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Young Creatives Blog

Katie McAllister: Refuse The Hour

Monday 29 February 2016

  • Review

Watching Refuse the Hour was truly one of the most bizarre performances I have ever seen. It was a combination of art, science, philosophy, dance and music that made no sense to me. As far as I can understand, it was a masterpiece that combined fragments of science, opera, art and the creative process. It showed how time is experienced differently by everyone and looked at the differences in Western and African experiences of time. 

I was very conscious that an incredible piece of art was unfolding before me but also that I was a spectator and not engrossed in it – I was watching the audience watching the performance for clues on how to react. At one point a lady next to me gasped and whispered far too loudly, ‘That’s Einstein’s Theory of Relativity,’ as if in that moment everything made sense. I still didn’t get it. 

I have always expected art to be quite an immersive experience – when you are watching theatre you are empathising with the characters and fully a part of what is happening. Refuse the Hour didn’t let me become immersed – the characters were difficult to empathise with, the set and the sound effects made you think before they made you feel. It was very Brecht, very bizarre and very brilliant. I didn’t know enough to appreciate this kind of work and that felt exclusionary. I knew the dancing was superb, the writing was superb, the films were superb but I didn’t know why. 

Once I got over my initial fear that I was culturally insensitive and unable to appreciate any kind of high quality art if I couldn’t do the ‘That’s Einstein’s Theory of Relativity’ at appropriate moments – I started to make the most of the experience of being on the outer.

I don’t know the key conventions of opera, of contemporary dance or of animation. I certainly don’t know the conventions when all of these things are combined together. I learnt that we must understand the conventions of a genre to appreciate the message conveyed in it – the medium is integral to understanding the message. So it was okay to not understand what was happening, if I didn’t understand the structures it was happening in. 

I think a rudimentary understanding of the philosophical concept of time would have been very useful.  I could understand the references to time and that the concept of time was at the heart of the work, but the specifics were well and truly beyond me. 

At the end of the play, I googled the concept of time. I googled basic concepts of opera, the history of contemporary dance and looked at different reviews of Refuse the Hour.  Because it would have been so easy to just walk away and think the whole thing was just too hard – but now, I have a better idea of some art forms I wouldn’t have considered before.   

I now am thinking about this concept of time. That we all experience time differently – that our lives are divided into many little blocks on our iCalendar and we are so tied to a structure that is external, not internal.  I am bad at deadlines at the best of times and feel that if I said, ‘Sorry, this deadline was just not in line with my internal clock,’ I will never get a job. But, it is interesting to think about being on our own journeys and at our own pace. I wasn’t ready to go straight to university so had a gap year first; I needed that time to get myself ready for the structured and specific timelines of university. We talk about girls and boys maturing at different rates, in line with their own individual timeline.   But we still send them to school and have expectations of their performance at certain points in the year – deadlines, results we can measure them against.  

I’m not sure how you measure the success of art, (probably ticket sales) but I think it is just the extent to which it elicits a response from the audience. Refuse the Hour, forced an intellectual response, not an emotional one. It has taught me to see art forms I wouldn’t usually. It is starting to make sense, I think I just need time, and I am late to work so better stop here.