Illustrations and photography by Gareth A Hopkins.
I’d been looking forward to ‘Unearthing‘, the multimedia collaboration between writer Alan Moore, photographer Mitch Jenkins and musicians Adam ‘Doseone’ Drucker and Andy Broder since it was announced, and when details of two live performances of the project, taking place on the 29th and 30th of August in the Old Vic Tunnels were released, I immediately booked my ticket. The project is based upon Moore’s essay ‘Unearthing’, which is about his friend and mentor, the writer Steve Moore, to which Jenkins has created and added a series of photographs, and Drucker and Broder (renamed for the project as Crook&Flail) have provided a soundtrack which accompanies Moore’s reading.
After a fair amount of wandering around I managed to find the Old Vic Tunnels. The Tunnels themselves were exactly what I’d been expecting, yet at the same time disconcerting to be in. Part of me had imagined that since they’d been taken over, the tunnels would have been done up in some way, but if any work had been done it was very subtly. The air was thick, dusty and damp, and the walls, although structurally sound, were flaky and crumbling. In stark contrast, the stewards placed at strategic locations through the tunnels to guide the audience through were bright and very pleasant, quick with reassuring smiles. The path dictated by the stewards led to ‘The Bunker’, the Tunnels’ bar, where the audience waited to go through to the theatre. I was there as much for the band, Crook & Flail, as I was to see Moore’s reading, but the audience seemed to be predominately made up of Moore fans – understandable, considering the high regard that he’s held in.
Crook & Flail.
The story ran over three acts, each around an hour long. The first detailed the topography and history of Shooter’s Hill, the location of the house which Steve Moore has lived in since his birth, racing through centuries of history, slowing as it moved closer to Moore’s birth. The second was a biography of Steve Moore’s life, from being bullied at school, into his writing career and his discovery and growing dependence on Magick, in particular his obsession/relationship with the moon goddess Selene.
The final part contained two conclusions. In one, Alan and Steve share an extremely bizarre and haunting experience, which I won’t even try to explain here, as it’s so dependent on buying into the story that precedes it. In the second, in a continuity-bending twist, Alan Moore details the actions that Steve Moore will take both during and after reading the manuscript for the first time, and leads into a return to the landscape of Shooter’s Hill, bringing the story full-circle back to the start.
The performance was led by Moore, who read directly from his manuscript, his powerful Northampton drawl setting the pace for the other performers, whose contributions swelled and ebbed around his voice. On a gigantic screen behind Moore and the band was a screen, on which Jenkins’ photographs faded up and down. The photos sometimes illustrated directly what the text described, and in other cases were more conceptual. Some discussion took place in the audience as to whether they appeared in the correct place, as they often seemed to be illustrating a passage which had been read five or ten minutes previously, rather than the current subject… right or wrong, they were beautiful, and highly effective. Crook & Flail, assisted by Drucker’s long time collaborator Jeff Logan, played music that directly reacted with Moore’s reading, rising in some places to almost drown him out, other times dropping out almost entirely.
It was certainly not for everyone – Moore’s text is dense and uncompromising, telling a very odd, kitchen-sink tale of obsession and Magick, referencing Pynchon, Indrid Cold and the hedonist occultist Aleister Crowley, as well as a multitude of others that I didn’t recognise – but the damp air in the tunnels, combined with the music, photography, music and lighting created an intense, haunting, intimate atmosphere, and an experience which will remain with me for a very long time to come.
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