On Thursday Anna, Lucy and I went to see Smother, a collaboration between Sarah Cole and the Coram Young Parents project, commissioned by Artangel. It's a live immersive performance set throughout a narrow five-storey house. You walk throughout the space as the performers are doing their thing – it is obviously narrative but the order in which you read the story follows the route you take through the house.
The journey starts with us waiting to be fetched a courtroom (Clink Hostel was formerly the Clerkenwell Magistrates' Courthouse), seated on a witness bench, surrounded by all the original brass plaque notices. One of the performers comes to get us and led us outside, across a few streets to 101 Kings Cross Road, a dilapidated, rickety building with sagging floors, gaping holes in the ceilings and the steepest, narrowest staircase.
On each floor – the width of a single, triangular-shaped room and staircase landing – various activities are underway. A girl lies on a mattress on the floor, wearing leopard-print leggings and a white babygrow over her face; another girl sits on the floor one floor down, wrapped in a voluminous white sheet, colouring in a page of a lined jotter with a red marker with her one free hand. An older looking girl in velvet tracksuit hood, denim shorts and fluffy-toy slippers is walking up the stairs with a balloon balancing under one hand, at the height of a small child. She takes the balloon to the next room, speaking softly, and then the balloon escapes and lands in the corner of the ceiling. The girl, panicked, jumps and stretches to reach it, climbs on to the window ledge, attempts to climb the frame, leans across the room and rests her foot on the opposite wall, precarious and tense, blowing all the while to coax the balloon closer. The wall is smudged with marks of her previous attempts to get it back. She finally catches it and carefully balances it under her palm, walks across the room and wedges it inside the loop of string hanging down from a window blind. When it is secure, she starts rocking the balloon in string, back and forth, like you would push a child on a swing.
On the ground floor as you enter is a cupboard which almost entirely conceals a small monitor – if you stand in front of it, you can peer in between the doors and watch the video: a sequence of portraits of young women talking about being a mother, each wearing extremely long fake eyelashes, with glitter or strips of colour or beaded edges. The effect is remarkable – the lashes instantly make you aware of the rhythm of their eyes blinking, softly brushing their cheeks as they smile or frown and talk.
I don't know how long we stayed – probably 40 minutes. And although I didn't think much of the set-up when I first walked up and down from room to room, the more time I spent with each individual fragment, or story, the more it drew me in.
Has anyone been? What did you think?