Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Love is a Battlefield.

The day ended back at The National to see Fiona Shaw as Mother Courage in the packed Olivier. The technical complexity of the production had delayed it's opening and even now two weeks late and beginning to settle down it still has a bit of a dog's dinner feel to it. It's doubtful that we'll ever really find out why the Creative team so disastrously mis-timed the rehearsal period. What's clear is that the sprawl of this production must have made it a nightmare to negotiate.

I wonder if the problem isn't commercial compromise? All over the country sixth form Theatre Studies students are forced to study a compartmentalised version of Brecht, ticking off each of the various techniques as they go (and often staying well clear of the inherent subversion or Marxism.) So do we have montage? Check. Do we have actors playing multiple roles? Check. Are the placards in place? Check. Do we have discordant music to break up the action? Check. Can we see the technology? Check and so it goes . . .
Thus the conspiracy between the theatre and the reading lists is completed only if the A-level syllabus is performed to the letter on stage. Even given director Deborah Warner's imaginative and bold work, complete with rock band, it's a choking death by assessment.

The best moments of this lengthy show come when the flashing lights, the mics and the amplifiers (that at times turn Fiona Shaw into a kind of early twenty first century Pat Benatar) have been turned off and we boil down to some seriously slick acting.

As ever the scene where the deaf mute Kattrin (Sophie Stone) is shot down from the roof, whilst rousing the village, is heartbreaking and no amount of tick boxing can strip this most brilliant moment of theatre of its power.

'Shit man!' said one of the seventeen year olds in the schools party behind me, as the machine guns rattled, 'I thought I wasn't meant to get emotionally engaged!!!'

Learning to pass exams? Check.


Andy said...

It isn't quite clear if your view of A Level students being forced to study a compartmentalised version of Brecht attaches blame any where - the syllabus, the teaching, the production that panders to this view ... I hope, like us, the are many sixth form colleges around the country who are finding the quickest and easiest ways to deliver their 'specification content' and are then moving into the higher order thinking, the love of an art-form - moving beyond the exam to working as young practitioners in their own right ... we don't use tick boxes, we work to find a love of our subject ... and hopefully find a way to develop young people so they are ready to take on courses such as yours at a higher level. I would be so interested to hear your thoughts here or over a pint as to what we can be doing at sixth form level to better prepare students for degree study.
Andy Pullen - Godalming College ... another mate of Jo Allit!

Mark Griffin said...

Hi Andy,

It's certainly not the teaching - although I am critical of the A-level syllabus, which puts in place some fixed ideas which students then struggle to match against their own experience of theatre making/ going. Many of our students arrive with a huge appetite for theatre making, clearly encouraged through brave and excellent teaching - but we end up working with a significant minority to 'de school' some fairly entrenched opinions and attitudes.

I'm no longer on the frontline for this - but I worry that in some places the focus is on meeting criteria rather than in developing creative thinking and curiosity. Maybe that's inevitable.

I felt that the NT had been coercive in this on this messy production.

But a pint would be a great idea and you can help set me right.