How have we experienced time and space differently in the last year? In this blog post, Adam Welsh’s collaborator, Timothy Trimingham Lee, traces the origins of the No Future through Time, Burglary, The Sex Pistols and Construction Sites.
For over a year now in the UK, for many of us, our experience of time has both attenuated and expanded. Amidst the wrenching tragedy of the greatest crisis to beset the country since World War II, the past has come to occlude the present. When the future remains so uncertain, memories rush in. As the poet Jenny Joseph observes, “we/Can’t make a foray into time … We are clad in it and it moves with us”. Now that a lot of us have nowhere to go, we travel inwards.
Making the interior exterior has long been the province of theatre, the medium of metaphor. When Adam Welsh approached me about collaborating with him again after our work on There but for the grace of God (go I), for a new commission from Camden People’s Theatre, exploring making performance inspired by community while theatres remain closed, I was excited by the challenge of making paradox performance. Is theatre even theatre if the audience is not there, physically, to imbue the performer with their presence? Adam and I both found recordings of theatre effectively documents of liveness, rather than transmissions of the spontaneity, surprise, and evocation that the best live performances deliver. We knew we wanted to use technology to find a form for the current malaise we and much of the world were in and to map a way out of it. In relatively short order, we had a title but no idea what the show would be. We would call the work No Future with the somewhat quixotic aim to locate hope in the dark of the dark theatres across the land.
Sex Pistols fans will of course know that “No Future” was the original title for the single “God Save the Queen,” and that 25,000 vinyl copies of the single were destroyed by A & M after the record company ended its contract with the band six days after signing them. But when Adam and I met at the Old Diorama Arts Centre late last year, we had No Future but no show. We sat across from each other at a long table in a large room in our masks, having wended our way through a deserted city populated only by, seemingly, construction workers. The show could be about construction. Deconstruction. Reconstruction even. Devising is construction any way, right? We envied the scaffolding, the tools, and the clarity of purpose of our hard-hatted friends bustling around us. Narrative eluded us. We discussed the Zoom sessions Adam had been conducting with members of the local community in Camden. A ninety-six-year-old woman named Jessica voiced her desire to become a better person, to improve herself. We found this notion revelatory, moving and inspiring. There is no future like the present when anything is possible. Jessica’s throwaway observation on becoming was like a beacon for us, a beacon that would lead us to his ninety-year-old grandmother, who had been developing a family tree and collecting stories about her kin.
We began experimenting with Henry James’s short story “The Jolly Corner” as a shape to play around in, and soon Adam was remembering the traumatic experience of being burgled. The burglary that had upended Adam’s life chimed somehow with the strange terrain we now inhabited, psychically and spiritually. In her book Night Raiders: Burglary & The Making of Modern Urban Life in London, 1860 – 1968, Eloise Moss writes:
“… accounts of burglars’ unusual mobility when travelling to victims’ houses evoked fears surrounding the erosion of London’s social boundaries, through suburbanization bringing working, middle, and upper classes into closer proximity than before, and via disruptive new modes of travel such as the car and Underground railway … contemporary understandings of how London as an environment could be manipulated and experienced were fundamentally revised in relation to burglary.”
Our understanding of London as an environment had been manipulated by a pandemic and now the unsolved burglary of 2017 presented itself as a story that might contain contemporary experience in search of form. We would revisit the scene of the unsolved crime. We recognised that the collapsed distances provided by technology in keeping people connected via video conferencing were also making the private public. People are turning their domestic spaces into sets. There is an in-built voyeurism to the invitation of strangers into the home that seems like a more innocuous cousin to the invasion of an intruder into the sanctity of domesticity. The story of a burglary is a violation both imagined and actual. It can happen to anyone at any time. The disruption of home is vivid and shocking when you know someone has been in your space but you don’t know who. But then again what is home now in 2021? Homes have become offices and schools. But is a house or a flat a home or is home only ever where you’re from? No Future attempts to bring us all together when we’re all apart, through an investigation of what really matters in the time we have left, learning from the time and people we’ve lost along the way.