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My Recollections of An Intimate History, performed by Jake Oldershaw

One critic described it as "Unsettling and grimy by turns. I left feeling soiled and strangely elated for it. Great fun.” Here’s my story….

On May 1st, 2010, I was treated to a hyper-personal piece of theatre entitled An Intimate History, performed by Jake Oldershaw. Described as “theatrical Russian Roulette”, I was given a menu of six items from which I could choose my theatrical experience. Being greedy, I chose two. Seeking adventure, I chose one that cast me as the object of a fisherman’s affections.

In To Be King was Once My Dream, I was asked to sit on a cushion in the middle of a darkened theatre space. A pianist sat at a white piano and the singer approached me from behind and sang very close to my ear. I could feel him breathe. I could smell him. I was very uncomfortable! I don’t remember much of the beautifully haunting sea ballad, as I was concentrating so hard on where to look, what to do with my hands, wondering: how did he make sure his breath was minty fresh? There was a projection of a sea scene on the wall. I was asked to move off the pillow, “lie on the ground and put your head on my chest”. Eek! I listened to the music. I could feel the singer breathe. I could smell him. I could feel his heart beat. I fought the urge to laugh. The words were:

Upon his chest she put her head
She listened to his life
His life breathing in and out
In and out she listened
And with her head upon his chest he sung to her,
He sung to her
The sweetest song, the sweetest song
And she listened to
The song of a lonely fisher man
Brighton Jake 2b
Next, we stood and he sang of his final days with the beautiful girl. He set the glitter ball in motion and soon we were hand-in-hand, spinning in a circle, first right, then left, then right, then left, then, dizzyingly in a full circle. I tried really hard to listen to the words, I really did, but I was dancing under a glitter ball with a man I’d just paid five pounds to meet. Suddenly it all stopped and the final, plaintive verse was sung. I was guided to the door and sent on my way by the lonely fisher man.

The second installment I chose was called The Mayor of Strasbourg's Passions. I chose it because of its French setting; I love France. In the same darkened studio, this time I sat at a table with the story teller, who offered me a slug of wine. There was a floral patterned floor lamp beside us. He told stories of various sad denizens of Strasbourg, including a butcher, the wife of a café owner, and a young man who waited on the street corner with flowers each day. I was a bit more comfortable in this performance, but still found eye contact a challenge. I thought it was a bit of a let-down after the fisher man story, but the piece built in intensity as he told of the female Mayor of Strasbourg: “And you cannot see her tears, for you know that mayors never cry”. A spotlight appeared and he stood and sang of the mayor’s dreams. The song grew very intense, and once again, he reached out to me and brought me into the spotlight. Suddenly the pronoun switched from her to him and I had become the mayor of Strasbourg and now it was my turn to realize my dreams. The singer turned his back and produced a Polaroid camera, taking my photo and handing it to me with a challenge of seizing what lies ahead. Very powerful and profound, if still a little awkward.

The piece is written by Craig Stephens, based on the 1994 book An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin.

The Mayor of Strasbourg's Passions
Along down the Rue Escargot
Cross Boulevard Fointainbleau
Through showers of white blossom rain
The Mayor of Strasbourg sails by.
And you cannot see her tears
For you know that mayors never cry
And before you sweep a glance
The space between you passes by.
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