I Am a Tree is not a return to nature as much as a reassertion that the separation between humans and other living things is not absolute, that the human body and its processes are as natural in their rhythms as the growth of a tree or the migrations of birds. It is a memory and a eulogy, to nomadism and to mortality and the fallibility of living things. Jamie Wood greets the audience by listening to their hearts, laying his head on their chests and expelling their worries like a cresting whale.
The show loosely follows the progress of Wood’s journey by foot from Coventry to South Wales, leaving his young baby and partner at home in order to reconnect to the wild. The story meanders like its protagonist, but like any journey the progress is more important than the destination. His walk is a peculiar kind of mindfulness exercise, a mental health time-out in a relentless period of change. Wood’s life at home haunts the piece, never really spoken of in detail but always lurking beyond the next hill. Questions of responsibility vie with a commitment to self-realisation. The comedy in his journey too is always on the verge of tipping into abstraction and doubt. Wood’s clowning and slapstick blurs into meditative tasks, an unlooping of bootlaces slowly moving from Chaplin to Mona Hatoum.
I Am a Tree also asks that the audience use their own bodies in service of the story, whether using a blowdart to pop the ‘weight of death’ that hangs above Wood’s head during a speech about his grandfather, or asking several spectators to move on stage as animals whilst he cradles another. Participants are gifted a vegetable reward for their efforts, hacked from a broccoli tree. A plant-based replacement for the energy they expel. These actions are measured by a slow drip of water from a red bladder that marks the duration of the show. These images remain, half remembered and fleeting, like moments from a walk.
- Lewis Church
This diagnosis is based on a preview performance at Ovalhouse, London. I Am a Tree runs in Edinburgh at Assembly George Square from the 14-27th of August.
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
Jamie Wood – I Am a Tree
What is Walking Meditation? – Wild Mind
Humans Need to Reconnect with Nature – Tree Hugger
Walking and Grief – The Globe and Mail
Parental Burnout – NYMag
Charlie Chaplin Eat His Shoes - From The Gold Rush (1925)
Mona Hatoum – Performance Still (1985/1995)