I’ve just pulled on a shiny pink and silver shell suit. A woman in Hawaiian patterned culottes and a baby-spice style long blonde wig has just placed something in my pocket and told me not to take it out until I’m told. My friend who I have brought along giving her no information whatsoever about the nature of the performance looks nervous. And now we have to go out. Out into the public. Dressed up. With headphones. On our own. And did I mention that Imagine Children’s Festival also happens to be taking place and around 800 people are dancing to an 80’s disco on the Clore Ballroom powered by bicycles.
‘Mega’ takes you back in time and casts you in the role of Bryony Kimmings’ 9 year old self, in the early 90’s, on an estate. Headphones on, and a monologue interspersed with amazing 1990’s hits feeding into your mind, we are invited to explore the site around us, and listen.
Bryony tells us to stick to the concrete, and only return when our mum calls us home for tea. So off we went. My friend and I wandered around the Hayward Gallery car park, roaming up and down the stairs that surround the space. We ventured out towards the main road, and even as far as the riverside terrace overlooking the Thames but it felt odd to be looking at the river and at the tourists while listening to stories of growing up poor, being the person who gave bad presents and the games your mum played with you because there was only bread to eat.
Really the nostalgia is the key to this piece; in being put into a pink shell suit I immediately remembered my own (my sister and I had matching purple ones), the music made me smile and feel at ease and even playful, and those little surprises in my pockets gave me a boost of childish energy and fun, and acted as perfect catalysts for memories to emerge. Bryony’s story is engaging, and funny, and moving, but with so many other aspects to think about; where we were going, wanting to take photos of each other, the actual experience of ‘being the show’ for both ourselves and the other people around the Southbank Centre (part of our intro was ‘feel free to head down onto the river but you might get mobbed’), my focus was easily diverted from this, missing parts of the story.
Having said that, even if I missed narrative parts of the story, I was still hooked to the feel of the piece and truly journeyed with it. It’s an amazingly fresh experience to move from nervous excitement to apprehension, to sadness, to giddy joy in such a short space of time.
And the peaks of our performance were indeed giddy joy; trying to remember how to blow bubblegum bubbles and re-experiencing that sticky, and quickly almost cement like, lose-the-favour-in-two-seconds-flat familiarity of hubba bubba.
I wonder what this piece would have been like if I had gone solo, rather than relaxing in the bubble of mutual embarrassment and wonder in shiny pink suits that I shared with my friend. I think I probably would have found a corner and just sat and listened, and let the story envelop me. Would I have danced? Maybe. But I think it would have been a secret dance in the shadows of the car park stairs just for me, rather than the 90’s rave duet we found ourselves partaking in, right next to the market, with people waving and taking pictures from all around!
Mega it was.