It isn’t every day that I interview a soft pig, but then that’s the sort of thing you can expect at the Tunnel Of Love Festival, a series of installations and events put on by disability arts organisation, Heart ‘N’ Soul, at the Southbank Centre in London this summer.
Wandering through the Tunnel of Love installation is to walk past everybody you’ve ever been in love with, or at least had a crush on, given that it’s lined with images of ‘heartthrobs’ ranging from James Dean to Pippa Middleton – well, each to their own. Looking closely, you’ll also see cheeky portraits of the people that assembled the installation – disabled people working with Heart ‘N’ Soul. You’ll also get the chance to take part in several other romance related silliness and of course write a postcard dedication to the one you love.
Anyway, at the end of the installation is an intriguing door marked the ‘Piggie Powder Room’ and this is home, until September, to Tilley Hughes and her, well, let’s go with ‘pet’ pig, Del. Tilley Hughes is a songwriter and performer, not to mention burgeoning comedian. Having Asperger’s means that whilst she can be coy, she can also be surprisingly quick on the draw; and as for Del the pig; well she’s quite something too.
Tilley tends to operate in the moment, without script or any written notes and so a visit to the powder room where she and Del hold court is quite an unpredictable experience. I started out by asking Tilley what it is about pigs that clearly fascinates her, especially the pretty, pink, playful ones in what is really a porcine den. “Yes, they tend to be my favourite animals” she ventures, adding “They’re so underrated. There’s so much to them.”
Del the pig, cuts in, using a similar sledgehammer tact that Miss Piggie of the Muppets might: “I’m 10 years old now. For a pig 10 years is middle aged and I am a soft pig after all, because I’m very well used.”
What a pig!
If you hadn’t already guessed, Del is something of an alter-ego for Tilley and the character she feels safe in when she wants to get away with being slightly rambunctious. I can’t help but ask where the idea of the powder room came from and again Del is quick to respond saying: “Mana’, (that’s piggy for ‘my-owner’) was getting frustrated because she wanted to get more involved with Heart N Soul. Mana felt that she didn’t have much purpose in her life. Mana tends to need a bit of direction.”
It seems that there’s a bit more here than meets the eye and it’s revealing to see Tilley described through the perspective of her close companion, Del, who continues: “Mana can write and spell fine but it’s the amount of time it takes her. Mana’s mind is very quick and is always going on to the next thing. Mana gets bored very fast, and Mana’s body won’t move at the same speed as her mind – that’s the problem. So she gets frustrated.”
The little piggy also explains how Tilley tends to find creativity in the most unusual spaces such as writing songs on the bus and so on. She also has a strangely reckless attitude to the stage and a technique that even the most seasoned stand-up performer might step back from.
“As for stand-up comedy, Mana hasn’t wrote a script” says Del. “We don’t know whether that’s the right way or the wrong way to do it. The way we’ve done it is that Mana has done it completely improvised – not even any notes. Mana’s gone on the stage and just completely bounced off the people in the audience. We tend to be a double act. I sort of interrupt and sort of go off on one,” says the pig.
“Why do you need a script when you’re mainly going from your own experience? Mana has quite a lot of different experiences which she brings out. To be honest we don’t really understand why we’re funny because to us we’re just getting on there and going on about our past and in a cheeky way we’re making the audience feel a bit awkward. Mana can be quite flirtatious but sometimes she feels that she needs to hide behind things and she uses me as a kind of decoy.”
Even if Tilley and Del don’t really see why they’re funny, they definitely have a handle on how to have a good time, be it on stage or within the confines of a powder room. The powder room is open every Wednesday evening between 6-8pm and is free to get in (as is the Tunnel Of Love). I didn’t manage to leave without sharing some piggy gossip and listening to some piggy impressions – but I suspect that each visit is completely different.
At last Tilley gets a word in edgeways saying: “You have to give a lot of yourself and maybe people just can’t do that. You have to lay everything on the line, especially with something like stand-up comedy. (Especially when you don’t have a script. I thought it would be funny to go on stage with absolutely no idea of what I’m doing.)
The Tunnel of Love features the ‘tunnel of crushes’ complete with vibrating floor and featuring all of your favourite heart-throbs (from Wet Wet Wet to Kylie and One Direction!), chat up hotlines, a huge Twister gameboard, the Piggie Powder Room with Tilley Hughes and Catherine Dunne plus a host of live Club Flirt performances throughout including Too Hot for Candy (6th August) and Dean Rodney and the Fish Police (on 13th August).
Suitable for ages All ages – family friendly
Spirit Level at Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX
Until Sunday 7 September 2014, 10am –10pm
FREE | www.southbankcentre.co.uk
Funded by Arts Council England
Tilley & Del the Pig and Catherine Dunne | Piggie Powder Room
Every Weds, until 3rd Sept, 2 – 8pm (except 27th August)
Heart n Soul artists Tilley & Del the Pig and Catherine Dunne will be on hand in the Piggie Powder Room as fortune tellers/agony aunts/toilet attendants, providing makeup and love advice, all with a pig twist.
Too Hot For Candy
Weds 6 August, 7.30pm – 9pm
Singer-songwriter Kali Perkins, musician Arthur Lea and drummer Isaac Palm bring you a sound they describe as ‘way funky’. Inspired by Prince, Sly and the Family Stone, featuring big beats and funky drumming.
The Fish Police
Weds 13 August, 7.30pm – 9pm
The Fish Police, made up of Dean Rodney (singer, rapper, songwriter), Matthew Howe (guitar) and Charles Stuart (keys, co-songwriter, background vocals), aim to create their own unique blend of upbeat surreal pop imagery, electronic future funk, pop and hip hop. The group met through Heart n Soul’s old young people’s group, Heart n Soul Youth, and have been involved in some of the company’s biggest projects and events to date, including the Dean Rodney Singers and The Beautiful Octopus Club at London’s Royal Festival Hall. In 2012, they performed at the 2012 London Paralympic Games opening ceremony. In April 2014 they embarked on their first UK tour performing across seven venues in eight nights to integrated audiences. www.thefishpolice.com
Heart n Soul DJs and Open Mic
Weds 27 August, 7.30pm – 9pm
Heart n Soul DJs will be playing the best beats in London and there will be a chance for the audience to come and sing a love song of their choice with a live band on the open mic.