Welcome to The Omnitorium! London’s newest creative hub in the heart of Manor House, North London and home to the London Clown Festival. The show is held in a make-shift venue comprising of a large tent, a bar, plenty of pebbles and and a boat called ‘The (non) Wandering Walrus’. The mood is set perfectly, because what is occurring inside this hotch-potch space, is just as bizarre and amazing.
As you enter the dark tent, you are greeted by the smell of incense and a bearded man in a kimono with chimes dangling from his hands but his calm smile, positive and hostly attitude puts you instantly at ease. This man is Jamie Wood, and this is his show.
‘O No!’ borrows from Yoko Ono’s art instructions to explore the question: is falling in love is always catastrophic? As would be expected from a show based on Yoko Ono’s abstract work, the audience of ‘O No!’ are moved from strange art piece to strange art piece. In his ‘Cut Piece,’ Wood’s sits on a giant orange ball in a dress, with a pair of scissors at his feet and invites the audience to come up and chop off pieces his garment; as much or as little as they’d like. We are also treated to a performance where two audience members use a ball of fluff (a cloud) to represent the characters of John Lennon, Wood’s Mother, Wood’s himself, Yoko Ono, Wood’s girlfriend, and his Father, all coming together to form one united ball of love, 3 couples, 1 love.
Woods is not afraid of sharing. He allows us to see him as a vulnerable human being on stage (he puts himself at risk by trusting us with a pair of scissors and we appreciate that as an audience). What occurs is this lovely warmth in the room, where the audience and the performer are on the same level and each of his sets have the capacity to provide very personal revelations and insight to the individual audience member.
It isn’t just the relationship between himself and the audience that Wood cultivates, it’s also the inter-personal relationships between the audience. He encourages the collective experience by getting us to touch each other, communicate with each other and respect each other. This is no easy task usually, so it does help that this festival attracts a large amount of performers who are generally very open people about getting involved. However, even if the audience didn’t have so many extroverts dotted around, we’d still see a similar response because Wood is a performer of the truest nature and his ability to manage a crowd and nurture their trust is unparalleled.
The moment you understand just how special Wood’s ability is comes in the performance of ‘Bag Piece’. He recites the task from Yoko Ono’s book Grapefruit. Two people get inside a bag, undress completely in front of each other, then dress again within the bag. Wood’s is one of the people that gets in the bag, and he asks the audience for a volunteer partner. Miraculously, it is only seconds before there is a willing participant. Again, it does help that the audience has natural exhibitionists in their midst but still, when someone became truly vulnerable on stage, covered but still naked, that was when this performance transcended into something different, something special. The phrase Jamie Wood uses to describe this was ‘Glorious, Uncomfortable Intimacy.’
This show is simplistic in its storytelling but it builds up layers with each performance and that is a real gift. It is touching and constantly funny.The show ends with a mighty climax that brings the whole audience together to sing in honour of John Lennon . As we leave The Omnitorium, everyone feels a little closer, a little more open, a lot happier. I tempted to say the show fulfils its brief and leaves us with the impression that perhaps falling in love, isn’t always a catastrophe.
The London Clown Festival is hosted at London’s newest Arts Hub, The Omnitorium at Manor House, until the 19th June.