Brighton Fringe 2019
Acclaimed deconstructrice of theatrical form salutes the full moon with an insane and spirited take on all things witchy, seancey and healingy. She’s frickin’ clever, and it’s frickin’ funny.
11pm on a Saturday night at the Spiegeltent was always gonna be a tough slot for experimental metatheatre. A significant proportion of tonight’s audience were already well on their way to the hangover from hell when they stumbled into the venue, presumably expecting some edgy cabaret or stand-up comedy. They certainly weren’t expecting the skewed mind of Lucy Hopkins. But then, nobody expects Lucy Hopkins.
I first encountered Lucy’s twisted wit in Edinburgh a few years ago, when she absolutely smashed apart the pretentiousness of performance art and much else besides in her tremendous show Le Foulard. I would hesitate to call Secrt Circl a ‘show’. It’s more of a… you know, a ‘thing’. There is clearly a structure, though it is one that allows her to take any number of about-turns, to perform re-shuffles when things don’t pan out as expected, and to allow the audience themselves a direct hand in shaping the course of events. That might make it sound like it’s improv. It’s not that either. She doesn’t take suggestions and riff off them in a structured way, as an improv company might; she includes her audience, navigating and steering her way through their collective mood.
Lucy is an absolute dab hand at staying live to the ongoing events and personalities in her audience. She will identify potential troublemakers (and boy did we have our fill tonight!), and deal with them masterfully, unafraid of going to the extreme of inviting them to “either purge yourselves of any piss, shit or vomit, or, if you prefer, purge the tent of your presence” (which the worst offenders eventually do (leave, that is, not vom, luckily)). She will pick up on conversations between audience members quick as lightning, learn individuals’ names from these exchanges, and allow all genuinely willing and positively-minded participants the space to contribute to proceedings in whatever way they see fit. These feats are rendered all the more impressive by the horrific noise spill from the dancefloor immediately outside the tent. The power she has over the audience is astounding. And, for most of the show, she doesn’t even have a mic. Respect.
Lucy isn’t the first practitioner I’ve seen who surrenders her art to her audience in this way, and creates each performance uniquely in collaboration with them. Maybe doing this kind of thing is becoming a… you know, a thing. But Lucy stands alone. I’m reminded most of Red Bastard, though Lucy is kinder, less confrontational, and funnier. I’m also reminded of Dr Brown (Phil Burgers), though where Dr Brown shows are largely absurd for absurdity’s sake, Lucy at least has a clearly defined theme (which I’ll come on to, I promise). And I’m also reminded of Jonathan Kay, veteran of the ‘fooling’ movement, though, while Lucy may structure her world around cultish behaviour, she doesn’t demand that her audience become an actual temporary cult under her leadership, which is Jonathan’s modus operandi. Notice that the three reference points that spring to my mind are all male. As I say, Lucy stands alone.
Lucy also isn’t the only practitioner to bring the theme of witchcraft to this year’s Brighton Fringe. That, too, would appear to be a thing. She’s not even the only one to present a late-night ritual to coincide with this weekend’s full moon. Katy Schutte’s Let’s Summon Demons was extraordinary in its own way, but again, only Lucy Hopkins can Lucy Hopkins like Lucy Hopkins does. Where Katy’s audience-participatory invocation of the four elements used (I presume) genuine Wiccan texts, Lucy’s ripped the piss royally, and had us rocking back and forth with laughter.
I’m tempted to ask whether the pay-off to the hilarity quite materialised, whether it was lacking that Red Bastard moment of “eek – I’m complicit and guilty and I’ve been found out”. But pff, the witching hour has begun, and I couldn’t be happier I’ve chosen to stay up this late.