of a ‘flower child’. Jolie Booth, the evening’s performer comes out to greet us and we’re asked to imagine a street in Brighton and its local landmarks. The ‘time’ is 2002 and we’re about to enter a ‘squat’ situated above an Ann Summers shop…
The ‘Studio’ has been dressed like a premises that hasn’t been changed since the Counter-Culture of the 1960s and ’70s. We also hear some more about the woman that used to live here. Then the penny drops: this isn’t a fictional immerseive theatrical experience. This is a show about a real woman, who led the most extraordinary life.
Born in 1938, Anne Clark was the elder of two sisters. Her family lived in Greater London before she made her own way to Brighton where her life ‘really’ began. Growing up, Clark corresponded with her father by letter, who was away from home a lot on work-related business. She kept up the practise of writing letters and her diaries well into adulthood, and it is the written material left behind in Booth’s former residence that is the bedrock, the foundation of HIP.
Several small bags are placed in front of the audience, each labelled with a topic that pertains to the sort of letters contained within. As the audience is truly at ease at this point, volunteers also periodically asked to read excerpts, which give a flavour of Clark the woman, her social circle and the times she was living in.
Clark was a woman of contradictions, who supposedy was capable of the best and very worst of behaviour. She was also very knowledgable and creative, and refused to live by the mores placed on women at that time. As a social butterfly she knew everyone and everyone knew her. She was proof that everyone’s life is fascinating and worth knowing about.
For Booth this has been a deeply personal project, having found over the years many links and parallels of Clark’s life to her own. This being the case, Booth’s love and care with the project is self-evident, the curator of someone’s soul.
Several years ago, my flatmate died and I had a similar experience where I had to go through his sensitive letters and other potentially embarassing material. By the time I was through, I probably knew him better than anyone, knowing all of his foibles. I never made these public, but in some ways I wished there was some way to have commemorated his life. Booth’s show does this for Clark, acknowledging the many facets of her personality, but ultimately being respectful and celebrating her life.
© Michael Davis 2017
HIP runs at the Vaults until 5th February 2017.