What is art? Is it the issue of the garlanded genius, exhibited in the temples of high culture? Or is it the collective issue of communities, performed in makeshift spaces and dealing with ‘ordinary’ life that, very often, conceals devastating conditions, struggles and sorrows?
It is both, of course, but it is all too easy to place a higher value on the first, dismissing the second as ephemeral and unsophisticated. The Washing Up is a community theatre piece that works, not merely because it is funny, irreverent, restless and inventive, but also because it is driven by ideas and techniques that are richer and subtler than you might at first think.
Twelve non-professional actors offered their ‘research’ on that universal bane ‘the washing up’ via skits, songs and sketches that had kids and adults shouting back in agreement, dissent and common sympathy.
One sketch parodied political tribalism, ending in an audience vote for either ‘the bowl’ or ‘the sink’ technique using pink or yellow gloves. Weaving the show together, the ‘god of washing up’ – dressed in glam-punk top hat and tails – declaimed, ‘I am the alpha and the omega . . . the draining board to your desperation.’
This ‘god’ is reminiscent of the medieval morality play or ancient pagan ceremony. Though written collaboratively, it shows a sophisticated guiding hand at work, just as the striking transition from self-contained skit to individual actor’s testimony does. Suddenly, real voices break through the onstage personas, speaking of family and childhood. We feel, for a few moments, the deep experience and emotional burdens of those onstage, and we realise that this folk art is showing us how we connect, share, witness and heal as we create art in the presence of – and for – one another.