FINALLY got to see Autobiographer last night. I’d bought a ticket to one of the very first performances in Birmingham aaaaaages ago and then some wankers nicked half the train track in Nuneaton and I got to New Street ten mins after curtain up. I rang the box office from the train to see if my ticket could be resold and people in the carriage were consoling me about missing the show. Of course, it only made me more determined to see it. I’m not the type to sit back and let fucking scrap metal thieves ruin my arts calendar.
So, on paper, Autobiographer sounds really shit. It’s four women (the same woman at different stages of life) articulating the thoughts and memories of a 76 year old with dementia. There is no discernable narrative thread and at times it feels like you’re having a one-sided conversation with the most boring woman on earth. Which, of course, is really why it’s so good.
Before she died in 2005, my Grandma (Dad’s mum) suffered from dementia. It had progressed very quickly after she had an operation to remove a cancer. Many things made my Grandma’s situation very complicated but, actually, the dementia felt like the least of our worries.
Over the last few years, my Grandpa (Mum’s dad) has become ‘demented’. That sounds like a word you’d use in an essay about Mr Rochester’s first wife. He recently got an infection in both legs because he had forgotten to get into bed. He just sat up all night. My mum is one of four children but is the only one who lives nearby. She recently drifted apart from an old friend because she isn’t able to care for Grandpa herself and her friend disapproved.
(NB: I feel that this is the point at which I should explain that my Grandpa is a complete bastard and I’d said I’d have nothing to do with him even before he started forgetting people’s names. It’s a bit like when The Guardian mention some businessman who’s also on their board. I have to state the facts, for complete transparency. I’m simply not a nice enough human being to forget that he is a bastard.)
So, I watched Autobiographer with these two people in mind. The woman in the show was both my Grandma and my Grandpa, and it was moving. It must be fucking terrifying, losing your memory, and you really got a sense of that progression between panic and anger to just kind of accepting that you don’t know where you are or who you are or anything. It definitely made me wish that I’d spent more time with Grandma before she died, but I was younger then and, frankly, she scared the shit out of me by the end. Autobiographer also made me less angry with my Grandpa, although, because I am not a nice enough human being, that was because I thought “Ha! What goes around comes around motherfucker” rather than growing any sort of empathy.
Like I said, it was powerful.
I went to Bristol yesterday, for Mayfest, and the shitty train services meant I got to hire a car and hit the OPEN ROAD.
I was in Evesham before I managed to get the air con to work, and was somewhat panicked by the £500 insurance excess, but I had some pretty eye-opening (ear-opening?) radio experiences. Did you know, there is a radio version of the Go Compare ad? And Ocean Colour Scene are still a thing? And there is an actual brass band show, JUST FOR BRASS BAND MUSIC? Nothing else, JUST BRASS BANDS. For A WHOLE HOUR. The radio controls confused me a bit so I could only change the station when I was stopped. I can’t believe you can’t get 6 Music in the car. I mean, we saved the fucking station but you still can’t get it in cars?
There’s a pleasant kind of symmetry to rediscovering your driving mojo in beautiful Warwickshire countryside just before you climb to the 11th floor of a car park for an audio thing about the last one left of earth. Motor Vehicle Sundown by Andy Field is for two people (I made a new real-life Twitter friend and everything!) with headphones, and the premise is that cars have died out and the closest we can get to reliving the driving experience is by sitting in this museum piece Corsa (maybe a Micra - it wasn’t a Fiesta because the air con button was quite obvious) and imagining. We went to the drive-in and there was a lovely moment with headlights lighting up all the shagging teenagers, and then there was Gimme Shelter by The Stones, easily one of my all-time favourite songs, and then I went to the bottom of the sea and there was a sound like my heart…beat… slow…ing… down… Totally cool sound. It’s nice that the piece idealised driving, as we are wont to do with old dead stuff, although the hot weather and vintagey feel (can’t believe I just wrote “vintagey feel” - I hate myself) meant the maybe-Corsa would have been better as a Cadillac or summut. Probs couldn’t get it up the NCP ramps.
After MVS I went to the Arnolfini for a ‘pizzette’ and to do the Jo Bannon one-on-one thing, Exposure, which is EXCELLENT. I have never been in a room that dark before in my life, apart from maybe that time I went caving and we all turned our headlamps off for kicks. There’s so much I want to tell you about Exposure but it really needs an element of surprise. All I’m going to say is there is fucking PITCH BLACK ROOM and some incredibly effective shit-your-pants lighting and it’s all over far too quickly. The design and the concept could be really stretched into something much longer, and I hope that happens in the future. I could’ve spent all day in there with her.