With last year’s acclaimed 147Hz Can’t Pass, Ink Asher Hemp explored what life is like when you identify neither as a man nor as a woman. In this, their new solo show, Hemp tackles topics that are more universal – yet no less personal to them. Halfway between a monologue and a beat poem, Sad Eyes To Smile With examines what unfolded ‘when yesterday forgot tomorrow, and didn’t invest in today.’
Hemp’s imagery is imaginative, unexpected, often starkly beautiful; for example, when they describe a fluttering sheet of paper as ‘having an argument with the wind’. The delivery is engrossing too, with pauses for emphasis on unusual words and telling variations in tone. Hemp describes their thoughts as ‘free-running’, and they’re right: this is a fragmented story, often self-referential, which requires your close attention. But it delivers frequent gems of understanding and insight which, at times, challenge our complacency in aspects of the city we call home.
Housing, and what it’s like to be vulnerably housed, is a major theme. For those of us fortunate enough to have our own space, Hemp points out the privileges we take for granted: the right to make a mess if we choose to, the confidence of knowing that nobody will walk in through an unlocked bathroom door. For now, Hemp also enjoys these things, but they point out how quickly they could be taken away again. This is politics reduced to an individual scale – and made all the more convincing because of it.
The set is impermanent too, with a rough-and-ready stepladder doubling as a bed, and thus representing almost all the furniture in Hemp’s presumably tiny flat. On occasion, Hemp lies on it, muttering soft lines as though drifting into sleep. The urgent physicality of last year’s show is gone and is replaced by a slower, more reflective and subtly mournful tone. Perhaps something’s been lost in that transition, but it lends this new work its own distinctive style, and confirms Hemp’s status as a rounded and versatile performer.
Whoever you are, there are things you’ll recognise in Sad Eyes To Smile With – but there may be some thought-provoking challenges too. As Hemp says at the end, it’s not their role to convince or explain to anybody. But their well-chosen images and broken rhythms are compelling all the same; and, just like last year, 50 minutes in Hemp’s company both engages and informs.