Bambiland

Back in January I did some dramaturgy with my friend and co-Doing Group conspirator Peter Lorenz on his directing project Bambiland.

It was an intense and rich experience and I feel really lucky to have been part of it. I have the feeling the project will live on and on. I also have a better idea of what exactly ‘doing dramaturgy’ might be now so that’s also nice.

 

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DISGUSTED from ROYAL TUNBRIDGE WELLS

The Doing Group recently embarked on a project called A Home for Nessie to secure permanent residency status for the Loch Ness Monster. Here is a wee film we made about it.

It ended up really annoying the Daily Mail and that is pretty much all I have ever wanted from my life.

http://www.ahomefornessie.com

The Longest Absence

Since I last updated this dusty archive I have:

Next scheduled update: June 2017.

 

The Destroyed Room (Tron Theatre, Glasgow)

First featured on TV Bomb, 1 March 2016.

Vanishing Point’s latest show The Destroyed Room, a co-production with Battersea Arts Centre, is a show for anyone who enjoys yelling at Question Time or listening in to other people’s political arguments after one too many pints at the pub. The premise is pretty simple: three characters in a room having a conversation. Over time, gulped glasses of water become gulped glasses of wine, and the chat starts to flow dangerously freely. These are not inconsequential topics of discussion. All the biggies are here: Syria, the refugee crisis, child mortality – and it’s fascinating stuff.

The starting point for director Matthew Lenton was 1978’s The Destroyed Room, an image by photographer Jeff Wall, in which a bedroom has been inexplicably ransacked and destroyed. From the outset this piece is aware of its own theatricality. Two cameramen constantly encircle the three conversationalists –  introduced as actors and not characters – with the image relayed to a screen above the action. The audience become voyeurs, privileged to every nuanced reaction, watching extreme close-ups of those before us without permission. It presents an interesting dilemma: to watch the action on screen, through a cinematic and directed lens, or to watch the conversation in its natural form before us. As the “unscripted” conversation progresses, it is difficult not to become acutely aware of missed junctures or tangents: dropped remarks and lines muttered under the breath that just cry out for the catharsis of examination. Each character has a delicate arc, played out against Kai Fischer’s understated but affecting designs.

The Destroyed Room takes a firm kick at our tendency to keep on scrolling past images of unspeakable atrocity, choosing to soothe ourselves with cat videos and pictures of other people’s babies. It is a bold and brave production, confident enough to take risks and pose big ethical questions without fretting over the lack of easily available answers. This is big, electric stuff – go and see it, and then ask yourself some difficult questions.

 

Endgame (Citizens Theatre, Glasgow)

First featured on TV Bomb on 26 February 2016.

 

As Theodor Adorno eruditely noted, ‘understanding [Endgame] can mean nothing other than understanding its incomprehensibility, or concretely reconstructing its meaning structure – that it has none.’ This can be more succinctly explained by a fellow audience member, who, in a panto-loud whisper, declared her stance on the work of Beckett early on: ‘I just don’t understand what’s going on.’

She’s not wrong. This is an apocalyptic nightmare, where the two main protagonists, Clov (Chris Gascoyne) and Hamm (David Neilson) entrap each other with their frailty and melodramatic bickering; two absurd lives lived in uncomfortably close proximity. Hamm’s parents Nag and Nell, the excellent Peter Kelly and Barbara Rafferty respectively, reside unhappily in two dustbins – a metaphor for the care of the elderly that doesn’t require an awful lot of unpacking. The text is full of darkly comic moments – for it is true, as Nell comments, that nothing is funnier than unhappiness – and of postmodern dissections of theatricality: the play demonstrates an awareness of itself as an aesthetic work. ‘What is it there to keep me here?’ asks Clov. ‘The dialogue,’ replies Hamm.

It’s difficult to blame Dominic Hill for not being able to put his now highly recognisable directorial stamp on this piece: the Beckett Estate is notorious for its iron grip on the catalogue of works, meaning that Godot will always have that hat on, and Endgame will always have two windows, a ladder, an alarm clock to tell the end of time, and a telescope to gaze upon a world in ruins. There’s not an awful lot set designer Tom Piper can do with this, but he creates a grimy, grey hellhole that reflects and refracts misery. His decision to allow a view around the back of the set is perhaps a little distracting: if Endgamecreates a stage of misery within the theatrical stage, what is the nature of this larger stage that contains it all? Overall this is a solid production with nuanced performances of pleasurably unlikeable characters. Sadly it’s difficult to see how this piece could ever be anything more than a relic whilst the Beckett Estate continues to push back against the changing tide. These plays are big enough to have life again; how about an all female Endgame? 

Now there’s a thought.

 

Birds (Manipulate Festival/ Traverse Theatre)

I was recently part of the Manipulate Festival ‘Young Critics’ scheme – I know, right. How far can I push this whole ‘young’ thing. I saw two shows, and was mentored by critic and all-round knowledgable person Gareth Vile.

Sita Piaraccini is a wild-haired, wide-eyed, intoxicating creature of innocence who has somehow found herself the sole human survivor in a post-apocalyptic world. She constantly fusses over a mound of earth, scrabbling to bring order in to a disordered landscape. She is desperately hungry; taunted by the rude interjections of her own stomach, she forages for scraps inside tin cans and reluctantly gnaws on a piece of wood. She’s the sort of post-apocalyptic survivor that we would all hope to be, but deep down we know we are not: pragmatic, hopeful and kind.

The performance is supported by Foley artist and musician David Pollock, who creates the sort of organic, wholesome sounds that I haven’t heard since childhood, and that would not be out of place alongside the best of Oliver Postgate. From the gentle pad-pad-padding of bare feet on dry grass, to the feathery flutterings of wings that suggest she is not totally alone in this world – every sound is a fulfilling joy, giving great depth to this piece.

What is so brilliant about Bird is that everything on stage is relatable on a most primitive level. Piaraccini’s performance is nuanced and clever. There are no words uttered – for what good are words when there is no-one to talk to – but we are still acutely aware of her pains and her loneliness, thanks to her ability to express emotion even with the flicker of a finger or the turn of her head. Ultimately it is a simple little tale, but one that shows that Piaraccini really gets what it is to be human.

Threads (Manipulate Festival/ Traverse Theatre)

I was recently part of the Manipulate Festival ‘Young Critics’ scheme – I know, right. How far can I push this whole ‘young’ thing. I saw two shows, and was mentored by critic and all-round knowledgable person Gareth Vile.

 

Ach, I don’t know.

On the one hand I know that Threads, a UK premiere from Quebecois company Theatre Incline, is a reworking of a folk story of female empowerment, a self-described ‘mythological tale that is on the side of life’.

And that’s great. I’m on board. I love me some female empowerment.

But Threads an engaging and well-performed piece that is frustratingly blemished by a few annoying flaws.

A mountain woman – or spirit? – is ravished by an ogre and condemned to live an entrapped, lonely life amidst the sandy fallout of war. The offspring of this violence is an initially irritating but eventually quite sweet daughter, born with a gammy foot and a mane of red hair.

 The production is visually striking – the heap of sand centre stage continually offers up creative opportunities for buried prop treasure  – but it is marred by some intrusive and sentimental narration. A wise female voice over-elucidates the threads of love binding a mother and child, oddly reminiscent of Vanessa Redgrave endlessly compounding the virtues of love in Call the Midwife. After a while this begins to grate: perhaps if the narration hadn’t been so focused on constant exposition, the narrative weight could have been picked up by the two very gifted performers and puppet-masters, Jose Babin and Nadine Walsh.

For a piece so concerned with exploring the most essential of human relationships, I would have preferred to have had a stronger one with those on stage, rather than having Redgrave 2 chiming in with flowery maxims on all-healing strength of a mother’s love. This type of language sits at odds to the brutal and bloody signifiers of rape on stage, and not in a way that leads to any greater understanding of either.

Threads gives us some beautiful effects, an interesting take on mythology and the puppetry is first rate. Unfortunately, its impact is undermined by the simplistic philosophy of redemption and the narration that over-elucidates the story.