Wendy Houstoun: 50 Acts

Image Credit: Wendy HoustounImage Credit: Wendy Houstoun


Wendy Houstoun has created a piece which speaks and tells. During 50 Acts I see and hear so many things that I know and recognise; it is thick with shared knowledge. Words, images and references are spun together so tightly that I am now beginning to think that I need to see the piece again to really get everything. If I think back through the piece I remember each element to be delicate, smart and somehow creative – creativity being the choice to put two things together: that sound with that image or that movement in that corner. I like the structure, the 50 Acts, and both the rigour and the slackness with which this is attended to. Sometimes the acts are distinct, sometimes the acts pass without comment, sometimes the acts are whole, and sometimes the acts are interrupted.

50 Acts, as a composition, is absurd. It is not linear and we follow the piece (we follow Wendy) on pitches of energy and duration, rather than of sense. There still is, however, a lot of sense, grabbed and added together to create a complex three dimensional poem reflecting on authority, decorum, convention, age, and the ageing. There is a lovely balance of the explained, the unexplained and the almost explained.

In theory I love it. However, in the moment of watching the piece I am unsatisfied. I cannot enjoy it. I like it in parts (conversely I thought the second half was better than the first) but as a whole it leaves me hanging. So much is suggested but very little is created. There are moments (the spinning whilst wearing a high-vis tabard and the record smashing) which are incredibly beautiful, full and exciting, but these are only moments. It feels funny to write this because I know so many people I have spoken to disagree (opinions are opinions) but I find the piece annoying.

I don’t like the over acting (despite it being conscious), I cringe at the scripted uncertainties, I am distracted by the not-quite-right miming, I question the fleetingness of the politics. I also wonder if I stand accused. Accused of being ‘one of them’, as it were, who is dissatisfied with this performance. Have I fallen into the trap of the piece – am I a shallow type who wants perfection and youth (no I’m not!) and who occasionally empathises with health and safety measures? Have I just not got the joke? I’m not sure. Suggestions/answers/thoughts welcome!


Yes to bustle, chit-chat and lights dimming.

Yes to the audience tepelathically knowing  to pre-emptively silence but then silencing a bit too pre-emptively.

Yes to walking on stage and packing a punch.

Yes to a smiling wave, an eye-wrinkled male giggle and paper rustling.

Yes to many acts.

Yes to toe shaking.

Yes to feeling like it.

Yes to pointless precautions.

Yes to ownership.

Yes to fearless visibility and championing a rockstar presence.

Yes to angry mobs and bare stages.

Yes to facing up to invisibility.

Yes to not disappearing.

Yes to collapsing.

Yes to resisting.

Yes to sitting down.

Yes to confidence.

Yes to relentless pacing (up and down, across and across again)

Yes to hammers.

Yes to happening.

Yes to age making a difference.

Yes to this difference becoming emblematic of a wider perspective rather than an excuse for exclusion.

Yes to a captivating poise.

Yes to smashing.

Yes to ghosts.

Yes to trying to read your present.

Yes to dignity.

Yes to longing for diginity.

Yes to preserved footsteps.

Yes to powerful footsteps.

Yes to the Thank-God-you-are-here-Foxtrot.

Yes to the Ever-hopeful-Polka.

Yes to the Saving-the-UK-dance-scene-Waltz.

Yes to beaming instead of fading.

Yes to radiating softly.

Yes to hearing tears.

Yes to critiquing the Arts Council.

Yes to this being done via text that speeds past the eye, demonstrating the superficiality of marketing’s sentiments and goals.

Yes to relevance.

Yes to audible experience without storytelling.

Yes to sad, small feet dances.

Yes to sadness, anger, call-outs and shout-outs.

Yes to countless drum rolls that lead to nothingness.

Yes to touchingly, complex simplicity….Yes to saying, ‘No’.