Jamie Wood’s latest work, I am a Tree, closed this year’s Physical Fest with a sold-out performance at the City of Liverpool College’s Arts Centre, where the festival was forced to relocate at the last minute as the Unity’s refurb overran.
Wood, a fest favourite who has worked closely with plenty of theatremakers in the city, is a big draw, and there was certainly an air of excitement around his appearance.
The new piece – “when I am still for any length of time, someone finds me and tells me about their life. My girlfriend says this makes me like a tree that all dogs want to piss up”, says the blurb – catches Wood contemplating his future (following the birth of his daughter) and his past, as he tells the tale of a pilgrimage back to his grandfather’s home town to scatter his ashes. It is a show about small human connections; the ancestry we all share; the importance of love and kindness.
It’s a one man show, but Wood needs a little help from his friends, and the audience were firmly on side right away, even if they missed out on the snuggly hugs he came round with before the performance started proper. Audience participation made for amusing interactions. There were some genuinely delightful improvised moments, like when he asked two German girls to help him pop a balloon, with consequences that left the audience weak with laughter. Some interventions seemed a little more set up, but created some funny, unusual and thought provoking sketches.
The spoken word segments had more than a touch of the kind of observational, autobiographical comedy you hear on Radio 4 at half past six. Wood’s unselfconscious physicality brought something a little more off-kilter to the mix.
Being largely unfamiliar with his previous work (except for a role in Spike Theatre’s memorable 2010 comedy The Games), adjusting to his gentle style of clowning took time. But any cynics – like this reviewer (not the hugging strangers type), for a while – will surely eventually be disarmed.
“It took me a few minutes to acclimatise,” a friend said, when I registered my original confusion. “It’s sad in these times it’s so hard to recognise joy!” So the realisation came – even a few days later – that he was right. I am a Tree gives its audience a chance to relax, play, enjoy a little positivity, even share a little vulnerability. We are all humans together, after all, on the only planet we’ve got. The language of division is everywhere these days; this was a timely reminder to get out there and love, and be loved.
Wood’s website has some lovely, moving tales about his sideline as a ‘clown doctor’ in a children’s hospital – check them out. His open, friendly and gentle outlook on life may be just the tonic for grown ups as well.