For writer Jolie Booth - who once got into trouble as a six-year-old for organising a play during a maths lesson at school - the squat she joined 15 years ago became her "Aladdin's cave".
The flat above a shop in the centre of Brighton had been home to a woman called Anne Clarke and was full of "old hippie stuff" - posters, clothes, diaries, letters and what Jolie thought might be the hip bone that Anne had had replaced.
Further research, including permission from Anne's daughter to carry on living amongst her possessions, led to HIP, an interactive one-woman show that Jolie will perform at the Greenwich Theatre studio from 24-27 January 2018.
"When we cracked the squat we discovered that all of Anne's things were still in there," said Jolie, "so we lived in amongst the stuff left over from the life of an alternative sixties Brightonian.
"I had just finished a degree in English and moved to Brighton to create and edit a feminist online magazine called Flow: For Women Who Bleed. Writing and performing are my greatest passions. I'm from a working-class background and was having to live as cheaply as possible in order to forge a career as an artist, and therefore squatting became a necessity.
"I'd always been obsessed with history. As my parents had little money one thing they did to entertain us was to maintain National Trust and English Heritage membership and every weekend we'd go on a trip to an old stately home.
"When we got home we'd make a scrapbook about the house, sticking in feathers, leaves and postcards we'd collected. I'd always walk around pretending I lived there, normally imagining I was one of the servants rather than a rich lady of the house. Imagining what it felt like to sneak around the place trying to do the work required whilst also staying invisible."
This began a fascination in Jolie for discovering the lives of ordinary people throughout history. "All the famous and powerful people get recorded," she said, "but it excites me when I find someone's initials etched into the brick work of an old bakery's bread oven, or discover an old grave stone where the name has worn away.
"I'll spend ages contemplating who the person might have been and what ripples have been left behind in their wake. This all led me to becoming a historical re-creator, which I started doing on my own when I was 10 years old, getting time off school and camping with a guardian, living day to day as a Tudor peasant at a mansion in Suffolk called Kentwell Hall.
"I've been doing it now for 29 years. I learnt to make cheese and butter as a dairymaid first of all, was a washer woman for a while and then for the last 25 years I've been a travelling player. We have our own cart that we perform plays on top of and then sleep underneath at night.
"It's like a second life, and when I stepped into the squat in Brighton and saw it was filled with the life or a long-departed tenant, it was an Aladdin's cave to me."
Which of Anne Clarke's possessions inspired her most? "Initially," said Jolie, "I loved the posters on the walls for old club nights around Brighton, like a poster for the famous Zap Club which had a cartoon on it of Margaret Thatcher with her tits out for a night called "Something of What you Fancy". It was £1 to get in and £1 a pint.
"Then one night we opened the cupboard under the stairs and found it full of clothes, records and a box full of diaries. We got out the box and began to flick through them, discovering that the woman who'd lived there had been called Anne Clarke.
"One of my housemates then told me he'd read in one of the diaries that she'd had a hip replacement and on the shelf there was a pelvis bone. We joked that perhaps this was Anne's hip bone. When we were evicted from the flat, we were in there for about three months, we agreed to put all the possessions in a lock-up, as the bailiffs would have just thrown out anything they found."
The contents of the lock-up did disappear, however, and it's something that Jolie has never quite got over. "The only thing I'd kept back for myself was the box of letters and diaries, plus the hip bone," she said. "For 15 years I carried the hip bone from house to house, always keeping it out on my mantelpiece and thinking of it as Anne.
"I didn't get around to reading through all the letters and diaries until 15 years later, when I decided to find out who Anne had actually been and why her stuff had been left behind like that. This research is what then led to the show, HIP. Anne was a trailblazer in the counterculture that helped modern Brighton become a safe house for liberalism in an increasingly hostile conservative culture."
Jolie now knows many of Anne's friends and much of her family, where she came from, what political movements she was a part of, her passions and lovers. "I have also discovered the ripples she has left behind around the city of Brighton," she said. "There are some significant ripples very much still influencing the city and some little ones you'd never notice if you didn't look. I also found out how she had died and why her stuff had been left behind.
"I've never felt like an intruder in Anne's life. The serendipity surrounding the discoveries and the ways in which they've unfolded have been nothing short of magical. If she is somewhere watching down on us and doesn't want me to be telling her story then she's doing a really bad job of letting me know."
HIP is "extra-live" in that the performer is aware that the audience is there and everyone in the room plays a part in the creation of the show. "It's not a scary audience participation thing," said Jolie, "but more like a relaxed atmosphere where no one has to pay heed to the usual rules of theatre etiquette.
"It's more like a party or informal discussion group. Bowls of Twiglets will be provided along with cheese and pineapple sticks, plus a shot of tequila or orange juice."
James Haddrell, artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre, said: "Theatre is a business built on stories and storytelling, but that doesn't always have to mean fiction. Some of the most touching, enlightening or profound stories are found in real life. HIP does that with a highly personalized view of one woman's life pieced together from the things she left behind."
HIP runs at the Greenwich Theatre studio from January 24-27 at 7.30pm. FIND out more at www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk and for tickets call the box office on 020 8858 7755.
Funded by Royal Greenwich, Greenwich Theatre is one of London's foremost Off-West End theatres, presenting a year round programme of drama, musicals and family theatre. It is one of the country's leading supporters of young and emerging theatre makers, currently supporting up to 20 young artists and companies in everything from production and tour management to script development and marketing.
Greenwich Theatre is also a significant developer and programmer of theatre for families and children, and lead producer on the annual Greenwich Children's Theatre Festival (part of the Royal Greenwich Festivals), and producer of one of the country's favourite traditional family pantomimes.
The launch of Greenwich Theatre On Tour has seen the theatre work with emerging companies to co-produce theatre at a range of national and international venues, with performances in London, Brighton, Edinburgh, Dublin, Adelaide, Madrid and New York. For more information, please visit http://www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk Box Office 020 8858 7755
Source : https://www.broadwayworld.com/uk-regional/article/HIP-By-Jolie-Booth-Comes-to-the-Greenwich-Theatre-20180108