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Review: New performance art club night #hashtag at the BGWMC is 'bang on' writes Ben Walters

 

There’s a lot to be said for short and sweet, and a lot to be said for the championing of the new. Put them together and you get hashtag, the exciting new joint venture by two of the alt cabaret scene’s most consistently adventurous and progressive producers: Lara Clifton, late of the Whoopee Club, various Marisa Carnesky projects and much more; and Lisa Lee, creator of the pioneering platform for works in progress UnderConstruction and one of the brilliantly bonkers LipSinkers. Running on a pilot basis for three editions in February, March and April, hashtag takes place at one of Whoopee’s old stomping ground, Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. Friday night’s debut edition suggested a winner of a format with more than its share of teething problems.

As a set-up, hashtag is simple but kind of brilliant: it’s partly a club night and partly a performance showcase, with eclectic tunes punctuated by three-minute performances. It seemed as if cabaret seating would work against the club element: for the first hour or two there wasn’t a whole lot of dancing going on despite great work from Dee Plume and Dave Squeaky on the decks. But limbs loosened as the night went on, segueing sweetly from performance to party when the turns ended after midnight.

There were, however, several pretty serious hitches on the performance front. The tech side of things was patchy: mics were often not working, leaving some acts more or less miming; lighting was basic, which left certain turns, such as lip-synching numbers, reading less well than they should have; and video projection conked out at a couple of key points, including what looked to be a fab LipSinkers video about Russia.

The performances themselves were hit and miss, as is inevitable and appropriate given the nature of the night – you can’t experiment without leaving room for missteps, and there was a welcome and exciting concentration of young and relatively untried performers. Several acts’ outfits were more interesting than their performance - that sounds snide but some of the outfits were really good, in a nude-holographic-catsuit kind of way.

There were a couple of decent lip-synching acts, including one from the always engaging Oozing Gloop, and Jonathan Jones (aka Mrs JonJo) took a pretty amusing bit about replacing the word ‘love’ with ‘cock’ in song titles up a level by capitalising on a fortuitously stupid heckle.

Antonia Mellows delivered a strikingly fucked-up number in which insulting, borderline-abusive comments, supposedly made by an ex, were sung to a jaunty ukulele backing track. I wasn’t quite sure what flute-soprano duo Bitch ’n’ Monk were up to: clearly extremely talented, they were forever interrupting their own music with on-screen CVs, graphics and ad images to no clear effect. They also, like a few others, went way over three minutes.

The standout was Emily Bee, who used video to take us on a deadpan fantastic voyage. A projected backdrop of a bar was the set-up for a beautifully random act in which half-hearted sexting with a bloke named David somehow gave way to the realisation that there was a rainforest concealed, Narnia-like, in Emily’s dress. This was the three-minute format at its best: a strong, original idea, still rough around the edges but with evident potential to turn into something special.

It’s always tricky to judge a project on its opening night, especially when they’re as ambitious as this. Nights like hashtag that encourage experimentation and emerging artists are part of the lifeblood of London’s performance scene and, problems with Friday night’s execution notwithstanding, the event’s basic structure and sensibility are bang-on. Here’s hoping that, like Emily Bee’s dress, hashtag contains wonders that will reveal themselves with further exploration.

#hashtag
at the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club
Piloting on the 3rd Friday of the month for 3 months.
Feb 21,  Mar 21, and April 18 2014.

If you'd like to perform, please contact:
lara@laraclifton.com | @laraclifton
lisalee@rudegrrl.net | @rude_grrl