Several years ago FH invented this pastime. You gather a group of friends and spend a Saturday wandering around a variety of weird and wonderful locations in South London. You have no idea what you will find and the chances are you will be the only people at these venues which are free to enter.
I have found myself in a series of locations; former jam or biscuit factories, a defunct gin distillery, railway arches, a former workhouse, a bear garden and even people’s living rooms. All places worth a snoop around in their own right.
I have experienced an amazing range of emotions from suppressed rage as I tackled a four page manifesto to help me understand the artist’s decision to display a pair of rubber gloves, despair at the sight of yet another impenetrable video installation, extreme self consciousness at coming face to face with a man dressed as a crow in a railway arch or a woman balancing butter on her head. I have laughed like a drain as I watched someone knit jumpers for crustaceans.
I have walked into a deserted council flat to find it transformed by copper sulphate crystals.
I have been genuinely scared by being made to don a white mask and sent off alone into a scary and frightening unknown. In a darkened corridor I started with terror at the sight of a white faced stranger only to realise that it was my husband. (We all knew then that this Punchdrunk Theatre Co was something special)
Back to the Piccadilly Community Centre. What was it? Art masquerading as life or vice versa? This former Lutyens designed bank and up market art gallery had been transformed by Christoph Buchel into a shabby community centre complete with charity shop, WI run café and a bar. In one room a group of war gamers assured me that they weren’t actors that they really did this. I grinned back at them feeling like an extra in some downmarket Westworld style movie.
In another room a group of people were dancing intensely. Someone waved me inside I shied away. The prayer room was empty. I sat in there for a while. We climbed into the attic which had been transformed into a squat. Opposite was a roof complete with sleeping bags, soggy mattresses, fag ends, chicken bones and cans of Special Brew.
By the time I turned the handle of a heavy door that was marked ‘Private’ my heart was pounding. The room was an unnerving cross between a caretaker’s den and a squat. FH disappeared down a narrow cellar like corridor and I fled the room. He seemed to take ages to come back. Back upstairs to buy a book in the charity shop and to watch a Conservative Party video about the Big Society which was unsettling.
Then back to the ground floor for a snoop in an office and to stand behind the counter of the bank. Someone came in and smiled at me. I wanted to say ‘I’m not an actor’ then a reassuring cup of tea and cake.
I had experienced the power that fiction has to convey a greater truth.