Mapping the City

An image of some headphones

Warning, this post could be said to contain spoilers. If you intend to go see Mapping the City, don’t read this. In fact, don’t read anything about it, or talk to anyone, just go not knowing, like you do into each day.

A character watches himself speaking boldly about politics and love, knowing how much pain both will give him.

There are some moments in our lives that can seem more 3D, when the world seems to swing around us. The wave of nausea when you find out your partner has been cheating on you, the moment you smell the scent of someone you once loved, the first time you hold a child that belongs to you, or the moment that your car is hit by another. Time shifts in these moments, the air takes on a consistency like treacle or glue; you feel what a phenomenologist might call ‘the thickness of experience’, I think, when a thing like this happens to you.

The contents of couple’s hearts, as tall as a building, projected onto a wall several stories high behind them.

Mapping the City from the brilliant Slung Low is a piece performed by many performers across the city of Hull. Sometimes following mic’d up speakers, or being guided by workmen holding orange umbrellas, all the time hearing the sounds through a pair of headphones and transmitted to the small card-sized receiver worn around each audience member’s neck.

Like retracing your steps in a town you used to live. Remembered, alien.

A culture sunk in mediums that can be paused, rewound, fast forwarded, altered, cloned, undone, is a culture obsessed with the fake, ruled over by the repetition. What Mapping the City makes you to do is to reverse the question; is that fake? becomes is this part of it?, you don’t ask ‘is this a lie‘ but ‘is this this moment’s truth‘? The performance made you hyper-aware of every figure, each vehicle that sped past, the seemingly discarded object; all has relevance, all a reason.

Three people stood watching you, holding softly lit lanterns.

The visual language was strong and tactile at the beginning; a dinner table that looked drawn out of paper and marker pen; a small bar you followed on the back of a bicycle; a red kettle rested next to a young couple in love as we follow the couple falling apart, then pouring steam over a character’s final realisation. This opening tactility eases the audience into the style and situation of the piece before the interweaving stories become more and more haunted by the memory of those past, and ones to come. If the timeline of a conventional narrative is a single thread, this was a tapestry. Or perhaps like a sheet of paper, crumpled up.

Golden fishes fall from the ceiling.

Mapping the City was woven into the city much more fully than similar work I have seen like this. The sense of moving under, over, through accented by journeys into warehouses, on the top deck of buses, tracing fast-paced routes across pavements. And the ‘real life residues’ I have mentioned in previous posts about non-theatre based performance work weren’t just left by the piece, but completed by it.

Sparks, and a man at both times old and young.

The show mapped the city of Hull with the footfalls of an audience tracing stories left there for us, an ulterior, hidden map, that didn’t make sense until you’d seen the whole of it.

These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them is as blind as that of lovers in each other’s arms. The paths that correspond in this intertwining, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility. It is as though the practices organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness. The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and indefinitely other.” – p.93 Michel de Certeau – the Practice of Everyday Life

A man sings to a child in a pram.

To remain as amazed by the world as we were when we were children would be impossible; we’d never get anything done. To lose that amazement in order that we might move through it every day is necessary, but so is to occasionally reconnect with it – through those moments like running sand, like tar, like treacle. For 3 hours Mapping the City makes the air of Hull thick and electric. Like the best kind of theatre. Like the memory that interrupts your day unbidden.

Like the feeling of taking off headphones and hearing birdsong.

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