On the way back from O No!, I followed a trail of Liquorice Allsorts outside the Playhouse. They were strewn across the pavement, rodent-sized candy toys. They made as much sense as anything I’d jus witnessed in the theatre, and so did the Angolan guy with the tape measure in the Portugese café on Radford Road that I popped into on the way home. He reckoned I’d be good for his country’s basketball team. I’m not waiting for the contract, but it was a kind offer - and very much in keeping with what I’d been watching Jamie Wood do in his tribute to Yoko Ono earlier.
Jamie did something exquisitely balanced with this show. There was a structure for what he was doing, but it required the audience to go along with him, which meant a lot of it was about how he related with us in between set pieces and throughout. It started with him robed, asking people to play the percussive bells he was carrying, and every subsequent ask raised things a notch, until he asked for someone to join him in getting naked in a huge bag. It’s a measure of Jamie’s ability to build trust with an audience that he succeeded.
What’s truly fascinating is how Jamie manages to get people to engage with ideas that Yoko Ono has used in her work, in a spirit of vulnerability and sincerity, while at the same time making it funny and drawing attention to the paradoxes of what he’s doing. He asks people to share, to be exposed with him – and can boss them about a sentence later while retaining their compliance. It’s a remarkable feat, and we should probably be glad that Jamie has decided that his preferred domain is theatre, and not cult leadership.
Really, what Jamie did – which sheds light on Yoko - is enable us to play. And that takes breaking down barriers, whether about ego or status or self-belief. Do that and you can get convincingly get people to pretend two lumps of fluff represent different family members, and ask volunteers to move them closer together until a third person comes along with a big bouncy ball that represents the sun next to those clouds. Write it down in words and it does sound daft, yes. And really, it’s not about the silly thing itself – it’s more to do with people allowing themselves to be imaginative and not judge what they’re doing in the way we’re encouraged to police ourselves as adults, on behalf of society. Blimey.
O No! was at Nottingham Playhouse May 13, 2017.