Happening Review: Kaleidoscope

What was Kaleidoscope about? Still not entirely sure…? It was fun though.

Artist-activist Wil St Leger dubbed Prime Cut Productions Belfast-centric, multi-disciplinary production Kaleidoscope a ‘Happening’. So, what exactly happens during a Happening? One hour of Kaleidoscopic Belfast and a night spent sleeping on it, I’m still not entirely sure.

That’s on purpose. I think.

Taking part of Kaleidoscope is like being a self-aware minor character in one of those multi-layered indie films, where each layer only sees a fragment of the layers around it. You do your part, follow the stage directions in your ear and occasionally bump into other minor characters – but you have to piece together the over-arching narrative for yourself.

It is an odd experience. The headphones detach you from the city, shunting you sideways into a world whose boundaries are defined by narrator Rachel, but at the same time you become hyper-aware of the streets and shops, the ebb and flow of people – the ones wearing headphones and the ones who don’t.

There are lots of nods and looks as you pass other headphone-wearers-in-the-know, with Rachel and a map sending you meandering through the streets from City Hall to Corn Market. There are constructed encounters along the way, the map gives hints but you can’t always trust it.

Some of the encounters are easy to identify, a one-legged man with a bundle of balloons near the Spirit of Belfast sculpture and a cheerful man with an ice-cream van handing out free whippy cones to anyone who passes by. Others are a bit more unclear. Is the homeless lady sitting on the bench in front of Phones 4 U part of Kaleidoscope? How about the goth teens in skull make-up scuffling good-naturedly in front of City Hall? Or are they just hanging around wondering why all these people in headphones keep stopping and eyeing them?

It is hard to tell. There are a surprising number of people/places/things in Belfast that look narratively relevant if you go looking for them. People’s brains are hard-wired to seek out meaning – to imbue the girl in the bright red hoodie sitting on the steps at the back of Marks and Spencer with relevance or assume a secret meaning to the scrawl of paint on the shutters pulled down over a door.

I doubt the small clot of participants that formed briefly on Arthur Street, all staring expectantly at the roof before scattering in mild embarrassment, was the only one of the evening.

All the time, snippets of story are piped into your ears through the headphones in fragments that interrupt each other: a girl who slips between sad and frustrated, an older man with a joke about ice-cream vans, a dreamy, nostalgic younger man and others. Sometimes the stories knit together, or at least seem to run in parallel, or take off in different directions. With no set-in-stone route to follow the story shards can either resonate with the cobbles you are walking on, or seem completely dissonant to the surroundings.

It is tempting to try and map the stories to the route, to pin the narrative down to geography. That’s probably not the point, though. In fact, there probably isn’t a point, Kaleidoscope seems like the sort of open-ended short film that leaves the loose ends fraying all over the end-credits.

As a Happening, though, it is a fascinating, thought-provoking experience. I can’t count how many times I’ve walked that route in various configurations – often with my headphones plugged into my ears – but I’ve never really taken the time to look at it before. I’ve certainly never made so much eye-contact with strangers – who probably thought I was mad, in fairness – as I meandered along eating my ice-cream.

Kaleidoscope might be an event better suited to a summer’s day, when it stays light late and you might have to worry about your ice-cream melting instead of it freezing hard, but even on a frosty, winter night it was an interesting hour. It certainly gave me new insight into the city around me.

Kaleidoscope was created by Prime Cut Productions as part of their community engagement initiative.