Cards on the South Bank

If you’re near the South Bank Sunday or Monday, do come and visit me in the caravan. Or Carnaby Street Tuesday and Wednesday. We are directly outside the Tate Modern for now, 12 – 7. It’s really odd, being there in a peaceful caravan with all those people around. Mel and I organised for a sign to go outside telling passersby what we are doing and why, as it didn’t feel right to bark “Ladies and gentlemen, this is an art installation. We aren’t selling anything. It’s free. We’re playing cards and reading tarot.” Much as barking is second nature – (God I’ve done plenty of that over the years, sometimes until I was ragged) – it’s not right for this gig. This is a peaceful gig.

This is free contemplative art plus a free tarot or a game of cards (most people want the tarot). It’s a moment of engagement and structured thought and togetherness, with no cost but time. Very little in this town comes at no cost. In the context of the South Bank and this necessarily venal city we needed that word “free” written down out the front to derail constant shy conversations about price and give us space to work.

I’m glad it’s the two of us on this job. We’ve made so many strange things over the years, blurring the ground between real and imaginary. We like to play in the territory between the physical and the fanciful. We make “immersive” work in the real world and have done since it was the bête-noir to give the audience agency and everyone tried to tell us it would never catch on and we were wasting our time (even though this wave is not the first wave at all. Augusto Boal, Joan Littlewood etc etc). Right now though people shove the word “immersive” on the press release for a fourth wall show where some guy burns a bit of incense, one unhappy audience member holds a sign without knowing why, and some of the terrified actors occasionally look at you with dead eyes and shout a question in a voice that isn’t asking anything at all, before continuing, oblivious to your answer.

“Immersive” on a press release is getting to be a bit like “tangy” on crisps. You can charge a bit more for the crisps if you call them “tangy”. The right adjectives add value. “Immersive” for many people selling shows is equally vague but has some sense of tangy added value. 

I’ve immersed in shows many times but I’ve also seen things called “immersive” that are just trad fourth wall shows where the audience sits in a kitchen and that’s that.

Anyway, axe-grinding aside, Mel was an actor before she retrained as a director. She reads Tarot fluently and is great at reading people. I was asked to do this as an acting/facilitating job and I got her onboard as the right partner. The job involves – simply – to engage the people that come to the caravan with the beautiful deck that Alice has made. It’s a playing card/tarot deck. The last two days I’ve been doing loads of tarot readings. I couldn’t honour the artist and her beautiful work if I chose to do them in some sort of grandmother character. It would blur my connection with the person I was reading, and make it more about my choices than her art. By keeping it clean people can see the cards clearer. And they’re worth seeing.


Come play. Come be immersed in a tangy caravan of grandmaternal warmth, with your bonkers beardy Al pal.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

One thought on “Cards on the South Bank”

  1. Great piece. (And yesterday) Your observations of people and theatre makers astute (as always). Would love to drop by but sadly I’m not in London. The boldness of your theatre work has always been inspiring.


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