Thursday, 9 May 2019

09/05/19: Human Jam, Camden People’s Theatre

Presented by Brian Logan (who also directs) and Shamira Turner, Human Jam addresses an issue right on the doorstep of the Camden People’s Theatre – the huge upheaval that will be caused by the construction of the “High Speed 2” rail terminal. HS2, as it’s known, promises a faster train connection between London and Birmingham by 2026, and then a further expansion to Leeds and Manchester by 2033. These proposed works involve not only the demolition of local buildings around Euston (including homes, pubs and restaurants), but also, in an unforeseen “complication”, the exhumation of 63,000 bodies buried in St. James’ Gardens – the largest single exhumation of graves in European history.

Part archaeological docu-lecture, part righteous political monologue, part performance-art spectacle and part supernatural drama, Brian and Shamira’s remarkable patchwork explores in depth the seismic changes threatening the area. It does this by intertwining projected photos and films, direct-to-audience chatter, bursts of sound and music, texts and poetry unearthed from obscure books, and vivid dramatic reconstruction. Just when you think you know where the show is heading, it hits you with a stunning sideways turn. I’m reluctant to spoil the surprise, but it involves an intimate encounter with the past and a postmodern fast-forward to the present.

In the closing minutes a community choir takes to the stage. This is made up of local residents affected by the HS2 scheme, and it’s extremely moving to hear real people sharing real-life experiences and singing verses, ancient and modern, that articulate what’s happening to their lives and homes.

Human Jam is a multi-faceted, thought-provoking reminder to fight for those freedoms we take for granted. It’s brought to life with passion, warmth and humour. As well as making you chuckle, it simultaneously fills you with terrible anger and sadness by reminding you of the alarming rate at which our public spaces are being sold off to anonymous developers by cynical, uncaring councils.

The show had particular resonance for me because for several years I worked just metres away from the zone in question. I enjoyed the curry houses of Drummond Street and walked in St. James’ Gardens during lunch breaks, relieved to find a few moments of respite in the middle of the crowded, deafening city.

In a final irony, it’s revealed that HS2 may in fact never go ahead. While that seems like a triumph, in reality it’s already too late. The land has already passed into private ownership and – unforgivably – 63,000 souls have been disturbed from their peaceful sleep.

REVIEWED FOR THE SPY IN THE STALLS.

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