"How would you like to bash some nuts, then?" asked Kate. Absolutely. We were in Mama's Kitchen, a show that is part of the Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane, and we were cooking. The auditorium was unrecognisable from the night before. Gone were the chairs, in their place an assortment of large cushions scattered around and people were, well, lolling. I was wandering round with a Highgate special-brew elderflower gin and tonic, feeling decidedly strawberry fields with my gold wristband (a neat festival touch in place of a ticket), and was drawn to one of the two stands where the audience could either make bread or cake; in this case an organic, gluten-free, banana and nut loaf with Kate.
What did I know about the show beforehand? That Shunt artist, Layla Rosa, effectively the show's matriarch, had gathered together her "family" from the world of music, comedy and, of course, circus. To be honest, I don't think the cast had much idea beyond that either, as the whole design of the evening was to create a relaxed informal space nurturing improvisation and experiment, Mama's Kitchen being a place to try out new recipes in a welcoming environment. Maybe that's why now, at six o' clock in the morning, I find myself at the kitchen table, cup of tea to hand, working my way through on a bowl of blueberries and chatting away to you.
Back to Mama's Kitchen, the doughs went into the ovens, with Layla inviting us all to share in it at the end, releasing mouth-watering wafts of baking breads throughout the evening. Then, if music be the food of love, play on. Live music was courtesy of the rich vocals of Djanan Turan, soothing in her song recommending the remedy of honey and lemon to her lover, searing in her rendition of a traditional Turkish song, while Layla's dulcet tones singing "I'm sticking with you, because I'm made out of glue" and their later beautiful duet together reinforced the notion of music, and art, as life's sweetener, connecting the community. For the rest of the evening, music became a personal handle for a variety of acts that made use of every conceivable space in the theatre, and on occasion shuffling the audience round to enable that.
To begin with the theatre went dark, and then a light directed our attention up to the rafters where Tamsin was treading across the netting. On reaching the other side she sat down, swinging her legs over as though on a seawall about to dip her toes into a turquoise sea, accompanied by an atmospheric retro track that made by think of a 50s St Tropez, before scaling down the rope with gamine grace.
Next up was Gemma from the night before, letting rip her inner duende with flamenco for the 21st century on Chinese pole that made you feel good to be alive. Blue eyes, blond hair, wearing jeans and a top, with a flick of the wrist and a clap she nonetheless conjured up a raven-haired Carmen from the South with a flounce of a dress. Venga!
Sophie Rose followed with the first of a series of comedy interludes describing a rather hapless love life with dead-end Craig, starting out in a disco to that Calvin Harris club anthem "we found love in a hopeless place", but with that spark of the woman who has had enough. Sophie was killingly funny, she had everyone in stitches relentlessly, and if you are lucky enough to be up at Edinburgh seek out her full-length show.
Nothing prepared me for the astonishment I experienced with the rest of the audience as Rosie then emerged, a blossoming, radiant Madonna, 34 and a half weeks pregnant (those halves are very important at that stage!), in a crop top, leggings and resplendent belly. A voiceover of Rosie reading out from a pregnancy manual of what to expect that month (that took me back!) gave way to the Ave Marie as Rosie took to the hoop, threading her way though the it, spinning, stretching, an ease of splits, moves that would be extraordinary even without the bump that totally shifts her centre of gravity. Later extracts of conversation from amazed strangers who had glimpsed her in rehearsals, captured the wonder of the performance delivered with skill, beauty, tenderness, and above all serenity. The transition to a David Attenborough narrative made us all laugh, and also brought home that no matter how civilised society gets, how overloaded with technology, we are all part of the animal kingdom and basically a miracle of nature. I was overjoyed, later, to learn that Rosie's own mother was in the audience.
Tamsin returned later, this time with Ilona, over from Finland especially for the evening. The two of them improvising their way down the handrail and up to a ledge in an act showcasing both playfulness and jaw-dropping strength and balance. Antonio was next, embodying a moving portrait exploring gender and sexuality. "Baby Girl, do you know how it feels to love?" asked the song as Antonio weaved his spell, wearing a pleated skirt layered over his trousers that followed the fluid motions of his body, surrendering himself to the performance. What I loved about the choreography was the way it carried Antonio onto the mini stage in front of the guitarist, in a move that you sense was both improvised and inspired in the moment, carrying us away as well.
Aislinn and Pablo did a sketch as a director and aerialist working out a piece on silks. As Aislinn did beautiful tricks to poignant lyrics returning to "this bitter earth", we watched on enchanted until she would then interrupt the sequence for time-out to discuss with Pablo, in a comically abstract way, the interpretation of movement and the director's intention. In a subtle flip, a discussion of costume indicates all is not what it seems. Why is Aislinn talking about his angelic aerial costume when she is the one wearing a white top? It all becomes clear at the end when she takes her rightful place in the director's chair, a neat twist. Tamsin returned this time showcasing her signature hand-balancing, executing handstands one handed that moved gymnastics into the realm of dance.
Finally the lights went out. Was that it then? No. A torchlight appeared, a performer weaving her way down the crowd, shining the spot eventually on the main wall where the shadow of spider scuttled past, and then returned, magnifying until its legs became a web. Then followed a staggeringly psychaedelic turn, with music to match, on a hoop, flashes glimpsed through a web of strobing, flashing lights. Finally the lights go on to reveal Ilona in full flight. She was on top, in and under in seconds, suspending time as she held toe hangs for an excruciating infinity, then revving it up again as she swung the hoop back and forward while making every conceivable shape possible, and a number that quite frankly are impossible too. It was an awesome finale to a terrific evening, and ending on that note a fitting precursor to club night tonight with "Bring the Noise!" Get your tickets now. And bring it on!
P.S. And the loaf was delicious - a (nut)cracking community effort!