Imagine spending a whole evening with a loved, but achingly tedious uncle – a man whose idea of style is beige Farrah slacks, an acrylic polo neck, and a 70s-style leather blazer; whose idea of scintillating conversation is to describe in detail how he carefully saves and categorises his junk mail (soffits and fascias getting their own folder); and who – good God, can it get any worse? – insists on playing you his terrible songs on his portable keyboard, throwing in cringeworthy references to 80s bands, good and bad, as he goes?
Just how much would they have to pay you to spend a precious Saturday evening – and Valentine’s, to boot – in this man’s company? You’d think quite a lot, but a capacity audience at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre actually handed over £14 a head for this dreariness, and loved every minute: because John Shuttleworth is the alter ego of that master of observational comedy, Graham Fellows.
I couldn’t quite figure out what I was laughing at most of the time – just why is John’s meticulous description of wife Mary’s setting up a room for a lodger, complete with hospitality tray with a nice sachet of hot chocolate, and a new bin (although she hasn’t quite decided yet between three possibilities, ranging from £1.50 to £3) so deeply and satisfyingly hilarious? Forget the analysis – it just is. Next time John Shuttleworth visits Scarborough, I’ll be first in the queue to listen to his musings on life, the universe and shepherd’s pie.
The reverberating sound reaches you long before you can see the screen. Not a car engine but something insistent and sinister, adding to the shivers in this creepy underground cavern. The Aquarium Top car park oozes atmosphere, its history as a funfair ghosting across the echoing space.
Video director Andy Hylton has captured that creepy chill for his installation Monad. On screen, a series of slo-mo images reveals people in that same car park – a man in a parka, a woman, a child with teddy bear – making their way through the gloom. It’s beautifully staged and lit in cold blues and yellows, and the soundtrack adds to the sense of foreboding.
What’s going on? We humans have a need to make sense of things, so we invent a story. The trick here is that the story depends on where you start watching in the loop. Is the child in danger? No, here’s his mum. Or is she? Who’s in the car that pulls up by the startlingly red pay machines, the shot lingering on a very Edward Hopper montage? Is that man lost, or stalking?
Hylton said he wanted to create a sense of loneliness and detachment, and he’s certainly succeeded. The shifting storyline created as you watch is cleverly done, and the occasional addition of sound from real cars all around completes the sense of immersion in this place.
Viv Mousdell’s creation, filling the space at the back of St Martin’s Church, draws on Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness novel The Waves. It’s a pretty simple notion: a video projection on to white sheeting, with accompanying soundtrack. But the execution is fantastic, creating a mesmerising spectacle.
The sequence starts, as Woolf did, with a luminous sunrise. The sea moves, while the sound is of breathing … or is it just the waves in their rhythm? Back and forth, the waves move over suspended bands of cloth, creating a 3D effect of the sea rushing in. More cloth on the floor lets the ripples come bubbling out towards you. Soon the sea is a crashing turmoil. Then, suddenly, it lets out its breath once more and retreats. Then calm.
We went to this installation fresh from a showing of Turn of the Tide, the great 1935 film of fishing families at work in Robin Hood’s Bay. In one scene, the men in their workshop strike up a round of Eternal Father, Strong to Save – ‘always has a good bass’. Here inside the church, the spirituality of the piece is inescapable, and the quiet at the end could have been a little longer to ponder the arm that quells the restless wave.