What if human beings could shed their skins? What could we learn from what’s underneath? Less of a concept for the show, Laura Sampson’s HIDE takes a poetic and mythological look at how to get under the skin of a human being, and how our pasts and identities build up, and how we build protective barriers around ourselves to defend our fragile cores. With Sam Enthoven creating live theremin sounds throughout the piece and hand-drawn visuals woven by Andrea Aste on the projector behind Sampson throughout, HIDE has all of the ingredients to bring relevance and intrigue to folklore and marginalisation. Unfortunately, the tales run a little bit into each other, and clarity is missing which stops a symbiosis of narrative, production and meaning from truly impacting on the audience.
The story the Lindworm is at the heart of Sampson’s narrative story-weaving, and alongside several other folk tales she considers what happens to characters who slip out of the frame of their own stories. She creates a place in between the cracks of their own misfortunes, and it’s from there that the Lindworm plots his return to the centre of his story. The Lindworm follows the story of a young prince who builds layers and layers of scaly skin around himself by consuming his newly-married wives. Sampson takes us through one woman’s defiant attempts to unravel his many protective layers, and her cunning skills in revealing, even to him, who he truly is again. Alongside this, Sampson tells the story of her grandparents’ arrival to London from Trinidad & Tobago, and it soon becomes clear that protective layers became a part of their identity too.
The storytelling from Sampson is sensitively delivered, with calmness, patience and the real ethos of unpacking what makes folk villains who they are, as well as considering how the story about protective layering relates back to her own family. She speaks of her grandparents with both awe and sympathy, as they had to find ways to make their lives work in London even if they couldn’t experience it the same way as others could because of their race. The stories never for a minute drop their sense of majesty and wonder, and Sampson’s relaxed and controlled demeanour keeps the audience consistently in pace and interested in what is happening. Alongside her storytelling, she dons and swaps out coats and layers of clothing. While helpful for the metaphor, it can feel a little unwieldy, and some more physical storytelling might have helped unpack this a bit more emphatically.
The music from Sam Enthoven is divine throughout, and it’s lovely to see the inclusion of a theremin in live theatre. The music dallies in folk music and provides a great rhythm to help Sampson deliver the stories within the piece. Enthoven loops and cascades melodies on top of one another, delivering a great tone for the piece, and engrossing us further into the story.
Imagery – some created live and some pre-drawn but manipulated, is projected from some kind of technological drawing device that Andrea Aste puts together. I really adored the aesthetics of the live elements, as you watch the backdrop for Sampson be crafted stroke-by-stroke, with little onion-shaped domes quickly becoming a palace, or sweeping lines soon coming together to be a crossroads. The pre-drawn elements are also beautiful, but their live manipulation feels a little unearthly and odd. Aste pulls, exaggerates and rhythmically swishes the pre-drawn elements around, and compared to the live-drawn moments it has a feeling of artificiality which doesn’t fit the aura of the piece.
All in all, I walked out feeling as though some of the tales that Sampson told ran into each other with little chance for resolution, conclusion or something to take out of them that left me satisfied. While aesthetically the piece runs a triumph, it could do with a little work to synthesise all of these elements and leave us with a satisfying ending.
Original, engrossing and dripping in folky-goodness, HIDE is a sensory extravaganza with art appearing from all sides of the room. Lexically complex and poetically stunning, this is a great piece of storytelling.
Recommended Drink: HIDE is like a Trinidadian Carib Beer – tasty and hoppy, if a little light.
Showings of HIDE have now concluded at VAULT Festival. Keep up with the company on social media for future showings.