I had travelled from London, by invitation, on a chilly Friday to attend a showing of Doppelgangster's TREEFXXXERS at the new Sheffield Hallam University Performance Lab. On arrival we were shown into the reception area and warmly greeted by the producers and creators, Tobias Manderson-Galvin and Dr. Tom Payne who eventually left for presumably pep-talks and wee-calls. I used this time to acquaint myself briefly with the political backdrop of the show. I had come blindly unaware of The Sheffield Street Trees controversy or of the 'initiative' by Sheffield Council to destroy thousands of trees. I met some of the campaigners fighting against this whilst waiting for the performance to begin. They had provided a complementary display with a sign labelled, 'Environment before Pro£it' and (hashtag) savesheffieldtrees.
I waited expectantly, armed with my new knowledge, when suddenly the doors to the auditorium burst open and there stood Dr Tom, framed like Banksy's Jesus, head slightly to one side, inviting us to enter. I felt slight trepidation, much like the feeling you get when a brown envelope slides through your mailbox. We entered.
I heard the woman in front of me mutter quietly under her breath, 'weird,' I was thinking, 'cool.' Along three walls were large portrait photographs of the actors wearing facial bandanas and underneath the actors themselves resembling what appeared to be types of hooded mammalia. The audience seating determined we had to walk on to the opening set, along a wall and to the back of the theatre, subtly involving us from the start in, what I quickly realised, became a compelling desire to participate in the production.
I am never one to succumb to such tactics. I do not usually enjoy audience participation but I was mesmerised by the stunning, precisely-executed performance of such a young company. The gentleman next to me remarked after the fact that this type of theatre was not usually what he would go to but the performances were 'very strong, very strong indeed'
I particularly liked the rendition of 'Babes in the Wood' sung by the cast, the very-willing audience member who had been married to an apple tree and draped in fishing net (was this symbolic of steel mesh?) and the entire rest of the audience, including myself, swaying in unison and mimicking the action on stage. Very infectious.
Throughout the performance my mind boggled, as it should have. Feelings of madness, sadness, wonderment and confusion arose. I felt marginally uncomfortable when two girls were gyrating centre stage but it was contextually acceptable. It was also great to hear about the historical significance of the Bishnois people in 1730 when 294 men and 69 woman sacrificed themselves to save their trees (original treehuggers). I was confused as to why, at one point the cast were shouting,' Amy, Amy, Amy'. I wondered who Amy was until it was whispered to me Amey was the private corporation in cahoots with the Council. I had come solely to enjoy the show but I had unexpectedly learnt so much.
Combining the performers' talents to such a high collaborative specification along with the brilliance of the Co-Director Generals (Tobias and Tom), the amazing Sound/Design Composer (Jules Pascoe) and the stunning choreography from the Movement Director (Sarah April Lamb) was joyful and encompassing and I watched as everything folded, blended and transpired together.
I left the theatre with bright eyes, a smoky disposition, visions of little bunnies with contamination masks on and anthropoid trees swimming in my head and as I began my 157 mile drive back to London, I found myself, once again, manically swaying to 'Babes in the Wood' and visualising myself as the next eco-warrior, corporate-bashing activist.
By Antoinette Phair
TREEFXXXERS was a collaboration between Sheffield/Melbourne based performance company Doppelgangster and SHU Performance Company 18. It featured as part of Julie's Bicycle and Arts Admin's Season For Change and the Woodland Trust's National Tree Charter.