Just down the road from Lou’s place, across the border into Hove and to St Ann’s Garden – for some theatre! Lou has volunteered to help with Front of House for a one man show about Woodstock. She’s been working like a train all week and looking after 3 cats and an Al, so why she thinks that tearing tickets on the Brighton Fringe is the best way to wind down on a Friday night is anybody’s guess. But she gets a plus one. So I’m along for the ride. A busman’s holiday. I get to watch something. A rarity these days. Great!
I’m never sure what to expect of a one man show. “How long is it?” was my first question, and “two hours” had me worrying. You never know what you’re going to get, and if it’s not your bag it can be tricky to escape cleanly. “Who is the performer? Do you know anything about him?” I need to be more optimistic. Too many weird ones, I guess. “I think you’ll enjoy it!” she tells me.
I think I’ve seen more crazy and brilliant one person shows that have swept me up than ones where I’ve realised immediately that I’m going to struggle. I’ve seen people licking audience members on purpose, or forgetting their lines by mistake. I’ve seen people pissing into a bottle on purpose or sweating so much they slip on it by mistake. Anything goes in a one person show on the fringe, basically. I went expecting literally anything. What I got was good smart happening told with great charm on a shoestring. I was glad to be one of about 30 people to see somebody flying the flag for getting the show back on the road.
Jonathan Brown has made a 20ft scaffolding tower and dropped it into where the stoners like to hang out in Hove. The energies are right for what he’s doing. He’s improvised some simple delicate props – a big fake camera, a rocket, some very simple costume signifiers. He’s tricked out the tower with various details, to raise up moments here and there. And with this eclectic pottage of colourful things he’s chosen to tell the story of “The Spirit of Woodstock“. It’s a montage of events and characters written and played by him, taking us through Woodstock and the world happenings contextualising that huge and game-changing free festival right at the heart of The Summer of Love. He plays everybody, and sweeps us through submarines and helicopters and cars and assassinations as well as all sorts of points within the huge and joyful mess that was the largest gathering of people ever held. It can be excruciating when an actor is playing multiple roles and they forget to play towards the joy of it. Jonathan holds on to the joy throughout, reveling in the silly side of the craft of a solo story. His vibe is relaxed and safe, so his audience has permission to play with him. If he can be a bit loose and we enjoy watching him anyway, then we can be a bit loose when he asks us to do things, and thus have more fun. And he does ask us to do things. Simple things in the execution. We bomb a village in Vietnam, we protest and celebrate many things, we are a famous band, and in one wonderful and incredibly silly montage we help him reconstruct the global reaction to one of the most famous events of that era, as well as reconstructing the event with the help of three audience volunteers.
This is fun. This is a relaxed and charismatic performer enjoying himself alongside us and giving us a chance to examine an event that was crucially important to the social landscape going forward from the sixties.
The scaff tower is a clever set, and a good cheap way of being able to take a show wherever you can get a van. “Do you keep it in an expensive lockup?” “Thankfully I’ve got a large garden.”
This is not about an overarching narrative – it’s a happening. Sure you could tighten it up, cut some dead weight, make the transitions slicker, maybe lose half an hour – but the maker knows all that and he hasn’t because he’s not here to impress us with the bells and whistles.
It seems to be that this show – this happening – is here as a bit of shared joy, and as a call back to that powerful moment of defiant fun and love happening in the midst of huge global tension and strife, where Rockefeller nearly called out the national guard on a bunch of barefoot kids in a field. We need a Woodstock type event now to pull us back together after we have been blown apart, but festivals – like everything else – have been turned into moneymachines by the people who got into Woodstock for free. What to do, eh? More things like this.
A lovely gentle thoughtful reintroduction to the world of going to see other actors working for fun.