Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Apprentice and the Gods

There is only one television programme that I wouldn't miss for the world and it's that time of year again when The Apprentice swings back onto our screens for a glorious ten week series. Its compulsive viewing and as moral as a Greek tragedy.

Most reality TV is anything but reality - Big Brother has always just struck me as sad, like a visit to the zoo, to watch dumb beasts out of their normal habitat caged and driven slightly mad by the boredom. The Apprentice, though, seems to transcend the illusion that we're just watching normality, and through clever editing and the slow emergence of the contestants personalities over the course of the series it grips us in a titanic struggle. Partly of course it's the pure voyeurism of watching a pack of animals rip themselves apart, but like all good drama it twists and turns as it takes the viewer on a journey through some of the most unpleasant forms of back biting, lying and desperate attention seeking imaginable.

As with all successful dramas it's mostly down to excellent casting and each of the fifteen candidates walks in dressed for battle and proudly asserting their credentials. I am Spartacus! The brilliance of the programme is to hint from the off that such posturing will inevitably lead to hubris. We could be fooled into thinking of the whole concept as a glorification of greed and money making, but in reality it as as unheroic and nuanced as any work by Sophocles, Chekhov or Shakespeare. The Apprentice is a cathartic warning from the Gods be they on Olympus, or in an Amstrad board room on the Essex border.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Robben Island comes to Richmond

Today was the first public reading of Matt's verbatim play, The Robben Island Bible at the Richmond theatre. It was wonderful, particularly as the ever gracious John Kani had cajoled two of the other actors from The Tempest company Atandwa and Omphile to take part.

We closed the department for the afternoon and the stalls were filled with students and other special guests from Richmond, the University and the anti-apartheid movement.

There was an incredible pre-show moment when Molly realised that 100 under twenty fives were sitting in the sunshine on the steps of the theatre, giving the place the feel of the Royal Court circa 1960 so she sent the in-house photographer out to capture the mood.

The show itself went well and the actors quickly relaxed into the script (they'd only had two hours rehearsal on Monday afternoon.) Afterwards John turned on the charm in an incredibly moving, politicised and exciting question and answer session that can have left no-one in the audience in any doubt of the the power that theatre has to communicate, keep ideals alive, provide metaphors for resistance and inspire great acts of courage and humanity.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Green is the Colour.

The third year directors shows have finished now, after a four week festival of work. The last shows were on Friday. It's been a hugely impressive body of work and marvellous to see students across the three years working alongside each other to achieve their success. On the way have been some fine pieces of direction. Laura Dowens got three excellent performances out of her Pitchfork Disney cast, Clara Taylor did a marvellous, unpretentious job on Simon Stephen's fragmented play Pornography and Chloe Oxbury found a persuasive rhythm for Marina Carr's Woman and Scarecrow. Although there weren't stand out, breathtaking productions, it's clear that within the cohort are some careful, intelligent, crafty directors, who should certainly take lessons from this experience and have another crack in the near future.

Saturday was open day and around 200 prospective students and their families turned up to find out about the courses and Uni. Last year the open day was scheduled for St.Patrick's day - which was a mistake as the College has strong links with Ireland. Our guests were caught in a mixture of carefully co-ordinated, well oiled marketing presentation from the staff and a frenzied bacchanal ritual of Guinness and the craic from the students.

To avoid any ambiguity about the true face of College, this year the date was fixed safely for the 21st ... unfortunately nobody had checked the rugby fixtures, or played with the possibility that Ireland, might, just might win their first grand slam for 61 years!!! The relief of the final whistle was the cue for several semi naked St.Mary's rugby boys, who'd painted parts of their nether regions green in expectation of victory, to dance for joy across Walpole's Arcadian grounds in floppy leprechaun hats. Perhaps it'll help recruit as many as it drives away?

Friday, 20 March 2009

Theatre for A Change

Our developing partnership with Theatre for A Change is a very important part of our portfolio. Here is the article I've submitted for Drama St.Mary's brochure on this work.

In April 2008 Mark Griffin and Matthew Hahn spent two weeks in Malawi as guests of Theatre for a Change, a company specialising in the interactive forum theatre techniques pioneered by Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal.

The work of Tfac in Malawi uses this methodology to exploring strategies to enable individuals to assert their gender and sexual rights. The lecturers visit was a prelude to future exchanges of good practice between Tfac trainees and Drama St.Mary’s students interested in Theatre and Development work. The first cohort of our students will travel to Malawi and join Tfac in January 2011. These are some of the notes Mark made during the visit.

Each day, with the company, begins early with a six o’clock breakfast meeting of the core team, who over coffee and cereal discuss the needs for the day. It helps that all of them are focused on a common goal, namely HIV/AIDS prevention in a country where 14% of the population carry the virus.
Patrick, Tfac’s director, heads for the offices in the British Council Building, whilst Sam and Eric, the two senior facilitators head off to meet the twenty trainees, as they do three times a week.

‘Circle! Circle!’ cries Sam
‘Circle!’ respond the trainees coming together.

‘Gender! Gender!’ calls Eric and the circle checks itself to ensure the circle is balanced.

The training session is a mixture of skills development, reflection and evaluative feedback. Brainstorming is a common tool, as is improvisation and discussion. All are expected and encouraged to participate and a focus ball is smoothly passed around the space with participants taking turns to speak or suggest ideas for furthering the work. Each of the day’s activities, including planning the schedule, is facilitated by a different student. The process is everything and everybody trusts it.

Large sections of the work are videoed and reviewed with the trainees focusing on their use of voice, body and space as well as helping to indicate areas for development and improvement. It’s a rigorous and rewarding approach.

On Monday’s and Thursdays the twenty trainees travel into the schools and communities of Lilongwe to disseminate their work to their own focus group of twenty. In this way 400 people a week are already participating and later this month the trainees will take up placements in the nine teacher training colleges across the length of Malawi to deliver this methodology to all prospective Primary school teachers in the country.

We travel with trainees Ruth and Rashid who have been developing a theatre group with twenty sex workers from Kwale. At our first meeting the focus is on gathering testimony, with the workers using storytelling, short dramatisations and song to collect ideas for a short play. The work has a composite feel but each decision taken in creating the play is agreed on for its authenticity. The session ends with a joyful dance and the handing out of bags of rice donated by Feed the Children. Once this is done Grace, the leader reminds her fellow actors of the need for them to stay healthy and strong so that they can continue their important work.

Three days later we return to see the dress rehearsal of the play that the women have prepared. We crowd into a tiny sun baked yard to see how the story has developed. The rehearsal has caused a huge stir in the community and its standing room only as neighbours, friends and children crowd in to see what’s going on.

Afterwards Grace shows us around the group’s communal garden where sweet garlic, onions and tomatoes are growing. For the women this is a move towards self-sufficiency and an essential contribution to ensuring they remain nutritionally secure and it would not have happened had not the group come together through the drama workshops. Improvements imagined through a rehearsal are being act on by the women as they look to improve their quality of life. It’s inspiring and powerful work.

For more information on the the partnership between Theatre for a Change and Drama St.Mary’s please contact Matthew on:

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Lost Banditos

Here's the latest in the Drama St.Mary's series of articles about current research and practice in the department. This article focuses on Kasia's work.

Drama St Mary’s has its own physical theatre ensemble “Lost Banditos” consisting of recent graduates and 3rd year students, interested in extra curricular development. It is directed by Kasia Zaremba-Byrne programme director for Physical Theatre. Here she talks about the project

You’re taking the first ever Drama St. Mary’s production Destination GB to the Edinburgh fringe this summer. What’s the motivation for the piece?

The group’s research is concentrating on issues relating to immigration, diversity, inclusion and racism. They explore the following questions: How we look at “the other” in the 21st century. How does our cultural and social upbringing shape our understanding of people who come with very different set of cultural, social, ethical rules? What does it mean to live in multicultural society? Why do immigrants choose Britain as a place to come?

Wow! How do you workshop these huge questions?

The group collects stories, images and opinions and then turns them into improvisations and scenes blending techniques borrowing from clowning, bouffon work and physical theatre. ‘Destination GB’ tells the story of two immigrants on the back of the lorry intercepted by English immigration officials.

What’s the long term plan for the project?

Well in the summer, as you know, the show is going to Edinburgh Fringe Festival for 4 weeks and then, once the students have all finished their degrees, it’s poised to tour regionally around England in the autumn.

I know you’re passionately committed to offering students at St. Mary’s opportunities to participate in production work. Could you tell us a bit more about the new MA Physical Theatre (International Ensemble) that you’ve just created?

The programme is designed to teach theatre in the European tradition with roots in Commedia Dell’Arte, this mode of theatre looks primarily at storytelling, stories drawn from and shared by the community to whom they are performed. It is populist, humanist and anti-elitist.

Who do you hope to recruit?

We’re targeting both domestic and international students with a view to sharing perspectives, cultural and theatrical traditions. As Physical Theatre has an emphasis on the visual rather than the verbal it is not necessary that the students are Anglophone, though the common language will be English. Two international companies will be connected with this degree New International Encounter and Complicite. Company making and touring are vital components of our work at Drama St Mary’s so the MA is focused on the creation of small- scale touring companies who we hope will enrich the theatre scene in the future with new distinctive voices.

For more information on Lost Banditos or the MA Physical Theatre (International Ensemble) please contact Kasia on:

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Burnt By The Sun

Up to the National yesterday evening to see the Burnt By The Sun. A stage adaptation of the 1994 Oscar Winning film, adapted with fizz and crackle by master playwright Peter Flannery.
The action is set over one balmy summer day in a dacha on the outskirts of Moscow in 1936 where Kotov, a Bolshevik general of peasant stock and personal friend of Comrade Stalin is reacquainted with and betrayed by Mitia, an intellectual who has returned to the USSR to seek the fragments of the Fin de Siecle culture he once held so dear. As the play unravels it becomes clear that Mitia's sudden disappearance twelve years early was not an escape but a sentence, delivered with Kotov's active approval, to work in counter espionage in Italy and France. It is the start of the purges and after a Chekhovian opening of beautifully played misunderstandings and half expressed emotions, the play shifts into a knife edge thriller, leaving the audience trying to work out who Stalin's man really is?

Compounding the intrigue further is the captivating Maroussia, who quickly became Kotov's child bride once Mitia had disappeared. Her pain at her former lover's return is tenderly captured by Michelle Dockery. When Mitia suggests to Kotov that those who fly too high will always be burnt by the sun - it's unsure whether he's talking about Kotov's own subversive activity or his attraction to Maroussia.

At the heart of the production are two incredible performances. Ciaran Hinds brings intensity and fury to the role of Kotov. It's a huge physical portrayal that almost blows you out of your seat; whilst Rory Kinnear's Mitia is a perfect study of controlled bitterness and neurotic regret. As he did in Philistines, his previous Lyttelton show, Kinnear demonstrates a magnetic ability to speak softly and pull the audience towards him. The contrast between the players couldn't be greater, but makes for a irresistible dynamic and despite the obvious clash of style they are both sensitive enough to inhabit the same stage universe. It's edge of your seat stuff from beginning to end.

I left the theatre breathless, happy and slightly awed at the technical brilliance of the acting.

Monday, 16 March 2009


Up to Kilburn to the Tricycle cinema to finally catch Sean Penn's incredible Oscar winning performance in Milk. It's a wonderfully compassionate movie about the life and assassination of community activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected politician in the USA.

The work is an important tribute to a movement that prior to this biopic has mostly been defined by Stonewall. Much of the struggle for gay rights has moved forward, but occasionally the arguments prohibiting gays from certain jobs - as primary school teachers, in the military etc. rear there ugly heads and for that reason the film is a reminder of the need to be vigilant against any reactionary force that portrays homosexuality as a threat, rather than a compliment, to family values.

Penn is surely one of the most effecting screen actors of his generation and his intelligence, sensitivity and humanity comes through at every moment. For a man who's built his reputation playing alpha males this a fantastic choice of role and his masterful execution of both the public bravery and the private integrity of Milk makes for a moving couple of hours, but the real achievment is that Penn and director Gus Van Sant manage to stay on the side of metaphor rather than martyrdom, enabling a whole movement to seen through a single psychology.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Vagabond Flag.

Here's the second entry from our Made in Drama St.Mary's brochure. This time dealing with Ian's Vagabond Flag project. We've included it as a brief interview.

Award winning classical actor Ian Hughes joined the staff of Drama St. Mary’s in the summer of 2008, primarily to oversee the acting tuition across all the programmes. He didn’t waste any time anytime, however, in starting an exciting research project to feed curriculum developments.

What is Vagabond Flag?

The idea is to create and actor-lead exploration of the rehearsal processes that Elizabethan and Jacobean actors underwent. I’ll start our work with Shakespeare’s Folio of 1623, but also work with the earlier Quarto versions of the texts and see if we can find a process that can make them vivid, exciting and vital in performance.

So this isn’t just historical research?

Well I want to create a theatre ensemble of experienced, professional actors and see if we can reclaim control of our craft. I hope we’ll understand more about how Elizabethan companies prepared and worked, but I also hope the work will have a direct impact on how Shakespeare is perceived and performed today. The academic research is fascinating and important but I really hope that in working with exciting and experienced classical performers we might discover a new flavour or two that will contribute to current practice.

Who are you working with on the project?

The RSC, who I have a long association with as an actor and the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford are both very excited by the work and I hope I’ll be able to eventually share some of our findings in Stratford upon Avon next year. Nick Hutchinson is joining me as artistic advisor. He’s an expert on original stage practice and works for The Globe Theatre as well as having an international profile as an academic. First of all though we’ll play at St. Mary’s and open up the research to colleagues and the students.

For more information about this project please contact Ian on:

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Cancer Tales

We've been putting together a brochure to celebrate the work going on in the department, which we'll launch at the rehearsed reading of The Robben Island Bible at Richmond Theatre next month.

But in the build up I thought it might be useful to publish the work in sections on this blog. Starting with Trevor's entry on Cancer Tales, which he's currently re directing in Ireland.

Trevor Walker: In 2001 I received a parcel from the playwright and author Nell Dunn which contained a number of transcripts of interviews with doctors, nurses, carers and patients, all connected with cancer.

I had never met Nell before but had admired her work, particularly Up the Junction and Poor Cow, filmed by Ken Loach. So I agreed to gather together a group of actors to set about workshopping the material and from these experiments and discussions Nell went away and wrote the play, Cancer Tales.

It was first presented as a rehearsed reading at the RADA, followed by a performance of two of the stories at a conference on Arts and Health Care organised by the Royal Society of Medicine. We were all surprised at how well the play was received by healthcare workers who seemed very excited by the work and a number of organisations asked us to present extracts at conferences and seminars. In 2002 the play was published and began to attract even more interest from institutions who saw it as an important teaching tool for the training of people involved in cancer care. I directed the play at the Soho and Greenwood theatres in London and it continued to be performed at large medical conferences but, increasingly at smaller training seminars.

In 2007 Mundipharma International began to fund productions of the play and published Cancer Tales, Communicating in Cancer Care, a workbook which republished the play together with a commentary from doctors and cancer specialists.

Since that time the play continues to be produced at conferences both at home and abroad, most recently at the World Cancer Congress in Geneva, the Royal Society of Medicine in London, and in 2009 it toured Ireland and visited Berlin.

Saturday, 7 March 2009


To the West 12 arcade in Shepherds Bush, across the tracks from Westfield, the gleaming new ship of post-crunch ice cool consumerism to see the matinee of Stovepipe a three way collaboration between The National Theatre, The Bush and HighTide written by young gun Adam Brace and staged, as a promenade, deep in the bowels of the centre.

It was really good. An exciting action packed adventure featuring mercenary soldiers, body guards, contractors, guns, sex and a faked kidnapping in post-war Iraq. The script is filmic, with fast exchanges that keep you on your toes, whilst the five cast members effortlessly switch roles and locations with admirable dexterity and driven intensity. In fact the real success of the work is that all the basics are in tact. A good story, well told. Great acting, particularly from Shaun Dooley as Alan Dobbs, the play's protagonist, and a considered approach to the promenade experience - scenes set in advance and a small enough audience both to keep the action moving seamlessly and to ensure that everybody can see everything.

This is the kind of work, modern, exciting, meaningful that I think we should be aspiring to at St.Mary's. It's honest, achievable and leaves you feeling that the afternoon has been better spent here than window shopping in the Prada and Gucci shops across the green.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Third Year Directors

First night of the third year directors productions and some very good stuff on show.

First up was Vicky Barnes production of Jim Cartwright's Two with very strong performances from Becky Smith and Michael Blyth. Vicky showed a sure touch in the directing doing most things right and the piece flowed entertainingly from scene to scene, the actors confident and secure with what they'd been asked to do.

Second up was Nikki Flynn's stylish production of Liz Lochead's adaptation of Medea. Again strong central performances from Lara Cronshaw, Danielle Sykes and Mark Moffat and Nikki had clearly worked hard to ensure that the power of the language was supported by strong voices. The work certainly had gravitas and although occasionally I wished for a gear change I really admired the purposeful way the cast told the story.

Last up was Jenny Jayne's production of Polly Teale's After Mrs Rochester - a tough piece for the round - but huge commitment from the cast, particularly Lindsey Meadows and Chantal Koning who invested heavily in their roles, fully inhabiting them and rewarding the audience with some excellent work.

Malawi Rough and Ready.

Great meeting this morning with Matt and Patrick from Theatre for a Change to sort out the logistics for sending Applied Theatre students out to Malawi in January 2011. We're going to begin the acclimatisation process soon by setting up some video conferencing between our St.Mary's students and trainees working with the company.

This will help us to begin to prepare our students for what I'm sure will be a hugely impacting experience, but also set them up ready to hit the ground running when they touch down in Lilongwe. Working abroad in a completely unfamiliar context can be a real culture shock, but I'd like them to be surprised by Africa rather than the work and expectations of Tfac who, as Patrick reminded us this morning, are very busy and have a clearly defined strategy for developmental work. All of us want to avoid poverty tourism.

It looks as if the group will go in out in two groups of ten, supervised by Matt and myself. Patrick has generously promised us rough and ready accommodation in the Tfac house where we'll share communal meals and plans together. Our partnership and is really beginning to come into focus!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Kings of Leon

Sunday February 28th

Last day of Spiralin' and more Roman remains. The old cityof Astorga, which began as a garrison town of soldiers, miners and engineers and quickly grew into a civic centre, is slowly being uncovered as excavations continue to unearth what must have been a really vibrant society on the very Western edge of the Empire.

We went underground - firstly to look at the old city wall, then the baths, and finally the sophisticated sewage system. Then one more remarkable tapas meal and sadly, all too soon, it was time to say farewell. I followed the van out onto the ring road and let it zoom off towards Santander, where Carol is running a lunatic schedule of workshops next week. My journey was shorter just thirty miles or so up the motorway to Leon - which I reached just as the skies opened.

By nightfall the weather had cleared up enough for me to venture into the old town to see the Basilica of San Isidoro where the old Kings of Leon were buried and the wonderful Gothic cathedral - full of dark mystery and beautiful stained glass. There is something sinister about Spanish Catholicism, it feels more medieval, less transparent, shaded in black in comparison to the high camp frivolity of the churches in Italy. There are deep secrets in Spain and from Roman invasion to reconquest to civil war, much is hidden under the surface, miners and under miners still have much to do here. Walking through the streets of Leon in the drizzle of evening, though, I was very aware that I'm hooked by this fascinating country and need to find some excuses to re visit and explore some more. By 10pm the bars around the centre were serving free tapas along with small glasses of beer and slowly the ritual of going out, even on a cold and wet Sunday night at the end of Winter, had begun again.

It's been a magical trip.

Late in the Day.

Saturday 28th April (evening)

We returned to Astorga and booked into the Gaudi hotel in the main square facing the cathedral and the architect's saccharin Episcopal Palace. It's the last night of carnival so after a brief rest we headed out to see the celebrations. The idea of fiesta is intrinsic to the Spanish mind and I love the democracy of the party, the eclecticism of theme and the acceptance of all from the very young to the very old.

Chris suggested that kids in Spain are empowered from a very young age by the organisation of their contribution to the communal event. Booking space to rehearse, designing costume, bringing their ideas forward and seeing them through. It's something that we miss in the UK - increasingly it seems we regulate creativity rather than allowing space for it to breathe. Demanding that imaginative ideas are given permission before they can be acted on is very dangerous, very dull and ultimately leads to narrow formulas of what is acceptable and what is not.

In the main square a loud party was going on. A Pharaoh shared a bottle with a mouse. A tribe of Cupids posed for a photograph taken by a drunken dinosaur. Sheiks, rabbits, robots, a walking shower, Elvis, witches and many, many roman soldiers all dancing and singing to the stars. We stayed drinking wine and laughing at the wonderful life of it all until 1am, when a wave of tiredness swept through and floated us gently back to the hotel.

Beyond the Work of Giants.

Saturday 28th February

Spiral were leaving Riello this morning to take a long road home back to their village in La Rioja and I went along for a day's detour west to the Roman town of Astorga and onwards to the ancient gold mines of Les Medulas just outside of Ponferrada. It was a fun day, post -project release for Spiral, new adventures for me.

Marta, who joined the company as an archaeologist, explained how much of what we think as Roman achievement actually happened on the Iberian peninsula. Seneca was from the peninsula, as was Hadrian. As we drove she told us great stories of guerrilla warfare and the Lusitanian hero Viriathus who terrified the advancing forces with his fearless and occasionally foolhardy heroics. When the Roman Emperor put a price on his head, he turned up at his camp to collect the money himself. Cool as... or what?

The mines themselves were fantastic and provide a living embodiment of the notion of 'undermining.' Hundreds of miles of aqueduct brought water to the region to flooded pre-bored tunnels causing the very collapse of the mountains themselves. The deposits were then washed down streams to filter out the gold. What incredible feats of engineering? What gives you the imagination needed to move mountains? Pliny described it as ' far beyond the work of giants.' Workers were recruited from local tribes, who gave their employment in return for being allowed a certain degree of cultural autonomy. Despite local knowledge the job was fairly lethal and hundreds died. The site is now an orchard of wonderful mature chestnut trees.

As the light faded we climbed up to a viewing platform and looked down of the man made landscape shimmering orange and pale below.

Over the Mountains

Friday 27th February

The big day for Los Trashumantes. The performance of their show in Babia. Most of the company have to work in the mornings, so it was a slow start to the day as the group gathered together, ran some lines, loaded the van and worked on their projection. Young Ruben, the trainee teacher and the older Theo, a cattle farmer had an argument argument about the quickest way to cross the mountains. Ruben, who co-wrote the show and is emerging as a young, but dynamic, potential leader for the group, felt that we should drive out to the motorway, skirt the range and come back into the valley 15km further north. Theo had never heard such nonsense and wanted us to take the winding roads that had been good before the motorway and remain good now the motorway has been built! ... More metaphors.

Eventually they agreed to differ and Theo came with us in Spiral's van eagerly providing a running commentary of the journey, half tour guide, half excited child. He had a story for each field, stream or farm. He's lived in the valley all his life and his house is divided between living quarters upstairs and the four cows in his herd who have the run of the ground floor.

We arrived at the school where the public meeting had been taking place in time for the communal meal. Chunks of mildly spiced horse meat, fresh bread and more robust red wine. One of the characters in the play, played by ex-miner Manuel, is a local Mayor. He's portrayed as arrogant, flash, charismatic, but out of touch with local opinion. In short a small town self-important bureaucrat. I'd been told that the audience would have local politicians of a similar ilk and it wasn't hard to spot them quaffing, back slapping and full of bonhomie over lunch.

At four o'clock - a difficult siesta inducing hour in the Spanish day - the performance started. It was fascinating. The Mayors deliberately came in late and sat on tables at the back of the hall, unwilling to fully endorse the play, but nevertheless keen to be seen as supporting local initiatives. At first they talked loudly, texted and laughed. When Manuel first appeared they indicated to each other in recognition. Manuel though is a subtle actor and quickly got under their skin. During one early scene where the Mayor is seen trying to bribe a local Garda who has pulled him over for using a mobile phone whilst driving - they began to squirm mildly. Some sat back arms folded, watching with suspicion, some moved to take up a different position in the room, where they would not be sitting with colleagues and identified as the object of ridicule, some even bagan filming the action on their phones to distance themselves from Manuel's performance. It was clear that recognition was occurring both amongst the Mayors and the rest of the audience, who began to turn round with regularity to nod and point.

Forum theatre is irresistible and Carolina took a couple of interventions before one of the more corrupt politicians, fearful of the loss of his hunting privileges that changes to the valley might bring, began to disagree. Carolina rightly backed off and let a full debate explode in the hall. A brief moment of spontaneous, unstructured local democracy.

In the bar afterwards further debate raged over the meaning of the piece, the value of participation and the government's plans. What was very clear was the huge pride Los Trashumantes had in bringing their work to heart of the region and having the opportunity to instigate and develop the agenda.

Los Trashumantes

I've been away from St.Mary's for a few days working in Spain with Spiral Theatre. It's been a brilliant adventure and I've learnt a great deal.

The company are run by three remarkable practitioners Chris Baldwin, Carolina Marcos and Marta Miramon who devise and implement community based participatory theatre work wherever they find an interest.

The time was too busy and special for me to hunt out a computer so here are some of my retrospective notes...

Thursday 26th February

Travelled to the village of Riello a couple of hours drive south of Oviedo, high in the mountains, close to Leon. I arrived late, but just in time to see the dress rehearsal by the villagers who have, with the guiding steer of Spiral, formed their own company 'Los Trashumantes.' I was warmly welcomed by the various members of the group. Manuel, Theo, Lola, Nellie, Ruben, Olga all came over to shake my hand and make me feel immediately at home.

The forum play, which Carolina will joker, has been in development for a few months and focuses on exploring recent government proposals to incorporate the Babia valley, close to where Riello is situated, into a new national park in an attempt to economically regenerate the area.

Whilst some members of the valley see opportunity for economic growth and environmental protection through the increased tourism projected, others fear that the influx might threaten the traditions as well as the peace and charm of their valley. Some of the land will have restricted use and some of it will be closed off to the public. As well as allowing the group to dramatise their own positions in the debate it's hoped that the performance tomorrow - scheduled for the afternoon, after a public meeting and communal lunch - will provoke an active dialogue between the rural communities and the urban decision makers. It is in contrast to the placatory question and answer sessions that sometimes stand for consultation in the UK.

Chris explained how the work had a double edge as the Riello actors had provided their own audience in the creation and structuring of their work. Many of the debates which are represented in the show had been rehearsed as a matter of course in the creation of the company and script. The act of creating the show had proved to be a form of public democracy in its own right. I couldn't stop thinking of the Prologue from The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

One decision which aroused great debate was the use by one of the characters in the play of the Internet. As Riello has no connection and none of the inhabitants in the village currently own a computer, it opened a discussion about the authenticity of the scene.

Initially the computer was included as an image of what might be? Should be? Could be? It led to the participants debating long and hard in rehearsal the reasons why they were not yet part of the World Wide Web. The very act of including such an image (an image perhaps of a potential future - with all the threat and possibility that any concept of the future holds) in the play is a highly political metaphor for both participants and audience.

At nine o'clock things came to a halt and the company dispersed to try and get a night's sleep before tomorrow's show. I'd got a hotel room booked in Leon, but my new Spiral friends thought this most bizarre and so I returned to their Casa Rural for a bottle of red wine, a beautiful cooked meal, using produce from Marta's father's garden, and the most comfortable sofa bed north of Madrid.