Wednesday, 29 October 2008

To Be Straight With You

DV8 opened their new show at the National tonight, a verbatim piece on homophobia. Fifteen years ago the company were the doyens of the British physical theatre scene and shows like Strange Fish, Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men and Enter Achilles helped shape the theatrical landscape of the late eighties and early nineties. Latterly I've felt their work is a bit time warped, almost cynical, lacking the brave sweep of the earlier productions - which helped define a particular form of assertive masculinity through exhilarating dance.

To Be Straight With You tackles an important issue - namely our inability to challenge homophobia, both within Islamic and Rasta cultures. Given its content, the piece can't help but be didactic and from early on we're bombarded by statistics. In eighty five (mostly Islamic) countries homosexuality is still a criminal offence and in seven of these it's a crime punishable by death.

It's daunting and disturbing, but I wonder whether the constant revelation of this accusational fact isn't theatrically counter productive, within the confines of what remains a dance piece.

Politically the work, as all good verbatim does, raises collective consciousness and offers life affirming solidarity; but as individuals we're fairly powerless to cope with the mountain of intolerance presented and, being broadly converted already (not many of the audience were openly homophobic or racist, I'd wager), depressingly reassured of what we already knew.
There was a standing ovation at the end, as much for the bravery in tackling this subject on the stage of the NT as for the accomplishment of the piece, but having understood the problem within minutes of the show starting I was wanting some possibilities for action or strategy.

This is where forum theatre comes into it's own - creating a genuine dialogue, a rehearsal for change, not merely a site for reflection. Verbatim without intervention seems unduly voyeuristic, lacking in bite and, because nothing is offered by the audience in exchange, strangely exploitative (even when the cause is just.) I do have some belief in the idea that truth has to come before reconciliation but I wonder if it's enough, having chosen an important theme to explore, just to return with information. If liberal relativism is an insufficient response to prejudice, then the show ends up siding with the very problem it's investigating.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Once And For All...We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen.

I bumped into John Retallack at the BAC on Saturday. His Company of Angels have spent the last few years pioneering exciting and relevant theatre for a teenage audience and he recommended this show, which he'd just seen.

So I went this evening and got exactly what I was expecting. The piece is astonishingly well directed and the teenage company do a fantastically tight job with passionate investment in their material, but I still left feeling irritated.

The premise is that adolescents aren't understood and that adults either condemn them or fail to recognise them for who they are. So we have an hour here of dares, rituals, excess, occasional vulnerable monologue and confrontation, both through the 'what you looking at' stares from the stage and the assertive territorial shouting. The real problem for me is I don't see the debate.

Teenagers do explore the world, including their sexuality, with daring energy, they do trash things and they can be self-destructive. The body and brain wants to leave childhood, but have nowhere to go. It's a fascinating and exciting time. Intelligent adults do understand this inevitable rebellion and guide with a light touch to enable children to find their own way, but this isn't the same as being submissive towards what can also be an arrogant and anti-social culture.

The show is created by Ontroerend Goed, who work out of Belgium, which may help to explain the shows unapologetic front.

I've often felt relationships between adults and children in the low countries are generally good, guided by liberal tolerance. In my mind it's a society where the storm of teen spirit is recognised as a journey to adulthood. Watching this brave company made we wonder whether in Britain one of the problematic outcomes of denying expressive rights to young people is that many of us never fully reach maturity as adults. Responsibility is not worn easily in the UK and this makes the ground on which teenagers operate a very crowded site of unfulfiled dreams and resentment. Perhaps youth culture is not the problem, but our inability to value confident adults.

I hope in some ways this piece is about demystifying adolescence and will help slow the accelerating demonisation of young people by offering honest autobiography.

Sunday, 26 October 2008


Sunday matinee at the National and a packed house to see Oedipus translated from Sophocles by Frank McGuinness, whose created a sparse, intellectual, - dare I suggest - protestant reading of the text.

The big challenge for rationalists faced with Greek tragedy to overcome the desire to plead to the Gods. Surely if Oedipus had no knowledge of his past he shouldn't be punished. Go on Apollo, you feel like saying, I know incest isn't clever, but how could he know? Go on, let him off with a warning. After all what can we learn about the human condition when all that happens is the tragic unraveling of innocence?

This version, played out on a bronze set tarnished by time and neglect, to rusted green, suggests that it's exactly our arrogant appeal to ignorance that sets up the conflict and leads to our inevitable destruction. There is no second chance, no appeal procedure. An operatic chorus, dressed soberly in work day suits, takes us from a harmonic memory of Oedipus' earlier triumphs in outsmarting the Sphinx to a final dirge as they pound their way unrelentingly across the stage to their own deaths singing: 'Dust you will become, so be content.'

Ralph Fiennes is magnificent in the title role - unable to avoid his own questions. He is noble enough to be certain of his fate, but enlightened enough to want to push through his own analysis. It's a performance of controlled power and inner pain. The primal scream of final realisation, when the puzzle of his past is complete, and truth can no longer be avoided, rips through the heart. It's a sound that almost physically climbs the concrete walls of the Olivier.

The play has a vocally muscular cast and Fiennes is brilliantly supported by, amongst others, Clare Higgins' shrewdly pragmatic Jocasta, Alan Howard's world weary Teiresias and Jaspar Britton's opportunistic Creon.

It's a bleak vision of our immodesty in the face of divine intervention.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Try a Little Tenderness

Up early to buy a new bike and then into town for lunch with Hsiu Chin in Borough Market. I love the market in the Winter, it feels uniquely old London with all the street food smells of roasting and grilling mixing with aromatic coffee and mulled wine. There's no room to move, but everybody is wrapped up, rosy cheeked, good humoured and google eyed at the range of cheeses, breads, meats and confectionery on display.

Hsiu Chin and I used to work together at Goldsmiths before I came to St.Mary's, she's still there. Princess Beatrice has just enrolled at the college, on a History degree, which according to Hsiu Chin has hysterically brought all the professors scuttling disgruntled back from their sabbaticals. No course in the history of the College has ever had such a stellar academic team and Ph.d students need not apply to run seminars for a year or two. Despite that I like the idea that the royal family have come to New Cross - it's about time.

I went on to see The Brothers Size at the Young Vic.

This is a short clip from rehearsals

It's the first play in Tarell Alvin McCraney's Brothers/Sisters trilogy, although its action takes place in the immediate aftermath of In the Red and Brown Water - which I was really taken with when I saw it a couple of weeks ago. Here Orgun Size, trying to come to terms with losing Oya, invests all his energy and strength into his car repair business - whilst also trying to support his dreaming brother Oshooi, recently released from Prison and trying hard to keep to the terms of his probation, despite the temptation of the live for moment philosophy, espoused by his former cell mate, the moon like, Elegba.

Tarell's star is rising and I can't think there's more exciting work anywhere in London. The three actors Nyasha Hatendi, Obi Abilli and Nathaniel Martello-White give us ninety minutes of high octane storytelling, fusing narration, live action, chant and Yoruba myth. All underscored by a brilliant percussionist who gently and carefully evoked mood and psychology with the subtlest of poly rhythms.

The play ends with a fantastic singing of Otis Reading's Try a Little Tenderness - which is exactly the same song that Jim Cartwright chose to use as a set piece in his wonderful eighties elegy Road - a play that The Brothers Size has more than a passing resemblance to.

On the way home I stopped off at BAC to see my friends Paka, Kris and Kim perform their scratch performance of Bedtime, which they've been developing for a couple of months.

The piece is only 12 minutes long and only four people at a time get to see it as each member of the audience gets into bed with an actor and is told a bedtime story, before being tucked in and kissed goodnight. The intimacy of the work is touching and the company cleverly make the experience safe, by sharing the rituals of getting ready for bed - turning back the sheets, plumping the pillows, taking off shoes and putting them under the bed etc - with the audience. At the end of along day I would have been happy to stay longer under the duvet.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Bits and Pieces.

Lots of bits and pieces going on this week. Matt's regular reports from South Africa are proving inspiring reading and I'm so excited that the Robben Island project is up and rolling... despite a few hiccups and surprises on the way.

I'm hoping he'll be back in the country in time to prepare some form of presentation/ rehearsed reading for our Shakespeare festival in December. Meanwhile news that The Market Theatre are prepared to host a reading out in SA has left me scrambling through dates (and my bank account) to see if it might be possible to fly out for a few days and see the work down there.

We also had some great news from Theatre for a Change that Christian Aid and the Department for International Development have agreed to fund the work in Malawi. Given current economic circumstances it's a wonderful achievement by Patrick and his team out there to secure this money. We know from the Impact assessment we carried out last May that it'll make a genuine difference.

Closer to campus The Tempest's design team went over to Ham House to reckie the great hall. Steph immediately spotted that the first floor balcony that looks down on the hall has the shape of a boat and quickly ideas of creating an underwater effect for the audience - looking up from the depths - were being chucked around. Full Fathom Five!

The height of the hall immediately suggests that we should, as the Elizabethans and Jacobeans did, think of the Universe in terms of the vertical: heavens, earth, hell and the depths. Rather than the horizontal, which the cinematic age has prioritised.

The only bad note was leaving to discover my bike had been pinched from the railings at the front the house!!!

Monday, 20 October 2008

The Strawberry Hill Symphony.

We had a lot of fun in our Theatre Games class today. Tilly and I set the first years up with the challenge of creating a Junk orchestra, composing a symphony and performing it ... all by the end of the afternoon.

After initial discussion Sem was chosen to take charge and steered us through a roller coaster day.

The group quickly assembled tubes, pipes, balloons, bottles, saucepans, keys, shoe boxes, a picket fence (I didn't ask where it had come from... although it dawns with horror on me this evening that I've seen one similar in housekeeper Paula's front garden!!!!!!) Even a bed frame appeared. All was lugged into studio 3.

Drapes were sourced and hung, a programme printed, lights rigged.

Sophie was given the job of conductor and began to arrange her orchestra.

There were a few tense moments, usually accompanied by some hearty swearing, and at some points the joy of noise threatened to drown out a more strategic approach to composition, but everywhere you turned was industry and progress. Pairs began to put together short sequences and motifs, which soon built into an impressive palette of possibilities from which to create.

As you might expect on an Applied Theatre course there are several leaders who have to fight very hard to go along with an idea they haven't completely bought into, but I like the energy and it's a very positive sign that the work did come together.

At 3.30pm a small audience of 20 arrived and were treated to an eight minute piece performed with discipline and focus.

For these twenty students today was a first micro try out in organising themselves as a production company. It involved compromise, delegation, trusting others in the team to deliver and above all else to take responsibility for the jobs allocated to you. If you can do all of these things whilst all about is collapsing then you are valuable indeed.

In December the Lost and Found Orchestra (see image above) will play at the Festival Hall. It should be worth a listen.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

The Norman Conquests

To the Old Vic to watch all three plays in Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy - The Norman Conquests, first performed in Scarborough in 1973.

Slightly odd, going to the theatre at eleven on a Saturday, a very different energy in the foyer, slight belligerence, slight disbelief. Half the punters, thermos flasks at the ready, excited about the long haul ahead; whilst the rest, disgruntled partners mainly, stood and wondered almost audibly whether being taken to the theatre before lunch constituted sufficient grounds for divorce.

The Vic wisely, judging the mood, didn't try and stop the bleary eyed from taking coffee hurriedly bought on Waterloo station into the auditorium.

I've done trilogy days before. I watched Michael Boyd's Henry VI plays as part of the This England programme at the RSC seven years ago and I was also one of the handful who saw Lev Dodin's brilliant Maly Theatre companies Brothers and Sisters trilogy in the unlikely setting of Wythenshawe Forum in the early nineties. The themes and time frames for these productions though (a near century sweep of medieval dynastic power struggle, and the tribulations of a Soviet kolchus through revolution, famine, war and industrialisation) mirrored the act of endurance on the part of the audience. On both occasions the collective joy, shared by stage and auditorium, at reaching the end of the final play was akin to arriving at the summit of Everest. The Norman Conquests takes place over a July weekend in a country house in Sussex - so I wondered if it would carry.

That it does is tribute to a genuine craftsmanship on the part of Ayckbourn himself and brilliant casting from Matthew Warchus, who directed the fun filled Boeing Boeing last year and seems to be championing the re emergence of farce as viable London theatre fare.

This work is outrageously out of date, crazily parochial and wonderfully, wonderfully funny.

There are superb performances all round. Stephen Mangan exudes dangerous spontaneity as the romantic man child Norman whilst Jess Hynes as initial conquest Annie, Ben Miles as Tom, Annie's nice but dim, nearly boyfriend and Paul Ritter as Annie's older brother, board game inventing, need for procedure, Reg, cut out brilliant supporting roles.

I suspect the plays tap deep into the British psyche, connecting with a tradition that traces thread through Shakespeare, restoration drama, Jane Austen and the sit com (I always think that Dad's Army and the rude mechanicals share the same comic DNA as do Basil Fawlty, David Brent and Malvolio.) The humour has a torturous purgatory to it, a love of failure, misrule and misfortune. Perhaps it enables us to recognise ourselves, perhaps we're just cruel, mischievous or merely repressed enough to love the moral rectitude of elegant character assassinations.

For writers gifted enough to understand the hypocrisy inherent in our own everyday comedy of manners and clever enough to wield the scalpel unnoticed, the seam remains deep and rich.

I loved every moment of the day.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Playing with Puppets

Had a great afternoon working with Tina and the third year designers playing with puppets in readiness for Tempest rehearsals which we'll kick off in vengeance after reading week. We looked at several different ways of working from animating everyday objects, to creating shadows, through to building full size figures with sheets and knots who need three or four animators to bring to life.

After they'd picked up some initial ideas the students went off to create individual characters from the play using whatever they could find lying about in the workroom.

Half an hour later we had a showing. Steph had created a little fat Prospero from a Maraca. Emma had made a human size Miranda from a tailor dummies head and a flowing sheet. Hardeep's Ferdinand started as a bottle of water. The relative scale of the characters made for some surprising combinations and sometimes subverted the text. In effect it quickly became Miranda's story.

We're off to Ham House next week to really look at the space - but I was really impressed by the speed and effectiveness of the puppet creations today - which makes me wonder if we couldn't actually create all the puppets live - Prospero's magic in action - or maybe even work with the audiences' creations? Lots of possibilities.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008


There's some really nuggets of gold on the BBCiplayer at the minute, including this fantastic version of Joe Penhall's brilliant Blue/Orange which first premiered at the National in 2000.

I really like Penhall's ear for dialogue and his sensibility to creating the well made play. There's real craft here in this story of a young black schizophrenic and his relationship with two psychiatric nurses. He's without doubt one of the finest chroniclers of of England in the new early 21st century. Please have a look.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

A swift half with Cardboard Citizens

Cardboard Citizens brought their new hostel tour onto campus this evening and gave us a really great show. Once again it's very good to see a packed house and professional companies enjoying the experience of performing for our students.

The company, most of whose membership are or have experienced homelessness, are now the foremost practitioners of forum theatre in the UK. This means their shows are always interactive - a dialogue merging the boundary between stage and auditorium. Firstly a personal story is acted out, normally of an injustice or oppression, and left in unresolved state. On a second playing the audience are encouraged to intervene, joining the actors on stage as the protagonist to improvise alternative strategies so that defeat can be avoided.

Tonight the company offered us three short case studies to work on, all based on true testimony and scripted into dramatic form by playwright Sarah Woods.

In the end the audience opted to work with the story of Rowena, a Filipino nanny, who had left her own daughter in Manila to come to London and work with a family who kept her in virtual slavery. Although, in the short time we had to play, we couldn't find a way out for Rowena - the economics of her situation made it incredibly hard - the act of exploring the story revealed some chilling facts about migrant labour in the UK that helped the audience challenge their own assumptions.

After the get out the company joined us in the Union for a pint and chatted to the students, generously answering questions about their practice and experiences for two hours... invaluable time. We finally waved their van off at half eleven.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Thoughts from Home.

Drama in the Community third years have started their evaluative blogs (a link list runs down the left hand side of this blog.) Some have started off by exploring broadly the idea of Community, what it means and, more importantly, what it might feel like.

As I'm visiting my parents for the weekend, returning to the South Oxfordshire village where I grew up, it's got me thinking too. I like going home - I feel surer there, able to think, rather than desperate to act. I suspect my sense of how it feels to be in a community comes as much from my rural childhood, stomping around the muddy fields of Appleford, as from anything I've done professionally. At heart, is it a sense of well being? And what does that actually mean?

When we started to put together plans for the Applied Theatre pathway we were keen to balance two distinct strands of Community practice. The first was looking at ways in which drama could be used as a methodology for learning, rehabilitation, conflict resolution and health care. Which meant engagement with with different institutions - schools, remand homes, prisons, day centres and hospitals. This work has led us to develop partnerships with leading companies like Clean Break, Cardboard Citizens, The Comedy School and Theatre for a Change in Malawi.

The other side of the work was the create of large scale site specific theatre work which might unite a community either through direct participation or through attending an event.

I've always believed that it's important for this work to travel - that it's one thing creating a play in-house for your fellow students and proud families, but quite another to invest time, energy and empathy in creating theatre with or for a group who you had little knowledge of at the outset. The search for new venues and groups to work with is constant.

We went for coffee at The Cornerstone, a new £7 million arts centre built in rapidly expanding Didcot. It's designed by the team who created the Baltic in Gateshead and is in its third month of operation. I couldn't quite make sense of it. Its programme is a mix of stand up comedy, mid scale touring companies and a few amateur events. There is little fanfare though and talking to the front of house staff the mood is one of cautious optimism rather than genuine celebration.

There's a slight whiff of paternalism whenever a local council gets involved. The last thing they want to do with tax payers money is free the radicals - but for a town that for so long relied on the railway and the power station as its principal employer a family centred theatre seems an important development. I hope it's successful.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

in-i innit

In the evening I went to see in-i at the National Theatre.

It's posh theatre - a collaboration between the amazing Akram Khan and Juilet Binoche. The set - a backdrop and two chairs - was 'designed' by Anish Kapoor. It's very beautiful and at its best the dance is absolutely exhilarating.

I suspect, however, that I have a prejudice about this kind of work. It always seems unaware of the very human need for self deprecation and irony (or these states are so self-consciously played that they only serve to patronise those in the audience who genuinely live in in a world where both are constant.) The jokes are there, but are so carefully choreographed that I don't find myself laughing.

The piece is set up as a mediation on a relationship. Its movements, punctuated by an introverted text, revealing in the first person, the feather cuts, the anxieties and missed communications that punctuate all love affairs. The audience travel, almost inevitably, from initial passion through conflict, compromise, ennui and eventually solitude.

Voyeuristically this is all wonderful, but I don't believe in Akram and Juliet. They're too close to perfection, so I have little sympathy and absolutely no sense of kinship recognition when their relationship deteriorates. In fact it seems ridiculous.

I admired their passion, their bodies beautiful and their commitment to the dance.

I just saw no reason for things to go wrong!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Art and Resistance.

Spent the afternoon in the Imperial War Museum. I wish it were called something different, 'Imperial' is just off putting - perhaps Museum of Conflict and Resolution would just be to hippy. It's a brilliant resource nevertheless

My friend Emma is currently writing on spiritual resistance in the Jewish ghetto, so we went off to look for material in Holocaust exhibition. After three hours, we'd barely left the first room. Her research so far has uncovered a play called 'The King' - which may have been transported from Warsaw to Auschwitz and according to some accounts it was performed/ read in both places.

On Wednesday Matt is off to South Africa for six weeks to research his Robben Island Project.

It's vital to be reminded that the shared experience art, music and poetry can stimulate the imagination (the sense of what might be if...) and fortify against unbridled cruelty and ignorance.

Increasingly I'm more interested in the context in which the creative act takes place rather than its content. The frisson, the power seems to come from its being live, intertwined with a specific place in time and space.

On the way out we passed a section of the Berlin wall, free standing in the museum gardens.

Two years ago in the Brooklyn Museum I saw some of Jean-Michel Basquiat's subway graffiti, originally sprayed angrily across NYC in the late seventies, but now, cut down, framed and displayed in formal arrangements. Preserved as artefacts in aspic, I found both of these experiences underwhelming. Removed from the tensions that originally led to their creation they'd lost all their energy.
In contrast in the great hall an old soldier in a wheelchair and a badge saying '90 today!' Surrounded by several generations of his family he sat, enthralled, pointing and naming all the aeroplanes hanging from the ceiling. Sadly disappointment came when his daughter, flicked off his brakes, and wheeled him away towards his special birthday treat ... a trip on the London eye.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

In the Red and Brown Water

Went to the Young Vic to see In the Red Brown Water. It's the second part of Tarell Alvin McCraney's Brother/Sister trilogy - the first part The Brothers Size is being reprised later this week and then the two pieces run in tandem throughout October.

The play is the story of a Oya a promising young black athlete, trying to make sense of her late teens, in post-Katrina Louisiana. Although the hurricane is never directly referred to in the play the metaphor of water runs through the piece. The theatre itself is flooded ankle deep, making memory both literal and inescapable.

From the very first moments when Oya struggles to run across the space, this staging stands as a scathing metaphor for disadvantage. Politically it's as devastating an image as Mother Courage pulling her cart against the revolve. How much energy is needed in this New Orleans community to standstill, let alone sprint?

A supporting cast of lovers, relatives and adversaries are each defined by motif - a jazz rift, a poetic tag - as they flow in and out of the action, not only sharing the narrative, but continually refocusing it.

The most poignant moment comes when Oya, having settled into an unhappy relationship, removes her running shoes and lets them float away like boats. The shoes are never struck and stay visible, but untethered, throughout the second act. A constant reminder of abandonment both of hope and the city itself.

The ending is as surprising as it is devastating, reminding us, as we've witnessed throughout, that each step taken creates a ripple. A seismic impact in this world where lives and stories are always linked.

A full house. A great show. Credit Crunch? Not here. Not yet!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Chiswick House and Dreams of Summer.

Had a good meeting this afternoon with Sarah Finch-Crisp of English Heritage at Chiswick House about the possibility of using the grounds as a venue for next summer's Community production. She was very positive and I think this could be a very fruitful partnership.

After the success of the work with Richmond Council and the National Trust at Ham House last year we're looking to move our expand our schools' programme into Hounslow. The plan would be to run drama, design and storytelling workshops across the borough's primary schools using the sessions to help create the quest play which we'd script, rehearse and produce in the grounds next June.

I think the key is to design a story that excites children enough to go on an adventure with the chief protagonist(s). This is the common element in so much children's fantasy literature from Alice in Wonderland through to His Dark Materials and Harry Potter and the confusing Arcadian layout of Chiswick park, even as it undergoes a £12 million refurb and is full of bulldozers, offers ample opportunity to create an epic journey. It's choca full of stuff! A wilderness, stone Sphinx, an amphitheatre, formal gardens and a lake with a sturdy classical stone bridge as a crossing.

The artist and satirist William Hogarth bought a small house next door and The Beatles filmed a promotional video for Paperback Writer here. If it's good enough for them...

Sarah's keen that we should try and encourage the schools we work with to visit the site prior to the performance and it might be a neat idea to try and work in situ with the children rather than asking them to commit their thoughts to paper or Dictaphone, as we did last year.

Clumping through the muddy leaves it's exciting to begin to project a show here for eight months time.

The house's most famous occupant was Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, who is the subject of the recent film starring Keira Knightley. I guess I should go and see it!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Winter comes to Twickenham

The weather's changed. It's cold, dark and rainy. Twickenham though is a great place to hole up on weekends like this.

There is a fantastic circular walk along the river. From Twickers you head down Cross Deep, through Radnor Gardens and along Strawberry Vale til you get to The Anglers.
Here you cross Teddington lock, onto the Surrey bank and following the current back towards London come through the Ham lands, past Ham House and Petersham nurseries (were they make fresh peppermint tea) on into Richmond. You can cross the bridge here and take the Middlesex bank back into Twickenham, past Marble Hill and Orleans House, down the foggy lanes to The White Swan and the sculptured river nymphs in York Gardens.

From here you can go and snoop around the artists studios on Eel Pie Island or head for dinner on Church Street. All in all it's a good six miles and providing you take in a couple of the pubs on route is a perfect Sunday afternoon.

I've done the walk in all seasons, but wrapped up warm, in crunchy leaved Autumn always feels the best and on a cold day arriving for a glass of wine in a warm place with warmer friends is as close to Eden as it gets.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

The End of Everything Ever

Another Friday and another show in our newly refurbished theatre. This week NIE brought their beautiful The End of Everything Ever - the third part of the European diaspora trilogy that they've been developing since 2001.

This is the story of Agathe Rosenbaum and her journey on kinder transport from Berlin to England in 1938. It's completely told from her perspective giving us the honesty and charm of a child caught up in confusing world events. Despite the menacing backdrop of the Krystallnacht this is a show full of humanity and humour.

The work played last year at the BAC and NIE have recently returned from an off-Broadway run in New York, next week they begin a European tour, so it's wonderful that they found the time to bring the work onto campus.

The mood in the theatre has changed - maybe the material, maybe the act of passing through a posh foyer, or most likely because the show was so fantastically tight - but this was an intelligent and mature audience. They didn't just whoop and holler indiscriminately at the end, as has sometimes been the case, but warmly applauded. There was a post-show Q & A with the companies director Alex Byrne, which everybody stayed for and engaged in.

These are small signs, but very encouraging.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Gambon Mischief!

Had a lovely evening at the Duke of York's watching a playful preview of Pinter's No Man's Land, which opens next week. The main delight is watching Michael Gambon and David Bradley deliver a virtual masterclass in acting, ably supported by Nick Dunning and work in progress David Walliams.

Gambon, playing the alcoholic recluse Hirst, is a unique actor, a link back to a grander style, but somehow he has the ability to cloak his poise, power and treacle rich voice in a display of effortless credibility. Bradley supports magnificently as the birdlike Spooner, rarely still, never silent, moving surreptitiously behind the other characters as he looks for the right opportunity to inveigle his way into a permanent position in the household.

The show has already had a run at the Gate in Dublin and there's a sense that the production is ready for the press a few days ahead of schedule. This became particularly evident in the second act when Gambon repeatedly tried to use his right leg to make Bradley corpse. Bradley defended admirably and the result between the two great actors was an honourable draw.

It's the second Rupert Goold show to open in the West End in the last month and he's now in rehearsal with Pete Postlewaite for Lear in Liverpool, has Romeo and Juliet coming up at the RSC - as well as the new version of Oliver! at Drury Lane.

I sat next to him for the first act ... but he disappeared after the interval, which made me wonder whether he was usefully using the time. Perhaps he went to knock off an adaptation of War and Peace in the foyer or an ice spectacular musical theatre version of the Koran in the broom cupboard?

No space or text is safe from Rupert just at the minute - but I guess whilst the sun shines it's time to make hay.

Gambon, seeing the empty seat in the stalls, did just that!

The Mousetrap Foundation.

A new initiative from The Mousetrap foundation who once a month block book a West End venue and offer the top price tickets for £10 to Drama students in Higher Education. This is always followed up by a post show discussion with actors and creatives from the production.

All you have to do is sign up via the website...

...and you'll be kept in the loop for these special events. This month the Foundation have manged to get tickets for Six Characters, No Man's Land (see image) & Ivanov (all shows which would otherwise would be impossible to get access to this cheaply.) The tickets are subsidised by business sponsors and large multi-national companies.

Easy to do and well worth getting involved.

Now or Later

Went to the Royal Court last night to see the wonderful Now or Later by Christopher Shinn.

The play is set in an American hotel on the eve of a sweeping Democratic election victory; but even as Ohio and Florida declare for Senator Roe (played by Matthew Marsh, looking uncannily like Howard Dean) his aides are negotiating furiously with his fragile Ivy league educated son (the superb Eddie Redmayne.)
John Jr's drunken antics, aimed at satiric protest, (dressing up as Mohammad and simulating sex with a friend dressed as Pastor Bob) have been caught on camera and the 'Islamophobic' images are virulent spreading across the Internet.
At first this set up appears trite, but Shinn gives us enough authentic character detail both to buy into the counter factual histories of the protagonists and to follow with some sense of inevitable dread the repercussions. Towards the end of the play the new President, minutes away from receiving the phone call from his defeated opponent and struggling to keep his son out of the press, receives news of riots breaking out in Pakistan.

It's a morality play in the strictest sense with John Jr, receiving increasingly high profile visits in his room - from two aides: Marc, a Jewish man and Tracy, a black woman versed in the civil rights struggles of the past, his Hilary-esque mother and in a final Oedipal battle his father.
Each of the vistors try and persuade John to issue a statement of regret to curtail the growing crisis - all this set against the fast moving back drop of a massively significant Democratic recapture of the White House.

It's a brilliant, timely, debate about ideologies, extremism, parenting, civil rights, freedom of speech and responsibility.
Now or Later's run has been extended until November 1st - which, of course, bangs the final performances right up against the Obama/McCain election on November 4th.
This is a very important and well made play.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Class Enemy

This programme about East West, a young Sarajevo company who performed a contemporary adaptation of Nigel Williams' 1978 'Class Enemy' at this year's Edinburgh festival. The documentary argues for the importance of bringing anti-social behaviour and trauma onto stage. Art holding up a mirror? Voyeuristic? Cathartic? Informative?

Who are the audience for this?

Applied Theatre and Drama in the Community Students please have a watch.