Friday, 30 June 2017

No excuse at all

It would be silly to announce that 'theatre is dead' (although it is fair to note that it is far from the dominant artistic medium in 2017). I have seen work - David Leddy's Coriolanus Vanishes springs to mind - that affirm the dynamism of theatre, and while I can't say that I enjoy everything at Buzzcut, the festival has an admirable vibrancy as well as some exciting performances.

It would probably be equally silly to say criticism is dead, but after reading the reviews of Jane Eyre, I am not willing to say it is healthy. Produced by the National Theatre, this adaptation was a lazy chronological romp through a well-beloved novel that failed to deal with the problem of a romantic hero locking his wife up in the attic.

I don't want to be joyless about this, but having the abused wife wander about singing Cee Lo Green's Crazy isn't just a breach of taste: it is an abdication of moral responsibility. A love song about mutual dependency lacks the gravitas to accompany a house fire that ends in suicide.

Perhaps because I am in a minority about this, I am raging about the National Theatre's Jane Eyre. It is one of the most tedious experiences that I have had in a theatre, and its version of 'the English Touring style' barely hides the witless dramaturgy that takes a romantic novel and converts it into a three hour long exploration of how thoughtless contemporary theatre can be.

Let's start with the easy targets. Jane Eyre is about a romance between a governess - abused as a child by a vicious aunt and a religious schooling - and an aristocrat who has some dark secrets. One of these secrets is that he has locked his wife in the attic. 

When the wife eventually escapes the attic, burns down the house and jumps off the roof, singing Cee Lo Green's Crazy is not a bold dramatical choice. It's a fucking insult, and an instance of how this adaptation repeatedly fails to think before it acts. For those not paying attention, being exotic and darkly sensual is not an excuse for locking away women.

Second easy target: the ensemble came up with a
neat choreography to represent a ride in a carriage. So they repeat it. Three times. Yes, it was cool the first time, the way they all jogged about, pretending to be both passengers and the horses. But your production is three hours long. Couldn't you have just assumed the journey?

And the length itself... the purpose of adaptation might be to reinterpret. Certainly, with a familiar text like Jayne Eyre, there are certain scenes they could be removed. A teaching scene, for example, doesn't need to followed by a conversation about the experience of teaching. I've got a train to catch, and I don't need a reminder of the protagonist's most recent action.

The desire to round out Jane's character causes problems - having seen her at home, at school, teaching and travelling, her personality's development is fully explicable. Never mind it takes ages for her to meet Rochester (and, yes, the novel is centred around that romance): when he does turn up, his awkwardness and mystery is attractive because there is some dramatic tension about him. What has he been doing? Why is he so odd? Jane, meanwhile, is so clearly a product of all the activity the audience has spent an hour watching that she lacks any interest. 

Oh - and just because a man pretending to be a dog gets a laugh, don't put it in every scene. Yes, we get it. Hilarious. 

But my rage is not directed at the company. It's directed at the critics who can't tell the difference between bog-standard theatricality and an imaginative direction. The show has received four and five star reviews for rolling out an over familiar bunch of tricks (abstract set like a 'climbing frame', characters pretending to be Jane's interior monologue). 

One duff production is no evidence that theatre is dead, but poverty of criticism is a worry: if this kind of performance is accepted without caveats, then what motivation do companies have to think carefully about the reasons for staging a play? 

Or it is possible that I demand certain thongs from a play, and this fails to provide them, making my opinion a valid one, but not quite as important as I am making out...

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Lying Dramaturgy: Andy Arnold @ The Tron

Tron Theatre Company presents
6-22 JULY 2017

Tron Theatre Company's summer productions have become synonymous with farcical pitch-black humour and Anthony Neilson's The Lying Kind is certainly no different - with multiple misunderstandings, a stray Chihuahua and an apparently transvestite vicar contributing to the escalating mayhem.

Constables Blunt and Gobbel have one last duty to fulfill before they clock off on Christmas Eve: to tell the old couple at number 58 some terrible, terrible news.  But what if the shock is too much for the frail pair to bear?  

Maybe they'd be better off not knowing. And maybe the hapless constables would be better off if they hadn't got themselves stuck in the middle of a lynching organized by a group of anti-paedophile vigilantes.

What was the inspiration for this performance? 
It’s a very funny and brilliantly crafted play which needs to be seen in Scotland.  I am also keen to stage an Anthony Neilson play at the Tron after a long absence.
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?   
It depends on the performance – if it is an issue based or theatrically provocative piece then yes, certainly.  This piece is more in the realm of entertainment – a good night out – albeit in an irreverent and hopefully inventive format.

How did you become interested in making performance?  
No one factor –  The first person who inspired me about the possibilities of performance was Tony Gray, one half of a very absurdist troupe called The Alberts.  I shared a house with Tony – well, lived in a barn next to his house in my first year out of college.  
I  saw a performance of theirs, The Electric Element, at Theatre Royal, Stratford East and was mesmerised – by the totally anarchic production and by the theatre itself (still then under Joan Littlewood’s charge).  

I also recall sitting in a rehearsal before I became a director and instinctively feeling how exciting that would be earning a living doing….working in the rehearsal room.  I immediately felt that this would be my calling.  I’ve never lost that feeling of excitement in being involved in the rehearsal room process.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?   
With this show it will involve very tight staging and stage craft – with seven actors in a tight space and a number of set pieces.  Much of the work has been done by having a script that works and a cast who can deliver the lines to great effect.

Does the show fit with your usual productions? 
It fits in with our summer production schedule which has for several years focused on accessible but dark and edgy comedies – from the first one Cooking with Elvis to last year’s The Lonesome West.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?  
Great joy, laughter, surprise, shock
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?  Nothing more than ensuring that we provide a brilliant production which audiences of all persuasions, taste, age and postcode will thoroughly enjoy.

Martin McCormick and Michael Dylan who worked with Tron Theatre Company on the 2016 Russian tour of The Loneseome West, play the hapless constables, bungling their way through every encounter with hilarious consequences; with Peter Kelly and Anne Lacey playing the elderly couple whose Christmas is about to be ruined.  

Gayle Telfer Stevens (The Dolls, River City) plays Gronya, the vigilante neighbour and Claire Gordon her chihuahua-less daughter.  

Andy Arnold will direct an updated version of Neilson's 2002 play, with design by Neil Haynes, lighting design by Stuart Jenkins and sound design by Jamie Wardrop.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Marking Dramaturgy: Rachel ME McKenzie @ Edfringe 2017

Marking Time 
at Surgeons Hall (Venue 53) ​ 18:05 Aug 4-5, 7-12, 14-19 (50 minutes) 14+

Brand new one-woman show tackles life-changing news and takes place inside a broken down hospital lift.  Tom has cancer and is about to meet the consultant.  Wife Ruth, is in too much of a hurry to notice the lift is out of order.  

She is trapped until an NHS engineer arrives who is currently on the other side of a Fringe fuelled Edinburgh.   

Ruth is forced to take a breath away from the world.  She unravels their journey from disbelief at diagnosis, radiotherapy, to the new results the consultant is about to deliver. 

What was the inspiration for this performance? 
Receiving a shock diagnosis that my husband had cancer.  How it turned our lives upside down. Meeting inspirational people and getting through it.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
It’s an excellent space – the best.  You can see the multi dimensions to real life.  You don’t get that in a studio based argument.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I have always enjoyed spoken word and watching performances.  When I saw Carol Ann Duffy’s “The World’s Wife” at EdFringe 2009, I knew I wanted to make my own performances.  I started at Free Fringe in 2009.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
I just like to try and reach a wide audience.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Yes it does.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Entertainment, awareness and hope if they or a loved one is going through an illness.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

It is a one woman show and the character Ruth is trapped in a lift.  I hope this will shape the audience experience of taking time out. 

Loosening inhibitions and fears and listening to a story, which ultimately is a human story which will affect all of us at some point.  

Has the treatment bought them some more time? What about the people they have met on the way?  “Yes Tom has cancer, but this is not a gloomy story" says Edinburgh based writer Rachel McKenzie, "far from it.  It's about enjoying life and it’s about love.  Where else but stuck in a lift shaft to make you wake up to that!”

The show is inspired by the approaching 70th anniversary of the NHS.  Pioneering in healthcare has led to life-saving treatments and longevity unimaginable in post war Britain.  “Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital" says Rachel McKenzie,  who worked as a nurse in oncology there, “deserves their world class reputation.  Many people have a story to tell about loss, particularly from cancer, and the importance of hope and available treatment is incalculable”.  Marking Time spans the generations and reflects on those who returned home in 1945.  Bringing with them the freedom to cultivate opportunities in healthcare.  Raising some questions about how they might see the choices we are making today, for the future.

Experienced in spoken word, Rachel McKenzie brought plays to PBH’s free fringe in 2009 and 2010 and has served as a director on the Fringe board.   Since then she has trained in law at Edinburgh university and combines that with her Nursing experience in new venture RMEMME.  “I’ve worn a lot of hats from my first job in fashion, then nursing and onto law.  I use these experiences to write about the multiple dimensions in everyday life.  That is the huge contribution the Arts makes to life, to draw it away from black and white, negative, stereotyped argument.  It’s what the fighting spirit that started the Fringe achieved, also 70 years ago, and we are still reaping the rewards today.”

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Watch This. It's Deep Dramaturgy: Nathan Cassidy @ Edfringe 2017

The Rat Pack Productions presents...
Nathan Cassidy: Watch This. Love me. It’s deep.

Sir Michael Caine Award winning writer and comedian’s new one-man theatre show.  A perfect love story in a swimming pool. It’s deep.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I’m a stand-up comedian that started my career in theatre around 20 years ago and haven’t done it for around 10 years.  I hadn’t really considered doing more theatre and then something happened to me recently that triggered the memory of meeting the love of my life when I was 15 years old, in a swimming pool.  

This was the jumping off point for a true life perfect love story, exploring the unknown mystery of our imaginations.  Our imaginations can be just as real as what we know as the real world - we can make the dream world a reality. 

Is performance still a good space for the public
discussion of ideas? 
Stand-up teaches you that you can discuss any ideas – there are no limits – and ideas as they occur to you, and you get immediate feedback.  But of course there is a restriction to a certain extent that the ideas in the main need to be funny!  Returning to theatre as been wonderful, as although this piece is funny, there are truly no limits with what you can do, emotions you can evoke and ideas you can discuss.  Some of the audience feedback I’ve had is that there are ideas in this that they have had but not shared or acted upon.  

There are ideas that seem so universal when you are in a space where they can be discussed, whereas elsewhere they may be concealed.  Performance really is the best way to bring these kind of ideas out and change the way people act upon these ideas.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I have been performing since I was a young kid and everything I have ever done has been about making people laugh.  I remember being very young I would do something to make my family laugh and that was the best feeling, my memory is generally terrible but those are the moments I remember – I felt good.  

So my performance up to this point has been mainly about that, making people laugh.  I’ve always wanted to be interesting, subversive, unique, ground-breaking but that’s been the main focus of every performance – making people laugh.  There’s been one previous show that stands apart from that, I wrote a non-comedic play for the Leatherhead Festival that won the Sir Michael Caine Award for new writing, that was a great experience.  

But with this show, probably because it’s a one-man show and the story is my true story, it feels like a real leap into the unknown and it’s been very liberating and exhilarating.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
Having done stand-up for many years, and this being a one-man show so ostensibly not too different, I wanted to approach it with one or two performance rules that I would try not to break – the main one being no deviation from the script or coming off script – I have a story to tell here and unlike stand-up where I might naturally comment if something happened in the space, here – barring major disturbance in the audience which I hope wouldn’t happen – I won’t.  

I’ve also off the stage become quite well known for stunts in Edinburgh.  I gave away money to my audience and been nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2012.  But again, the theatre show this year represents a shift away from this. No mic-stand or interaction with an audience to cling on to.  This is me - gimmick free!’

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
This show represents a real departure for me – what has always been my primary aim, to make people laugh, has changed.  This piece is to tell a story, a story that naturally creates certain emotions, and discuss a key central idea that people can take into their life and could change their life – so whilst the laughs come all the way through, it is not the focus of the piece, and it’s not what most audiences will take away.  

Again, some of the comments I’ve had back from audiences are that I’m talking to them on a deeper level, I’m saying something that they have been thinking and it has freed them to a certain extent to explore those ideas.  These are comments I wouldn’t be regularly be getting from stand-up!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Judging by the feedback I’ve received so far it’s hopefully a rich experience full of laughter, intrigue and by the end, some deeper and potentially conflicting emotions. And again, from what a few people have said, it could possibly shift your mindset into a different space as you then go about your life.  
I’m saying a few things that maybe we have all been thinking but have done nothing about – so often you need a little push to make the leap you should have made years ago.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

There’s hardly any set, lighting or audio in this, it’s very much about the story and how I tell it.  With the writing I wanted to make sure that the audience was entertained throughout and was hooked from the start, whilst knowing that things weren’t quite as they seem but without knowing too much.  If people know me from stand-up this is going to be something very different for them as well as for me.  I always like to surprise my audience and it’s going to be great going on this adventure together.

This one-man theatre show combines Nathan Cassidy's distinctive stand-up style with a real life love story.  At 15 years old, Nathan met the love of his life in a swimming pool, and it was perfect.  Some believe that perfection could never exist.  But can you imagine perfect love?  Because if you can imagine it then it’s possible. 

The love of Nathan’s life is Heather, a girl obsessed with swimming, Tarot and the 80s film ‘Big’.  Nathan chose the Moon Tarot card with Heather - the unknown mystery of our imaginations.  Our imaginations can be just as real as what we know as the real world - we can make the dream world a reality. 

Nathan has become well known as a stand-up for several shows - and stunts - in Edinburgh.  Giving away money to his audience saw him nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2012.  The theatre show and the stand-up show this year represents a shift away from this. 

As Nathan says, ‘The theatre show has been a real leap into the unknown for me - my stand-up show this year is about being brave - and this feels like a brave departure, telling a real-life love story - one full of emotion and details I have previously shared with no-one.  No mic-stand or interaction with an audience to cling on to.  This is me - gimmick free!’

Nathan’s last play ‘The Cure for the common cold’ won the Sir Michael Caine Award for new writing in theatre, and he has previous experience in theatre in Edinburgh writing and performing in DIY The Musical in 1997 and in 1996 he was part of a company that won The Spirit of The Fringe Award for 2 shows at C Venues.  As a stand-up he has won and been nominated for awards including a Malcolm Hardee Award nomination at the Edinburgh Fringe and best show win on the Buxton Fringe 2014 (and nominations for the last 2 years).
More about Nathan and his past shows on his Wikipedia page:

Poppy Hillstead @ The Rat Pack Productions Ltd @_theratpack
Nathan Cassidy @nathancassidy

Nathan Cassidy: Watch this. Love me. It’s deep.
C Venues (C Cubed, Royal Mile - Venue 50)
Aug 3-27 13.45 (55mins)
Tickets £6.50-10.50 for more info on this show, High Res images and clips

Nathan’s stand-up show this year explores bravery in a volatile world.
Nathan Cassidy: The Man in the Arena
Malcolm Hardee Award nominee and Best Show Winner at the Buxton Fringe 2014 (and nominee 2015/2016) 
The Free Sisters, Cowgate - Venue 272
Aug 3-27 (not 14) 19.45 (55mins)
FREE (pay what you want on way out) for more info on this show, High Res images and clips

Conscious Dramaturgy: Rosie Wilby @ Edfringe 2017

Rosie Wilby presents:

The Conscious Uncoupling

A true and tender tale of a heart-wrenching breakup from Radio 4 and festival regular Rosie Wilby
Written and performed by Rosie Wilby | Directed by Colin Watkeys
The Counting House, Loft, 3 – 27 Aug 2017 (not 14), 18.30 (19.25)

In an increasingly serially monogamous society, we all the face the possibility of more serious breakups in a lifetime than ever before. Comedian, writer and broadcaster Rosie Wilby poignantly interweaves comedy, memoir and Richard Hawley music to ask if we could reinvent this universally painful experience.

With a humorous, personal touch, Rosie dissects her own breakup emails, excavated from the depths of her inbox five years on from the fateful dumping and intersperses them with the visits of three ghosts from her romantic past, present and future.
What was the inspiration for this performance?
In early January 2011, I got dumped by email. I could never bring myself to delete the message or file it away (I mean, what folder heading would that come under??) so it just nestled and lurked there at the bottom of my inbox on my, then brand new, laptop. Five years on, in January 2016, I decided to re-read the email. The joke is that I felt much better about it once I'd corrected her spelling, punctuation and changed the font. In reality, I wondered what had really happened and wanted to explore the breakdown in communication further, and with a more even-handed perspective than I could've had at the time. In the meantime, Gwyneth Paltrow had made headlines by using the phrase 'conscious uncoupling' to describe her separation from Chris Martin. At first, I wondered if it was just the latest celebrity fad. But a little further digging revealed a compassionate concept that absolutely chimed with me and who the actual the creator of the idea was - author and marriage and family therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
It's one of the best places. Comedy makes tricky ideas a bit more accessible. The Conscious Uncoupling is the final part of my trilogy of shows exploring how we do love and relationships in the twenty-first century. The middle part was Is Monogamy Dead?, which I performed at Assembly Hall for Edinburgh Fringe 2013, and that show certainly provoked a lot of heated post-show discussion and debate. It has spun off into a book, which is published on the same day that my Edinburgh show opens.
How did you become interested in making performance?
I was a singer songwriter back in the 1990s. My between-song banter spun off into a successful career as a stand up. Then I started to miss the rollercoaster of emotions you could express onstage as a musician. So my solo shows became a hybrid of comedy and theatre, with a sense of a narrative arc and lots of poignant moments in there alongside the laughs.
Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
Initially I wondered about interspersing my own narrative with some other people's stories. I'd been really inspired by Chris Goode's Of Men and Cities, the way he presented that narrative and used music really effectively.
In the end, I sat down with my director Colin Watkeys and came up with something completely
different to that with a really sweet, warm energy. I read bits of the email and started commenting on it and Colin was in hysterics as some of my improvised asides and reactions and just said, 'Yes, do more of that'.
I also had a memoir written that had been shortlisted for a Mslexia writing prize and wanted to use bits of that. It wasn't long before I realised that intercutting timelines and making the narrative non-linear would give the show a bittersweet quality. Hearing about how sweet and romantic the start of the relationship was after you already know the ending has a tinge of sadness.
Does the show fit with your usual productions?
In style, it's more akin to the storytelling approach of my multimedia feminist adventure show Nineties Woman, which I performed at The Voodoo Rooms for Edinburgh 2014.

That was also directed by Colin. It's less similar in presentation to the other two shows in the relationship trilogy which took more of the form of a comedy lecture. But, this time, rather than info-tainment, I wanted everything I'd read about the psychology of love to underpin and inform a
piece of theatre as opposed to actually being the content.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope they'll experience the rollercoaster of emotions with me that we do experience in the aftermath of a breakup from laughter to sadness. A few audience members, who have had very similar experiences with homophobia and shame playing a role in their romantic endings, have cried.
Some heterosexual men have come up and told me that how much my queer female story resonated with them. 'All hearts break the same' was what one guy said. I'm also happy that some audience members at Camden Fringe last year told me that it had helped them think about their breakup differently or helped them to communicate with their ex.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Music was certainly key and choosing the right piece to tell the story over. Richard Hawley is mentioned so it made sense to go for one of his instrumentals. When you're in love, there is often a sense that music is playing in your head and there's a constant soundtrack.
So it makes sense that these sections are always accompanied by it. Colin and I wanted to keep the staging and lighting relatively simple so that it would be possible to tour the show without big setup times. It was an intuitive decision to move between two different sides of the stage to make the two different timelines - the rosy, glow of nostalgia for the beginning of the relationship and the colder, harsher, silence of being dumped.
It's pretty clear for the audience to follow. I've also been keen to incorporate post-show discussions where possible and talk more widely about how breakup impacts us and how technology has changed our romantic lives.

At Edinburgh Science Festival this year, I did a
performance at Summerhall with a chat recorded with Dr Sarah Stanton from the University.

The Conscious Uncoupling was commissioned by London’s Southbank Centre for Festival of Love and was shortlisted, by public vote, for Funny Women Best Show 2016.
Rosie Wilby says, For the first time in years, I skipped Edinburgh 2016 because I was busy working on my book at a writers’ retreat in Los Angeles. So I’m glad that the idea of ending relationships more compassionately hasn’t gone away in the meantime. This year, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom talked of ‘respectful, loving space’. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Paltrow continues to comment on ‘conscious uncoupling’. It’s sweet to still be touring The Conscious Uncoupling in 2017 because now there’s a really happy ending. I’m six months into a lovely, new relationship. I wouldn’t have been so open to falling madly in love again without the catharsis of writing this show.”

Rosie’s first book Is Monogamy Dead? is published by Accent Press on 3rd August 2017, the same day that she begins her Edinburgh run. Her nonfiction debut follows a TEDx talk and Radio 4 Four Thought piece and is informed by a trilogy of solo shows investigating love and relationships, which began with 2010’s award-winning The Science Of Sex and now ends with The Conscious Uncoupling.

Alongside The Conscious Uncoupling, Rosie will be hosting a companion event, The Breakup Monologues, inviting comedy colleagues to look back at their own relationship breakup stories. Tragedy plus time equals comedy, right? Can we ever really stay friends with our ex-partners? Acts lined up to join Rosie in this daily lunchtime chat show include Pippa Evans, Juliette Burton, Kate Smurthwaite, Sarah Bennetto and Abi Roberts.

Rosie Wilby is a comedian-turned-theatre-maker, a regular on BBC Radio 4 and at festivals including Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party, Green Man, Larmer Tree and Latitude. She was a finalist at Funny Women 2006 and Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year 2007. Her writing has been published in the Sunday Times, Guardian, Independent, New Statesman and more.
@rosiewilby | #consciousuncoupling | |