The unclassifiable can be good fun. That’s the lesson from Hetain Patel’s new solo show at the Lilian Baylis Studio. It’s a quirky mix, a patchwork of quotes he voices and performs from popular blockbuster films, sewn together with neat bits of camera work with some surprisingly nifty dance moves thrown in. It’s clever, funny and accessible even if it does leave you scratching your head over what to file it under. Patel is sometimes described as a visual artist but the work mixes several different genres.
He starts by telling us he likes to make films. He discusses how the special effects guy will explain a particular stunt. Suddenly we have slid off into film dialogue, with one iconic movie blockbuster scene after another being re-enacted. The performance whizzes along at some speed, with the source material sometimes spliced and mashed together, and rapidly shifting from one character or film to the next in a matter of seconds. Blink and you might miss a superhero or another bit of Reservoir Dogs.
But the excerpts are cannily chosen and juxtaposed. They feel instantly familiar even if you can’t immediately place them. Sometimes the same scene comes round again, from a different character’s point of view. There are other forays into popular culture. His Michael Jackson dance moves are so smooth and well-practised that they may have been years in the making. A Bruce Lee obsession also results in a martial arts display. (Lorena Randi is credited as associate choreographer).
There are some neat stage tricks along the way. He sets up the camera to film himself crawling along a strip of light on the floor and the TV screen seems to show him climbing up a vertical pole like some superhero. We see exactly how the effect is done yet it’s still convincing.
His command of different accents is remarkable. Behind this you can sense years spent re-enacting favourite bits from these films in the playground or alone in the bedroom, and an obsession with YouTube for all things Spiderman (a recurring theme). The human yearning for transformation, the urge to try out different identities and to become someone else is celebrated here as something both daffy and touching, and sometimes very funny.
This is a short, concentrated piece at just under an hour. It’s not rambling, despite the many different ingredients chopped up and thrown into the mix. There is a linking thread which leads to a logical conclusion by way of Spiderman underpants. The work goes on tour this autumn. See this with a bunch of friends who are film fans and you can all go out afterwards and argue over who can identify the most quotes.