Thursday, 28 August 2008

*** jay brannan @ komedia

Jay Brannan @ Komedia

*** exceptional experience

What a wonderful treat
The man in person is about 10 times more wonderful than he is on an already much loved album - beguiling and charming and lightly ironic and warm and funny and conversational with a voice like honey and lyrics that can arrive like a perfectly remembered thought. Also fantastic to see his guitar playing - he seems to do very little with his left hand and yet out comes a lovely intricate melody of string sounds.
As well as the songs we know he sang a sensational version of Joni Mitchell's ‘All I Want’ and a sweetly complex new love song

Oh and of course he also just happens to be utterly beautiful
As new queer role models go i cannot think of a better man for the job

Supported by Bitch - who was also in 'shortbus'

Smart funny singer with strong line of anti-bush sentiments and impressive musicianship playing violin - she plays on jay's album - ukulele - making it sound cooler than I've ever heard it - and a pair of percussion balls she used with a number that used poetry to begin and bass guitar. Her sound sometimes reminds of Martha Wainright but in a good way. Intelligent spunky songs we liked enough to buy her album
A really great night out and easily worth the travel to brighton

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

'eating ice cream on gaza beach' by shelley silas @ soho theatre

'eating ice cream on gaza beach'
written by shelley silas
directed by anna niland
designed by anthony lamble
lighting by david kidd
projection designer john lloyd fillington

original music by reem kelani

assistant director prasanna puwanarah

Adrian ~ Christopher Sheridan
Rami ~ Oliver Hawes
Maryam ~ Bathsheba Piepe
Muz ~ Ciaran Owens
Ameena ~ Parissa Barghchi
Danny ~ David Mumeni
Ruthie ~ Laura Kiman
Shai ~ Mark Weinman
Officers ~ Obi Iwumene, Zakarya Kaye, Andrew Kaye
Ensemble ~ Tanya Cubric, Elizabeth Henstridge, Daniella Isaacs, Tyan Jones

national youth theatre
Season 2008 - Worlds Apart: global stories and home truths
soho theatre

It's sixty years since Israeli independence. Good news for some, not good for others. While one side celebrates, the other mourns.
It's a scorching day on Gaza beach. Again.
From the Babylonians to the Greeks, the Romans, the French, the British, and now the Americans, this narrow stretch of land has been picked over by divide-and-ruling invaders throughout the whole of recorded history. It is the people on the ground who pay the price. It is the people on the sand this play is about.

We come into the theatre to find the entire cast on stage - backs mostly turned to us - still ... As the lights dim one of the actors makes the Muslim call to prayer...
An ice cream van that's seen better days turns repeatedly to evoke a checkpoint, a couple of different bedrooms, and an army office as well as Gaza beach itself.
A screen above will show fairly literal images linked with the action including various shots of Gaza beach, snapshots of Danny and his girlfriend as a happy couple, an orange sunset that could equally be pollution, and a couple of banksy images - the starbucks tank and the baby flying with balloons to illustrate Maryam's final acceptance of her son's death.
Throughout a chorus of veiled women provide a vocal, percussive and silently mimed back-story to the action of the story we get to watch.

The triumph of this play - writing and performances - is in giving us recognisable people we get time and space to get to know and care about:
Adrian "as in Mole?" the brit on a gap year, wondering what it was like for his grandfather who once fought here and determined to not take sides;
Rami the christian ice cream seller who tries so hard to stay away from protests as his way of standing up for what he believes in and because he can't believe they can achieve anything;
Muz (with distracting irish accent) full of righteous fury and pent up fervour for action;
Danny the reluctant israeli soldier forced to finish his term of military service at a checkpoint.
And as a result of finding and being with these people we are drawn in to want to know and -understand more about what is happening here - the political situation for once does not overwhelm the human stories. But at the same time we are given the complex complicated mess of things - there is no hint or pretence here of anything like an answer - just people being people in their different ways and in response to the situations they find themselves in - and not all of these are made by the war.

Lines that resound and remain for me:
"this is it for the rest of my life this is all I've got" Muz
"which would you choose if you had to - england or israel - your physical or your spiritual home?"
"i’m not on either side i’m on both sides i’m on the third side" Adrian
"Not acting is a choice - it's not doing nothing." Rami

This is a brave play honestly performed. I liked a lot that none of the characters are as straight forward and predictable as we might expect them to be: Danny the soldier of conscience nevertheless follows his orders; Rami is pulled away from his determined decision not to act and his own sense of responsibility by his sense of responsibility in the heat of the moment; Adrian forgets his neutrality and rushes headlong into battle; Maryam wishes for peace also finds herself taking action and joining the protest. People behaving like people - except in this place people being people can get killed.
And the brilliance of Shelley's play is she has made a true modern day tragedy: its outcome is both unacceptable and unavoidable - we hate what happens while believing utterly in its happening because none of these characters can feasibly do other than they do.

I was also hugely impressed with the intelligent feisty-ness of the young cast and the creators articulating their process making and performing of this play during the post show discussion - neither belligerent or aggressive unlike a couple of the questioners nearly were – nor in any way submissive about their choices and what they are doing.

'Telling a story of Gaza without preaching it' - 'Eating Ice-cream on Gaza Beach' brings a range of Palestinian and Israeli opinion to London audiences. By Olivia Snaije Special to The Daily Star Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

*** "motherland" @ underbelly

tuesday 19th august 2008

Edinburgh Festival: Motherland
@ underbelly

And another exceptional experience
Verbatim theatre made from interviews with mothers & partners from north east england of soldiers serving in iraq & afghanistan
Four actors play a dozen or more different women - sometimes falling into & out from each other, sometimes very focused, sometimes a solo voice, sometimes together as mother & daughter or friends so that we get depth as well as breadth. Performed with such truth & honesty that for the entire 1 hour 20 I never question or come out from feeling like I am listening to these women rather than the actors playing them.
Simply staged with a either canvas or plastic tarpaulin backcloth that held the projected names of the characters and as a closing film of soldiers morphing into a final image of a lace-curtained window looking out to a bit of tree. The women sit on shell boxes and the only other props are flowers that are snipped to fit a vase, framed photos of loved ones we never fully get to see, janice's file documenting her battle to find out the truth of her son's death, a mobile phone one of the women is using to text her just returned boyfriend, a microphone that is taken up twice by the women who have taken their grief into a public campaign.
The verbatim scripting give these stories the ring of truthful authenticity that this show accentuates and heightens rather than colours or distorts and the accumulative effect is of a group of smart articulate warm funny honest thinking and previously invisible and unheard women with a great deal of importance to say.
And emotionally it leaves me undone.

Special moments include:
+ the woman who holds the mike out to us in an eloquent undoing expression of helpfulnessless, voicelessness, powerlessness - and I know we are not intended to take it but at the same time I feel guilty & culpable for not reaching out to her;
+ all the stories of mothers finding out their child has been killed - one who has lost the daughter who had already had to bury two fiancés after road accidents and is now still locked in a bitter anger for all Iraqis, one a mother who persuaded the son who was killed 18 months after signing up to be a soldier rather than a footballer so as to have a longer career than 18months, and one who hears her son is dead from her daughter-in-law in a call to her mobile while she is alone on a bus, and who then learns that if she hadn't the phoned the base herself she would have had to find this out from the television because parents of married soldiers are not next of kin and currently are not included for a personal visit from service personnel.
Verbatim theatre at its absolute finest.

Monday, 18 August 2008

*** 66a Church Road - Daniel Kitson @ traverse

*** exceptional experience
66a Church Road - Daniel Kitson
@ traverse

66a Church Road - a Lament Made of memories and kept in suitcases

Superlative wonderful Show fluent and funny and evocative warm and human -storytelling doesn't get any finer than this

We arrive down the treacherously Steeped Stairs of traverse one and get front row seats The Stage is set with an array of old fashioned Suitcases that immediately trigger us into stories of other times and people from our lives - even before the show begins we get to enjoy sweet forgotten memories

Daniel comes on in a brown Suit, takes off his jacket and rolls up his Shirt Sleeves He sits on a chair Surrounded by Suitcases and starts to tell us the story of his six year relationship with his flat in crystal palace Each chapter is punctuated with an audio playback of another related memory usually involving him in a relationship with his father trying to Sit with dignity on the blow- up chair, with one or several girls he is involved with, with himself. With his home And these moments are magically illustrated with a variety of models and projections Into and within the Suitcases _ a projection of a room The light Shining through the slatted blinds film of his Street, looking Out through his front door to new fallen Snow and a model of his entire 3 story flat Not all of these are fully visible even from the Front and after his curtain call he completely wins my heart by coming back to explain the idea for these models only came a month ago and long after this space was arranged - the traverse needing to be more organised than i am and they have tried unsuccessfully to make them visible in Such a large space. So they are all re-lit and people are invited to file past the Stage to see them on their way out and _ holy wow! - people are welcome to take photos. This man lives my manifesto.
And this is how he Starts his story - conjuring around the emotional resonances of 'home' _ a place we go hope to find but can never really seriously go looking for 'What are you looking for in a home?' Might be the question the estate agents ask but the answer is always '' it depends...'
We hear about john his long-suffering friend Who houses him while he looks for his home And we hear alot about his landlord who is very much the Villain of this story and the cause of Daniel's eventual break-up with and leaving of 66A Church Road
This performance is packed and textured with language and observations and humanity and Spirit and love and music - literally as well as in the sounds of the spoken written speech The breaks between chapters also allow a bit of Space for Some of our own memories and associations to puff and swirl and breathe the air a little.

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller @ fruitmarket gallery

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller
@ fruitmarket gallery

Exceptional experience again!

Glorious experience with 'opera for a small room' in the dark - speakers arranged around the room

A new work - giving its name to this exhibition - the house of books with no windows is beautiful -inside and out

The Killing Machine is mostly just a curio this time - albeit an ingenious one - but still succeeds in giving me a little chill. And I am still unable to press the 'start' button.

The movie -name?- is rehoused into a small container toy theatre that 3 people can listen thru and Seems to combine both the opera diva and the film noir pieces from macba Barcelona

The Dark Pool is as rich and evocative and secretive and seductive as the first time _ although by this i was out of time and had to push through too quickly to get fully transported in C. saw this first and loved it- S. saw Opera with me and beamed as happily

And the fruitmarket gallery have made a video showing Janet and George talking about and making their work and this is fascinating - including the manequin with a head full of microphones to record sound as closely as we humans can hear it.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

the Tiger Lilies' 7 Deadly Sins with Nathan Evans & Ophelia Bitz

the Tiger Lilies' 7 Deadly Sins with Nathan Evans & Ophelia Bitz
@ The Famous Spiegeltent
edinburgh fringe festival

we queue as per usual to get into the venue in the Spiegel Garden - a carnival atmosphere the trees white with dappled spotlight and huge crowds including a long long line just to get into the area
The Famous SpiegeLten+ is like an old fashioned merrygo round with the horses removed to make boothed seating. a bar at the entrance this is going to be punk Kabaret.
On stage a drumset with a toilet for its seat, a piano, a microphone a slender cello and in a Corner a red and white Striped Punch & Judy tent
Enter Nathan- modern camp pretty and oozing confidence through flirting eyes. He gets us to call ''wake up mr punch" and amazingly to me the crowd obliges in full pantomime chorus and despite being called "boys and girls" Nathan then disappears into the tent to animate punch and 'jude' and a pig policeman and the devil with an enormous penis {to whack mr punch with}. This is classic punch the judy performed with all its traditional zest violence and offensiveness albeit this time with full uncensored swearing sex and class A drug taking. Consequently it leaves me cold

The Tiger Lilies are an exceptional band whose lead singer is ideally suited to kabaret, his face painted white with dark skull-like eyes. he plays piano, ukelele & accordian and in many ways this feels like his show with the rest there to provide a setting for him. His voice - often in falsetto - is rich and expressive. And the best of this show is his vocals The show involves a dirty and bleakly negative trawl through the 7 Deadly Sins and the finest moment for me is the haunting song for Sloth with pheremone and gayboy Sweetly melodic on the oboe and sexy in shirtless braces, tatoos and wings
Ophelia Bitz bringing On the Sin labels and Swinging her tits about - best is her Mrs Loveitt moment pouring gin from the bottle Wedged in her cleavage
The rest is too samey too Knowingly wanting to offend and too musical hall for me to really enjoy
The crowd on the other hard adored it

Friday, 15 August 2008

"self-accusation" by peter handke @ C socco

unfinished posting
thursday 14th august 2008

by Peter Handke
Theatre du jour

Lots of words. A soundscape of moments from a life
An examination of small and large moments - good bad and neutral - listed through an entire life
Interpretative self- provocation coming from the ego or the id
A long poem performed sometimes vocally so as to present as music a choral piece, and sometimes as heavily {over}acted performance
It's best moments for me are in its vocal layering when there's enough neutrality to let me weave out from the density of the language and I found the heavy physical expressiveness of alot of it contaminated my experience. I also found the soundtrack mostly distracting - except the siren which made me reflect on the large and little consequences that might follow or flow from any of these listed moments.
The best of this for M was being able to chase and channel our own thoughts through the repetition and the rituals and the chanting. And he liked the individual performances they were each giving and the ways they actioned the many different moments.
Most of all it reaffirmed my huge interest in and admiration for handke's theatre and burned a wish to make something of his one day

Best Moments

It started with each performer with the same text mostly but not always out of synch so you received one as an echo of what was heard already but for each different & uniquely inflected and curved in & out
Then the back-to-back turning with the performer facing us miming the words the Other behind was voicing.
They start in grey then get red clothes and props from their suitcases to wear and brandish.

very accomplished difficult highly finessed performances that I just wanted to ring truer or at least leaving more for me to bring

"free outgoing" @ traverse

unfinished posting
wednesday 13th august 2008

"Free Outgoing"
Royal Court Theatre presents
International Playwrights: A Genesis Project
at Traverse

Mother Son Daughter Chenai Tamil sex on the net seedy friend astute neighbour live on T.V.India
jackals at the door

"He's a tamil - he'll bear a grudge into his next life"

Seeing {only} what you go looking for

Sitting in the front and feeling like we're in the room with them

Terrific writing and rivetting central performance - all good performances

Traditional vs internet cultures

A world that is more recognisable than unfamiliar

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

*** "... some trace of her" (katie mitchell & the company)

tuesday 12th august 2008

...some trace of her
inspired by The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

adapted by Katie Mitchell and the company

: Cast includes
Jamie Ballard
: Pandora Colin
: Sam Crane
: Gawn Grainger
: Helena Lymbery
: Hattie Morahan
: Bradley Taylor
: Ben Whishaw

Production credits:
Director: Katie Mitchell
Designer: Vicki Mortimer
Director of Photography: Leo Warner for Fifty-Nine Productions
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Composer: Paul Clark
Sound Designer: Gareth Fry

at cottlesloe, national theatre

You know, I can't understand how one can pass by a tree and not be happy about the sight of it. Think how many beautiful things there are at every step, things even the most wretched man cannot but find beautiful. Look at a child, look at the grass, how it grows, look at the eyes that gaze at you and love you...
A woman lies dead on a bed in her wedding dress, a silver knife through her heart. The two men who loved her lie beside her.
I don't understand even now how it happened.
This multimedia performance develops the use of live video seen in the ground-breaking production of
Waves at the National Theatre in 2006/7. Waves returns to the Cottesloe from 20 August to 9 September, prior to a UK and World Tour.
In the ...some trace of her programme Director of Photography, Leo Warner, describes the unique process of bringing ...some trace of her to the stage; plus how to access exclusive video footage from the show.

Some of things said by Katie Mitchell in conversation with Dan Rabellato at the platform pre-show talk:

There are 2000 muscles in the face –we want to show the subtleties of expression I see in the rehearsal room, but which in a theatre even this size from 4 or 5 rows back becomes a just white shape, and from further back the whole body is just a white shape

It takes 3 days to make 1 minute of the show

we don't experience life as one linear neat storyline - we are constantly jumping our attention from one thing to another

this is a show about faith - about what people who have this structure and what those that don't might do: does it make them more / less moral?

there is an early sequence where a man talks about his thoughts through his experience of his last 3 minutes of life before his execution, only then to be reprieved - this is a show where the characters are "living in the shadow of death" (dan rabellato's phrase)

she is hugely influenced by Eastern Europe theatre makers – they set the bar - where makers take the work very seriously, make productions in terms of not one show but 3 or 4, spend 4 years making it, make a show that runs for several hours, make work of great beauty, emphasise the importance of craft

… and then the show …

as we sit down the company and already alive and casually busy on the stage, all in black non-descript clothes, demanding little attention, the giant film screen invisible

the floor is covered in hundreds of markers coloured coded for positioning cameras, lights and props
at each side are open shelves stacked neatly with clothes and materials
a couple of tables with poise lights
a couple of wooden platforms for the Foley sound effects

as the company make the show and the story unfolds before us we get a series of close-ups on faces and objects in period black and white film, often with a second actor voicing the dialogue so we receive it as the characters thoughts, and then perhaps with another setup providing us the view of what they are doing with their hands
we choose what we look at – the lovingly photoed closeup pan of the tea table and its accoutrements on the live version laid out on the floor or the actor reading the dialogue from a book into a microphone or the shots coming into and out readiness around the stage

I moved from a delighted boy in a candy shop thrilled with the sights on offer to wanting and getting the chance to immerse fully into the story and its characters to lastly wanting and getting some emotional vibrations. the last of these was the least provided – it’s there in the performances and the overall making but always played against the deliberate consciousness of the artifice going into its performing. it’s a small carp but I would have liked the dialogue to have come free from its speakers rather than read from the book and happily sacrificed the story of the video makers buried in the story of the show they are making – I could easily have absorbed and become accustomed to the busyness around the stage and become buried in the story, its people and their emotions if I’d been allowed.

but never never did the constant and efficient bustle around through over and under the various action points steal or distract – they were there to observe if we chose but never competing or contaminating the main focuses of where the story was happening.

andf the music also being made live but out of sight was an absolutely integral part of the show providing movement, mood, atmosphere and extra layers of storytelling

some moments from the show that – to coin Mitchell’s phrase about “the idiot” – that have burned into my memory

+ the quick and effective way the woman's back story is given to us through a vision of her as a young girl with a doll being preyed upon in double mirror leering image by the older man who will dominate and own her and the sexual splash of water
+ the long lists - by him at the start; by her at the end - of "I want ..."s
+ rolling up his sleeve so he could provide the bare arm to brush his own collar in preparation for his wedding
+ the beautifully lit tiny window pane with rain and flower that appeared as a blurred background in the film
+ the layered shots of the protagonist with white lights flying horizontally across his vision while we simultaneously watched them falling vertically in front of their camera
+ the layered shot of the two women with the one reflecting in the window she is watching the other through
+ the moments when we have a more complete scene on stage than the close-up film is giving us
+ the moments of tenderness or tension or isolation between two characters together in close-up on the screen while being completely separate on stage

+the continual flow of seamless moves in and out of the action from performing to filming to voicing to setting up to performing to lighting –to sound effecting to resetting up

wonderful and rich and magical and potent and thrilling and enthralling and gloriously controlled and contained and unfurledmy one wish for next time is that I can add “and moving” to this list

Thursday, 7 August 2008

"macbeth who is that bloodied man?" (Teatr Biuro Podròzy)

thursday 7th august 2008

MACBETH Who is That Bloodied Man?
(an outdoor performance, commissioned by : Cork European Cultural Capital 2005 and premiered in Cork, 20-25 of May)
Teatr Biuro Podròzy
Director: Pawel Szkotak
Music: Wiki Nowikow
Design: Teatr Biuro Prodozy and Iza Kolka
outside national theatre

It is based on William Shakespeare's "Macbeth". It tells of human fate determined by destiny and inner necessity. It shows the world during the horror of war, the world of nightmares, the world in blood, where it is legal to betray, to intrigue, to kill. It reminds you of the tragic consequence, that crime once committed will be continued, and man's death is not man's end - he comes back as fear, remorse and obsession. The performance portrays the world of chaos, where the order of nature is replaced by the logic of death. It takes place on the borderline of reality and nightmare, where earthly characters coexist with witches and ghosts. The inspiration to this performance is the attempt to see Shakespeare's drama as a crime myth. Particularly, nowadays when human life is of less and less value, and crime is becoming the ordinary act, rarely accompanied by indecision and doubts. The performance makes spectacular use of moving set, motorbikes, stilts and fire.

poles like tree trunks are lit by witches on stilts rattling clacker-boards
a bloody ruthless army of men in black leather on motorbikes pulling a variety of trailors incl the naked thane of cawdor in a cage
the dead in black on stilts
fire on poles
the youngest banquo cheeky on a toy bike, playing with the crown on a pole
great soaring operatic music
lady macbeth leeringly mad waving her torch and jumping the perilously red carpeted iron scaffolding
a comic scene with the servants climaxing in a apple-eating lovemaking scene
the witches on stilts chasing macbeth with a giant roller filled with skulls

later scenes lit behind the iron-guazed set we had to guess at cos we couldn't really see - lady macbeth's mad scene and then her husband finding her hanging behind a door, macbeth burning in the final scene

at its best it was dangerous and thrilling - the motorbike chases through the fire
alot of the time it was impressive but too often one-dimensional and static somehow - despite being an intensely physical show - too easy to 'read' and so too little for our minds

More the charred bones of Shakespeare's play than the flesh, Biuro Podrozy's outdoor spectacle leaves the acrid smell of burned bridges in your nostrils. It is one long and exhilarating blast of images wrapped around thundering music, licking flames and wafting smoke. Lady Macbeth's body is found hanging behind a closed door; the witches lurk among the trees assaulting your ears with football rattles; Macbeth plays tag with a stilt-walking Death and a huge barrel of his victims' skulls. The great trick of this Polish company's approach is to make the play seem both medieval and utterly contemporary, conjuring the bloody dictators of the past half-century without ever mentioning any names. It is cleverly general and specific at the same time, giving the audience room to impose their own meanings. We first catch sight of Macbeth and Banquo riding motorcycle and sidecar in the wastelands of war, while back at headquarters strategies are planned and naked prisoners killed. The weapons of these gun-toting macho warriors prove useless against the veiled figures of the three witches, who survive bullets like some particularly nasty aliens. There is little text, and the compressed story sometimes feels like it hurtles from vaulting ambition to madness and death in a twinkle. Nevertheless this show still manages to be subtle in its depiction of life under the dictatorship of the Macbeths. The immediate tensions between Macbeth and Banquo are well drawn and there is a wonderful scene in which the domestic becomes tarnished by death as Duncan's bloody sheets are hung out to wash at almost the same time as Banquo's murder. The piece's imagery is cleverly thought out: beginning in a wasted forest, the charred tree trunks are felled as Macbeth's victims are dispatched and rise again at the end to become Birnam Wood advancing upon the castle. Banquo's son plays a pivotal role, a ghostly vision of the future who playfully haunts the present and who, in the final moments, climbs through the burning castle to retrieve Macbeth's crown for himself. It's a production that shows this magnificent Polish company at its best, and a reminder that large-scale outdoor theatre really can be thoughtful, as well as an eyeful.
Lyn Gardner:
The Guardian 07/08/2007

notes from "Programme Notes: case studies for locating experimental theatre"

unfinished posting

notes from
"Programme Notes: case studies for locating experimental theatre"
a Live Art Development Agency publication, 2007

Programme Notes is concerned with how theatres might shift their programmes, and in so doing, their audiences. This short selection of interviews and essays asks how theatres might alter their artistic aspirations through new approaches and in dialogue with a different range of artists and theatre makers.
Lois Keidan and Daniel Brine, Live Art Development Agency
David Micklem, Arts Council England

All kinds gather, a place of provocation, a challenge to both the artist and their audience. An exciting possibility.
A bridge is built reflecting our own contradictions, in the bridging - a process of transformation - these opposite forces connect and reflect our human existence.
This is an act of artistic creation. This becomes the reality.
Juliet Ellis

Experiment is the lifeblood of theatre.
The influence of work seen in tiny studios and galleries across the country has a direct impact on our larger stages. I would like the National Theatre to be the lens through which audiences and practitioners can experience the broadest range of theatrical experience. To this end I’m keen to encourage more diversity and greater experiment as we develop a vibrant 21st century theatre.
Nicholas Hytner, Director
National Theatre

It is essential for the mainstream to acknowledge the debt it has to those working outside the traditional structures and that doesn't just mean giving them a gig and then moving on!
It is essential to invest in the process of nurturing the work and develop a muscle for holding that particular space in which this work can grow in.
Phelim McDermott, Artistic Director

Theatre, at its most radically distinctive,
is the place where people gather together to invent their future.
Consequently experimentation is its only viable practice:
not merely a training ground, not a marginal self-involvement,
but theatre fully and faithfully encountering itself in public.
It's hard to imagine a more vital optimism.
Chris Goode

Lyn Gardner: There is Something Stirring.

What we are seeing is a movement which has the potential to put live art and theatre right at the centre of our culture as it breaks down all the old divisions and suspicions between theatre and live art, the playhouse and the gallery, the text and the visual and physical...
Unlike traditional theatre that takes place behind the closed door of the playhouse, it shuts nobods out, and it allows the audience to take themselves to the event. It has a plasticity which ensures that it is what every individual member of the audience thinks it is … and reclaims a place that belongs to us and where we can play and dream. This is art which allows us ownership of our own lives and own imaginative processes.

Increasingly audiences see through these marketing scams and hunger for cultural experiences which not only are different but which have an authenticity.

Many young people are creating a substantial wave of new practitioners who don't want to make drama but who do want to make theatre, who couldn't care less about plays but who care very passionately about live art.

The audiences are already storming the barricades. It is up to the rest of us to give them a helping hand because the revolution has already started without us, and it would be such a pity to miss it.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

notes from Peter Handke's "A Sorrow Beyond Dreams"

Peter Handke
"A Sorrow Beyond Dreams"

Written January - February 1972

"My mother has been dead for almost seven weeks: I had better get to work before the need to write about her, which I felt so strongly at her funeral, dies away and I fall back into the dull speechlessness with which I reacted to her suicide."

Some of his words that have made a strong imprint on me:

The worst thing right now would be sympathy, expressed in a word or even a glance. I would turn away or cut the sympathiser short because I need the feeling that what I'm going through is incomprehensible and incommunicable; only then does the horror seem meaningful and real. If anyone talks to me about it, the boredom comes back, and everything is unreal again.

P. 11
When I write, I necessarily write about the past, about something, which at least while I am writing, is behind me. As usual when engaged in literary work, I am alienated from myself and transformed into an object, a remembering and formulating machine.

P. 16
For a woman to be born into such surroundings was in itself deadly. But perhaps there was one comfort: no need to worry about the future. The fortune-tellers at our church fairs took a serious interest only in the palms of young men -a girl's future was a joke.
No possibilities. It was all settled in advance: a bit of flirtation, a few giggles, a brief bewilderment then the alien resigned look of a woman starting to keep house again, the first children, a bit of togetherness after the Kitchen-work, from the start not listened to, and in turn listening less and less. Inner monologues, trouble with her legs, varicose veins, mute except for mumbling in her sleep, cancer of the womb, and finally, with death, destiny fulfilled. The girls in our town used to play a game based on the stations in a woman's life: Tired / Exhausted / Sick / Dying / Dead.

p. 22
This period helped my mother to come out of her shell and become independent. She acquired a presence and lost her last fear of human contact: her hat awry because a young fellow was pressing his head against hers, while she merely laughed into the camera with an expression of self-satisfaction. (The fiction that photographs can “tell us” anything – but isn’t all formulation, even of things that have really happened, more or less a fiction? Less, if we content ourselves with a mere record of events; more, if we try to formulate in depth? And the more fiction we put into a narrative, the more likely it is to interest others, because people identify more readily with formulation than with recorded facts. Does this explain the need for poetry? “Breathless on the riverbank” is one of Thomas Bernhard’s formulations.)

p. 29
And so she was nothing and never would be anything; it was so obvious that there was no need of a forecast. She already said “in my day” though she was not yet thirty. Until then, she hadn’t resigned herself, but now life became so hard that for the first time she had to listen to reason. She listened to reason, but understood nothing.

p. 32
And so an emotional life that never had a chance of achieving bourgeois composure acquired a superficial stability by clumsily imitating the bourgeois system of emotional relations, the system in which “So-and-so is my type but I’m not his” or “I’m his but he’s not mine” or in which “We’re made for each other” – in which clichés are taken as binding rules and any individual reaction, which takes some account of an actual person, becomes a deviation. For instance, my mother would say of my father: “Actually, he wasn’t my type.” And so this typology became a guide to life: it gave you a pleasantly objective feeling about yourself; you stopped worrying about your origins, your possibly dandruff-ridden, sweaty-footed individuality, or the daily renewed problem of how to go on living; being a type relieved the human molecule of his humiliating loneliness and isolation; he lost himself, yet now and then he was somebody, if only briefly.
Once you became a type, you floated through the streets, buoyed up by all the things you could pass with indifference, repelled by everything which, in forcing you to stop, brought you back bothersomely to yourself…

p. 35-38
(Of course what is written here about a particular person is rather general; but only such generalisations, in explicit disregard of my mother as a possibly unique protagonist in a possibly unique story, can be of interest to anyone but myself. Merely to relate the vicissitudes of a life that came to a sudden end would be pure presumption.
The danger of all these abstractions and formulations is of course that they tend to become independent. When that happens, the individual that gave rise to them is forgotten – like images in a dream, phrases and sentences enter into a chain reaction, and the result is literary ritual in which individual life ceases to be anything more than a pretext.
These two dangers – the danger of merely telling what happened and the danger of a human individual becoming painlessly submerged in poetic sentences – have slowed down my writing, because in every sentence I am afraid of losing my balance. This is true of every literary effort, but especially in this case, where the facts are so overwhelming and there is hardly anything to think out.
Consequently I first took the facts as my starting point and looked for ways of formulating them. But I soon noticed that in looking for formulations I was moving away from the facts. I then adopted a new approach – starting not with the facts but with the already available formulations, the linguistic deposit of man’s social experience. From my mother’s life, I sifted out the elements that were already foreseen in these formulas, for only with the help of a ready-made public language was it possible to single out from among all the irrelevant facts of this life the few that cried out to be made public.
Accordingly, I compare, sentence by sentence, the stock of formulas applicable to the biography of a woman with my mother’s particular life; the actual work of writing follows from the agreements and contradictions between them. The essential is to avoid mere quotations; even when sentences look quoted, they must never allow one to forget that they deal with someone who to my mind at least is distinct. Only then, only if a sentence is firmly and circumspectly centred on my personal or, ir you will, private subject, do I feel that I can use it.
Another specific feature of this story is that I do not, as is usually the case, let every sentence carry me further away from the inner life of my characters, so as finally, in a liberated and serene holiday mood, to look at them from the outside as isolated insects. Rather, I try with unbending earnestness to penetrate my character. And because I cannot fully capture her in any sentence, I keep having to start from scratch and never arrive at the usual sharp and clear bird’s-eye view.
Ordinarily, I start with myself and my own headaches; in the course of my writing, I detach myself from them more and more, and then in the end I ship myself and my headaches off to market as a commodity – but in this case, since I am only a writer and can’t take the role of the person written about, such detachment is impossible. I can only move myself into the distance; my mother can never become for me, as I can for myself, a winged art object flying serenely through the air. She refuses to be isolated and remains unfathomable; my sentences crash in the darkness and lie scattered on the paper.
In stories we often read that something or other is “unnameable” or “indescribable”; ordinarily this strikes me as a cheap excuse. This story, however, is really about the nameless, about speechless moments of terror. It is about moments when the mind boggles with horror, states of fear so brief that speech always comes too late; about dream happenings so gruesome that the mind perceives them physically as worms. The blood curdles, the breath catches, “a cold chill crept up my back, my hair stood on end” – states experiences while listening to a ghost story, while turning on a water tap that you can quickly turn off again; on the street in the evening with a beer bottle in one hand; in short, it is a record of states, not a well-rounded story with an anticipated, hence, comforting, end.
At best I am able to capture my mother’s story for brief moments in dreams, because then her feelings become so palpable that I experience them as doubles and am identical with them; but these are precisely the moments I have already mentioned, in which extreme need to communicate coincides with extreme speechlessness. That is why I affect the usual biographical pattern and write: “At that time… later”, “Because … although”, “was … became nothing”, hoping in this way to dominate the horror. That, perhaps, is the comical part of my story.)

p. 44
Christmas: necessities were packaged as presents. We surprised each other with such necessities as underwear, stockings, and handkerchiefs, and the beneficiary said he had WISHED for just that! We pretended that just about everything that was given to us, except food, was a present; I was sincerely grateful for the most indispensable school materials and spread them out beside my bed like presents.
(me: I remember this and wonder at just what moment presents crossed over into being things we wanted rather than needed?)

p. 47-48
From the first she was under pressure to keep up the forms: in country schools the subject most stressed for girls was called “the outward form and appearance of written work”; in later life this found its continuation in a woman’s obligation to put on a semblance of a united family; not cheerful poverty but formally perfect squalor; and gradually, in its daily effort to up appearances, her face lost its soul.

p. 49-50
No machines in the house; everything was still done by hand. Objects out of a past century, now generally transfigured with nostalgia: nit only the coffee mill, which you had actually come to love as a toy – also the GOOD OLD ironing-board, the COSY hearth, the often-mended cooking pots, the DANGEROUS poker, the STURDY wheelbarrow, the ENTERPRISING weed cutter, the SHINING BRIGHT knives, which over the years had been ground to a vanishing narrowness by BURLY scissor-grinders, the FIENDISH thimble, the STUPID darning edge, the CLUMSY OLD flat-iron, which provided variety by having to be put back on the stove every so often, and finally the PRIZE PIECE, the foot and hand-operated Singer sewing-machine. But the golden haze is all in the manner of listing.
Another way of listing would be equally idyllic: your aching back; your hands scalded in the wash boiler, then frozen red while hanging up the clothes (how the frozen washing crackled as you folded it up!); an occasional nosebleed when you straightened up after hours of bending over… the eternal moaning about little aches and pains, because after all you were only a woman. Women among themselves: not “How are you feeling?” but “Are you feeling better?”
All that is known. It proves nothing; its demonstrative value is destroyed by the habit of thinking in terms of advantages and disadvantages, the most evil of all ways of looking at life. “Everything has its advantages and disadvantages.” Once that is said, the unbearable becomes bearable – a mere disadvantage, and what after all is a disadvantage but a necessary adjunct of every advantage?
An advantage, as a rule, was merely the absence of a disadvantage: no noise, no responsibility, not working for strangers, not having to leave your house and children every ay. The disadvantages that were absent made up for those that were present. So it wasn’t really so bad; you could do it with one hand tied behind your back. Except that no end was in sight.
Today was yesterday, yesterday was always. Another day behind you, another week gone, and Happy New Year. What will we have to eat tomorrow? Has the post come? What have you been doing around the house all day?

Monday, 4 August 2008

notes from douglas wright's "terra incognito"

Douglas Wright
writing about making what would become his 2006 dance work “black milk” in his second book: “Terra Incognito”

P. 64
But as I know from experience, you can plan everything down to the last detail and then discover the first day in the Studio that you have to Scrap everything and think again. Still, I had a good feeling in my bones about my Strategy and was eager to try it in the flesh.

In any case I never adhere Strictly to my plans, however Cherished. Their primary function is to free me from fear so that I can stay open to the swarm of fugitive possibilities that always arise in the studio when I'm working with people rather than ideas. Or then again the plans are like the balancing pole a tightrope walker carries, with the difference this pole is alive and as paranormally sensitive as a cat's outstretched whiskers plumbing the dark equilibrium as it stalks nocturnal prey.

One of the greatest joys of my life is the dropping of the mask of expertise by admitting to myself that I just don't know and allowing that ecstatic dumbness to take its first steps into the unknown.

Reading over what I've just written I picked up the scent of a dichotomy. On the one hand I describe the process of planning a work in Some detail yet on the other hand I exalt in the technique of letting go of all preconceived notions and abandoning myself to Childlike play with no thought of any outcome. Therefore, one movement in the mind in creative work is active and conscious while the other is passive and unconscious. Just as Samuel Taylor Cole ridge once observed I experience these two opposing forces as being at the service of a third: the imagination, without which they would not exist. The act of invention is essentially rhythmic. Like breathing. On the inhalation we draw in and gather up all our accumulated Knowledge As if Contracting a precisely Selected group of muscles then on the exhalation we let it all go by using the Coiled energy to leap without premeditation in a purblind, artless Spring into the dark: a jump that hopefully lands us closes to If not in, the desired terra incognita. Artists need to be persistent. We leap and land again and again with indefatigable zeal. The action itself seems to bring relief to the questing mind and to actually find an Unforgettable scrap or hint of soul- dazzling poetry is eureka.

I believe this how the human mind moves as it Struggles to create continuously alternating between active and passive. Just as the mechanics of breathing are the direct result of the wings of the heart beating, so the imagining mind is propelled in jagged spurts towards its bashful quarry by the intensity of its longing. Eternity lives in the gaps between breaths. In the serene pauses where every mind forgets coming and going, in and out, and simply surrenders. I hope that some glad day one of these gaps will open wide enough to let me through to my long home.

Still I don't know if there is anything left to be discovered in our sub-lunar post human mindscape. Often what I initially believe is Virgin Soil turns out to have a Macdonald's just around the corner. But art born of cynicism is poison to my spirit so whenever I am not working as an antidote I constantly read books, watch films, and look at paintings and photographs choosing works that marvel and question rage lament and celebrate. They help me to say a joyous ‘no’ to the death-in-life I see around me every day.

P. 164 ->
In trying to describe a process that is largely submerged, like a human being swimming, I can only observe the parts of the process I am conscious of. Whenever I am brewing a new dance there is a subconscious apparatus constantly at work: I'm intermittently aware that it never stops sorting, choosing, matching up, rejecting, accepting and filing away anything it deems might belong in the work, bringing anything it eventually selects as a definite possibility to my conscious awareness for consideration.

It's a kind of metaphysical secretary, pimp of the invisible, with immeasurable influence on all my decisions. But I don't know the full extent of its operations and don't want to because I trust it. Another way of looking at this process is that the ideas or images choose me as their opportunity to see the light of day and try to seduce me with their ability to capture and hold my attention - what I call their haunting power. I won't accept anything that doesn't haunt me, any though I now have a dynasty of ghosts as part of my extended family, it is not always the obviously Strange or grotesque that keeps coming to mind and Coming to mind repeatedly. Sometimes I feel I am the one being auditioned to see if I'm brave enough to reject the thing I know will 'work' and choose instead the image, idea or approach that requires me to drop my old bag of tricks and start from 'the big don't know'. In this respect I am often a coward, but a coward emboldened by the knowledge that Cézanne was content with the same mountain, tree and bowl of fruit with skull for decades yet never reached the end of the bounty that comes with the tireless unflagging unveiling of the eye. It never fails to astound me that the thing I'm searching for with such complicated intensity is usually where I least expect to find it Sitting right under my nose. I want to see like brother dog.

P. I66
It is quite difficult to signal subtle variations in human relationships without words, or without resorting to the stilted language of traditional balletic mime...
One technique I had used successfully in the past was to ask the dancers to write and learn a verbal script based on the relationships I wanted to convey have them act the scene out with the words over and over until the words became lodged in their bodies as seeds of gestures. Then we would video the dancers performing the scene With the maximum of natural Unforced gestures - be Italian I'd say - and then we'd start to copy the minute conjugations and combinations of gesture from the video frame by Frame re-learning what had been improvised. I would Select some of the words and find a way to musicalise them within the body to dance them, and insert these little movement phrases as highlights within the whole gestural dialogue. The next step was to perform the copied and invented scene with the dancers saying the words under their breath, so as to retain the link between word and gesture which prevents the movement from going stale, and finally to take the words away but to urge the dancers to keep saying them in their minds as they moved: the spirit of the words made flesh.

This is time-consuming but a good way to represent the human animal in relationship without words. There is an alphabet of gesture, words and sentences, paragraphs and chapters, stories can be told if you take infinite pains. You have to want it more than anything else or it doesn't work. It falls apart at birth without the life-dealing want.

As Rumi once said:
The body is a device to calculate
The astronomy of the spirit

Saturday, 2 August 2008

"shakespeare's r&j" (the original theatre company)

saturday 2nd august 2008

"shakespeare's r&j"
by joe calarco
the original theatre company
Produced by The Original Theatre Company and South Hill Park Arts Centre with Max Lewendel
Directed by Alastair Whatley
Designed by Victoria Spearing
Lighting by Alan Valentine
Costume by Fiona Davis

Student one (plays Romeo) ......... Christopher Hogben
Student Two (plays Juliet and Benvolio) ..... Tom Hackney
Student Three (plays Mercutio, Lady Capulet and Friar Lawrence) ..... Craig Gilbert
Student Four (plays Tybalt, Balthasar and The Nurse) ............. Sam Donnelly

Set in the 1950’s at an exclusive boarding school, four pupils run into the chapel late one night in a bid to escape from their repressive school routines and begin reading the story aloud. School and social rules are addressed and shattered as the students come to understand the real price of challenging fate and the true dangers of forbidden love.
As both the stories of Romeo and Juliet and the four lads unfold during the course of one thrilling evening; audience and actors alike discover the power of theatre and the new worlds it can open up. Highly energetic, physical and packed with the energy of youth and beauty of Shakespeare language this really is Shakespeare at his most accessible and daring.
at southwark playhouse

Even before it starts we hear a soundtrack of latin conjugations; a master teaching Shakespeare's sonnets; singing 'Jerusalem' ...

It then starts with three of the boys in vestments praying and wafting incense. Arriving late comes the boy who will instigate the play and play romeo - not sure why? - although the play will finish with the same three boys rushing off to resume their school lives perhaps unchanged by their experience of making the play leaving the same fourth boy alone and deeply affected by what has happened.
There is then a bit of setting up business between the boys that never really gets explained or goes anywhere and so felt an unnecessary prologue. Altho now i remember that it does again make the distinction between the three and the one, and so with hindsight and much reflection i am seeing the undertow of the boys' stories as a coming out for the loner boy who plays romeo. Even though this works against the sense of ensemble created from the four boys making the whole play together? So a confusing effect that is just possibly deliberate - if we allow that this confusion of un/belonging is so much a part of a queer arrival out into the world?)
Anyway - eventually we go from a night time torch-lit boys' escapade into the playing of the play - although even allowing for a 1950s world requires a fairy hefty leap of faith in accepting the acting out of romeo and juliet as the best dare-devilish idea the boys could conceive!

The programme notes say that this is a way to see one of Shakespeare's most famous plays with fresh eyes and to some large extent it does just that. Watching four 1950s public school lads play all the roles means most particularly that the love scenes between romeo and juliet have a very fresh rawness and ache to them and the queer love that emerges between the two boys playing r & j has the same force of forbidden love as the original lovers faced. And the violence is often strikingly savage - even appearing to get out of hand and with a real viciousness about it - especially the kicking of juliet after she is told of tybalt's death and romeo's banishment.

But unfortunately despite the strong energy and determined playing of all four actors this play is just too problematic and mixed up between the most of it that is Shakespeare and the undercurrent that is a more confusing story of the boys to really fly. We're supposed to see romeo actually fall in love with the boy who plays juliet and this reciprocated except that their kisses - lacking the urgent realness and over-the-edgeness that the violence has - come across as stage kissing and so miss being genuinely challenging.
The show ends with the romeo actor alone onstage abandoned by all of his friends who have fled to back to class "I dreamed... I dreamed... I dreamed ..." so maybe it is that we are have been shown the moment of one boy's queer awakening rather than two boys falling in love?

Part of its freshness and energy comes from their making of the play from the materials to hand. Set in a chapel these are the pews variously arranged and a white sheet that serves from an altar cloth to a way of fighting as well as a variety of drapes
The music and lighting effects are simple and effective.
The actors are committed and sincere.
A lot about it I would expect to like a lot.
But all this did not a thrilling experience make.

Perhaps it is partly because of recently seeing the factory's “hamlet” which does much of this freshness but with a much greater edginess because you know they are making it fresh each time in each new space they find themselves in - although they have no intention to tell any simultaneous story about the actors.
Also I think the direction needed to give us more moments of ambiguity: are we seeing the actor playing the scene or are we seeing the actor revealed through their playing out the scene?
Still this is a very immediate experience that was easy to stay involved and engaged in, and maybe they want us to remain unsure about what we are witnessing.
And they make the best use of the southwark playhouse space I've so far seen.
So ... ?
I continue to vacillate between wanting to love it and finding it disappointing short of the mark and then wanting to value what it could be shooting for and then finding it disappointingly short of the mark…
I imagine this would be a great play for a [brave] student production but I am left wishing this professional production had dared go just that little bit further.