Friday, 28 October 2016

Figs in Wigs @ CCA

Much to my shame - especially since they actually talked about it with me a few hours before the performance - I didn't actually recognise that their boy-band parody/tribute is The Backstreet Boys. Not because it is a bad tribute, but because I was probably too busy listening to Japanese psyche or something when The Backstreet Boys were famous.

Sometimes, performance art is an obscure genre, but I have always thought that it can be accessible. I'm not sure calling Figs in Wigs 'performance art' does justice to their wit and love of popular culture. I mean, they do take on Big Ideas (Often Onstage is a series of scenes that explore how performance is always happening, on and off stage), but they also have a sense of fun that wouldn't be out of place in a light entertainment show on the BBC. 

Not that I'm saying that they lack depth... more that they embody the potential of smart theatre in a popular format.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Blood of the Dramaturgy: Paul Brotherston@ Tron

The first in a series inspired by The Secret Theatre Company at London's Lyric Hammersmith, Blood of the Young present an anarchic, bold new take on a classic play - without telling you its name. IT'S A SECRET.
Featuring an ensemble company of eleven performers, live music, and radical staging; anonymity creates a space for fun and experimentation with a truly classic text of the world stage.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
The Tron Theatre and I had had discussions about ways to use the bar space and I was keen to have fun with a big ensemble, playing with a classic text. The secrecy element is fun as it means the audience comes to the performance with no idea what to expect, and in turn, we are totally free to have fun and throw caution to the wind. The audience aren't buying the show/play, they're coming along to see what happens.

Is theatre still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
As long as we as makers are keenly aware of what theatre is uniquely capable of as opposed to telly and film. Audience and performers share the same air, so the questions/provocations of a piece of theatre happen for real.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
To play and have fun. Really that is the main thing. Nothing about or chosen text is sacred so I want some silliness and some invention.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience have fun. I hope they feel released from sitting in a dark theatre and can instead keep their phones on, make a noise, have a drink and feel involved. I hope it all feels alive.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
A key thing is that there are only 35 tickets on sale for each performance, with 11 performers in the company - so the show will feel intimate and, hopefully, as if it is just for them. The show does not happen in a formal theatre space/set-up so it should all feel relaxed and fun. We're very keen to encourage the audience to feel 'at home' without forcing them to do anything.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Jumpy Dramaturgy: Cora Bissett @ The Lyceum

The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company presents Jumpy, a frank and funny family drama written by April De Angelis and directed by award-winning Scottish director Cora Bissett, who provides a distinctly Scottish twist this hit West End comedy.

April De Angelis’ irreverent comedy charts the perils of growing up and growing old with refreshing candour in this examination of mother/daughter relationships that’s instantly, hilariously relatable for anyone who has ever been tempted to open the wine before unpacking the shopping.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The play was suggested to me by David Greig. He said he knows I normally tackle big social issues, but would really like to see me take on a comedy. He gave me various options, but I just really connected with this one.

Is theatre still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

I fundamentally believe so, yes.

How did you become interested in making performance?
It’s just always been there. From making puppet shows in my bedroom to inviting all the neighbours to shows in the garden – I was never ‘starry eyed’ waiting for some ‘break’, I just always made stuff and then invited folk to see it.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

This is a far more traditional approach than I’m used to. I would say, if anything, my approach is really just to let great, intuitive, experienced actors find their way and allow them the space to play, experiment and find the balance of depth and humour. I have a fantastic cast.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Not really. Usually, I am creating a new show from scratch and developing the script as we go, often with lots of other elements. This is a completed play, already very much ‘tried and tested’, so it’s more traditional for me, but no less fun for that.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope they recognise aspects of their own lives – that they find comfort and humour, and reflect on what it means to have a ‘successful’ relationship, whether it’s a marriage or parent/offspring relationship. 

You might think at first this play doesn’t deal with world shifting narratives and yet it’s about growing older, growing up, rearing children, losing children to the world, losing yourself, finding a point...

It’s about struggling on through and actually these are the epic stories of all our lives. I hope people feel ‘not alone’ when they watch it, and see the humour in their own lives.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

There are a lot of ‘jumps’ in time throughout the piece, which are never stipulated. In order to create a journey from one to the other, I’ve used a lot of musical transitions, which help us either linger on the last moment, or propel us to the next scene. 

I’ve got Martha Wainwright, Mogwai, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, alongside Kelis, Niki Minaj, Florence and the Machine – oh, and a pretty messed up dance to Patti Smith! I’m deliberately playing with past and present representations of ‘strong women’ in music, since the play ask the question ‘how does each generation understand the term ‘strong women’?’.

The production stars Pauline Knowles (Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland’s Best Female Performance award-winner for This Restless House) as Hilary, the wine-sodden protagonist and Molly Vevers as Tilly, her mutinous teenage daughter.

They are joined by Richard Conlon as Roland, Cameron Crighton as Cam, Keiran Gallacher as Josh, Dani Heron as Lynsey, Stephen McCole as Mark, Lucianne McEvoy as Bea, and Gail Watson as Frances.

Hamlet@ Citz

The CitizensTheatre, Glasgow
19 Sep - 11 Oct
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Dominic Hill
Produced: Citizens Theatre
Cast includes:  Adam Best, Cliff Burnett, Brian Ferguson, Peter Guiness, Ben Onwukwe, Roberta Taylor, Meghan Tyler
Running time: 3 hrs and 15 mins

Four stars

Since Giles Havergal's production with David Hayman as the prince in 1970, Hamlet has become an important play for subsequent directorial regimes at the Citizens to establish their identity. Director Dominic Hill has already defined a distinctive style in his productions of The Libertine and Crime and Punishment, and his Hamlet follows their cues, from the melding of diverse traditions to the use of the actors as on-stage musicians. The strong cast goes some way to making this Hamlet less of a star-turn for Brian Ferguson and more of an ensemble version.

Ferguson begins the play as a weak, frightened Hamlet - hiding under the table at moments of stress and terrified of his father's ghost. As he gathers the courage to take on his usurping uncle and faithless mother, he becomes more of a violent psychopath than a renaissance avenger: his brutal assault on Ophelia and cruelty to his mother  make him unsympathetic and savage.

Hill is careful to surround Hamlet with strong, clear renderings of the other characters: Peter Guinness is a superb Claudius, racked with guilt and pacing the stage like a Glasgow hard-man; his wife and queen Gertrude (Roberta Taylor) is a passive-aggressive with an alcohol problem. Cliff Burnett has fun with Polonius, bringing out his asinine stupidity until, finally, Hamlet shoots him. Hill conjures a royal family that has more than a hint of the gangster, and if he avoids making this Hamlet's tragedy, he approaches it as a dysfunctional family drama.

Collaborating with composer Nikola Kodjabashia, Hill uses the live music to sustain a dark atmosphere: the actors take up guitars, percussion, violin and keyboards - and manipulate prerecorded tapes at moments of tension: Ophelia's descent into madness becomes a raging punk number, and the melodramatic finale is abruptly ended with a tape-machine switched off.

 Intruding on the naturalistic acting - and Ben Onkuwe's marvellously rich voice that recalls Olivier as the ghost and the player king - the sound design both evokes the subtext of emotional turmoil and repression that drives Hamlet and emphasises the theatricality of the production: Hill repeatedly breaks the fourth wall, as Hamlet leaps into the audience or addresses the actors from the back of the auditorium. Stage assistants openly rearrange scenery behind the actors, the dead wander between the living, Ophelia (Meghan Tyler)drowns in a bath-tub. In line with Brecht's attempts to remind the audience that they are watching a play, this Hamlet is alienating both through its self-conscious theatricality and the prince's lack of compassion.

Clearly, Hill is establishing his style: respectful of the script, yet lending it new meanings through the dynamic movements of the cast - Ophelia suggests she is pregnant by holding her stomach during her final speech, while Laertes (Adam Best) talks strategy with Claudius over a punch-bag work-out. Ben Ormerod's lighting design is stark and expressive: sudden light or darkness marks scene changes and, despite a slow start, pushes the production along at an increasing pace.

This Elsinore is undeniably brutal, the subtext of misogyny bought out in the treatment of Ophelia - Polonius' fatherly attentions have shades of sexual abuse. Stripping the last half of the military threat - and the lack of majesty displayed by all the characters - transforms the political world of the court into an incestuous, intimate horror. The suits of Claudius and Hamlet recall the Glasgow of No Mean City, the calculations of king and prince the petty paranoia of an underworld hit rather than a coup. Against this, Hill emphasises the spiritual themes - hopes of redemption in a universe that promises only death. When Hamlet refuses to kill Claudius at prayer, it only stresses his nastiness as he would not send him to death forgiven.

This is a powerful rendition of a script dulled by familiarity, allowing Dominic Hill to stand alongside his artistic ancestors as a bold, imaginative and careful director.

Men & Space & Dramaturgy: Peter McMaster @ Buzzcut

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Being rejected from loads of funding and commissioning opportunities and feeling like I didn't know what my place was anymore as an artist making live performance. Coupled with this experience was the rise in more marginalised voices being given more and more opportunities in live performance (as they absolutely should) and me having deep anxious questions about my legitimacy as a straight white man making autobiographical performance, feeling like I have to battle away my feelings of wanting to disappear and the guilt I carry about taking up space. 

Feeling quite defeated, I thought I would try one last time to find a healthy way to explore the ways in which a larger male community takes up space in the context of live performance/theatre, and to see if I can find a place for myself within that community.

Is theatre still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
I think so. But it's all about whose discussion it is, who is making the provocation for the discussion, what does having said discussion enable in the wider world. I think we are living in an acutely active time for making live performance, as I am witnessing a real channelling of marginalised issues into the public realm, and how that is being supported by people who make live performance.
How did you become interested in making performance?

First of all it was all ego and showing off. Then it was about questioning a deeper politic of the live body in live space in front of an audience. Then it was about the self being witnessed by spectator and the powerfully affirming experience of that. Then it was about enabling that experience for a larger number of people within my own political dramaturgy as a western white boy and giving space for other. Then I found myself devoid of ambition when it came to making performance and now I am here, making Men & Space. YIKES.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
Yeah. This is the first participatory professional work I have made. The work includes 16 men from Glasgow and I really just had to work with what was most alive in front of me in the rehearsal room, rather than my usual way of working which is about fantasising about what the work could be, and making stuff borne from my own personal desires for the work alone. 

Here the process is immediate, and responsive and facilitative to whatever anyone brings into the room in the moment of making. Here I feel like on one hand I have no control about what this could be, but on the other entirely controlling about how it gets presented. Because the weight of responsibility has also multiplied by 16, the process also feels really tender and I think this has affected the work, which is slow, and static in many ways.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope that they experience an open space of the theatre around the performers, to allow the audience to project onto the male bodies in the work the baggage that they carry about men in action, or men taking up space. 

I will also be projecting some heavy signifiers onto the male body in the space through the directing of the work, concerning typical or expected impressions of 'men' which I think are upheld widely in the society I am part of. 

I hope that this creates a sense of confusion about how we see men, which in itself I think is quite a tense way through the presentation of this work because I feel like I have already come upon lots of criticism about whether or not the theatre space is one that should continue to be occupied by men at a time of such felt social change. I am nervous about my intentions, however in the collaborative space of being with these men, there is definitely a really strong sense of a need to sort through and muddle through the difficulty of being a man now as well and the fall-out that we also experience as a result of our own oppressive behaviours. I am reminded of a Germaine Greer quote here from 1971, '...that men have been debauched by their own tyranny, and degraded by it and confused by it, almost as much as the people they have tyranised over.'

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Questions about the material that highlights the presence of both the audience and the performers, that makes clear the enquiry of (audiences observing) men and space. As this is so early on in the process of making, I actually haven't got to an advanced stage of thinking about this. We have only been working together for 6 evening sessions and that is all we will have time for before we share our material. It really is an experiment.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

A Brief Dramaturgy of Evil: Ewan Downie and Jonathan Peck @ Touring

A Brief History of Evil is a duet about lies and where they can lead us. Who hasn’t embroidered the truth, or pretended to be someone they’re not? When all the lies are stripped away, who is left? When we look in the mirror, who looks back? Which version is really us? 

Created and performed by Ewan Downie (Winner:
Herald Archangel award, Jury Prize: Eurotopiques Festival) and Jonathan Peck, with directorial assistance from Al Seed (Winner: Fringe First and Herald Angel awards), A Brief History of Evil combines Company of Wolves’ electrifying movement style with the vulnerability, mockery, and satire of clown and buffon. The result is a performance that is dangerous, relentless, and very, very funny. 

Simultaneously absurd, hilarious and terrifying, A Brief History of Evil fuses satirical spoken word with thrilling movement in a lyrical, physical and dynamic exploration of greed, dishonesty, and the darker depths of our desires. The show exposes the violence and conflict that can lie under the best of intentions and the best of friendships. It is a hybrid show, drawing on a huge range of theatrical disciplines - experimental, but accessible and immediate, with a compelling narrative and unforgettable characters. 

It is a show for audiences who are curious, enjoy humour, and are ready to try something a little different, inspired by the action-filled entertainment of Manga, martial arts and comic books. A dark, wildly entertaining comedy with an edge of surrealism - ‘Waiting for Godot’ meets ‘The League of Gentlemen.’ 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
We wanted to work with each other, to create our own piece of theatre. We wanted to work without a director, which was new to both of us.

We wanted to make a show about the lies we tell each other and ourselves. We’d met many years ago, and we’d both had the experience of losing ourselves. We found that even though we’ve known each other a long time, our underlying fears and insecurities and the tendency to deceive was always there.

And we felt there was a show in there somewhere.

Is theatre still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
Yes, because in theatre the presence of the audience affects how the performance unfolds. This means that urgent, human questions can be asked afresh in each performance.

Theatre is in real time, and as performers we can respond to our own success or failure, we can listen to the audiences responses, and let this shape the show. 

So theatre is a dialogue. 

Audience and performers share in an experience. A great piece of theatre can reverberate after we’ve seen it in a different way to other forms of art. Theatre is imperfection.

How did you become interested in making performance?
Ewan: I always loved the theatre growing up and my family went often to the Citzens Theatre. But it wasn’t until university I began to think about it as a career. I was lucky enough to do an exchange to Dartmouth College in the USA, where I studied non-fiction performance. The rigour and depth of the work totally changed how I thought about theatre, and inspired me to write and train as an actor, and eventually, to direct.

J: It started with an amazing drama teacher at school who inspired
me and simply taught us to explore our imaginations. I had so much fun, my confidence grew and performing soon became my main focus. I then decided to go to drama school, which was life changing and solidified lots of things for me. I have been performing and making theatre since then.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
We talked a lot, improvised a lot, and slowly over time material began to emerge. As we’ve continued to perform and develop the show, the structure has become more solid. It’s a been a bit like writing a play in reverse.

It’s worth saying that we didn’t decide how we’d approach the material in advance. We just started and let ourselves get totally lost and confused before some small glimmers of light began to appear.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
We hope they’ll fall down a twisting rabbit hole of thoughts along with us. And occasionally surface for air.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We connect to the audience live, we don’t pretend they aren’t there.

We also allow the show to pose questions without providing answers:
We don’t have the answers.

We try to give the experience of getting lost in lies a physical form, so the audience can see and experience it.

Thurs 20 & Fri 21 October, 19:30 at Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
> Sat 22 & Sun 23 Oct, 19:30 at Scottish Youth Theatre, Glasgow
> Thursday 27 October, 19:30 at Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine
> Sunday 30 October, 19:00 at Village Hall Lochgoilhead
> Friday 4 November, 19:30 at Wigtown County Buildings
> Saturday 5 November. 19:30 at Theatre Royal Dumfries

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Invisible Dramaturgy: Victoria Beesley

Terra Incognita with support from Macrobert Arts Centre 

Invisible Army by Victoria Beesley

Performed by Michael Abubakar, Dan Beesley and Rosalind Sydney

A new play about being alone and making friends; starting fights and falling in love; being invisible and talking to cats. 

Three years ago Robbie McGuire started becoming invisible.

It's not a big problem. It doesn't affect his day-to-day life. Mrs Gillespie still gives him detention, Sarah Hargreaves still threatens to smash his face in, and Mr Bartnik the shop keeper still won't let him forget that he owes 10p for a bottle of milk bought over a year ago. But Robbie has started noticing that people bump into him a lot in the street. 

That nobody ever really looks at him - they always look to the side or a metre behind, as though they're not quite sure exactly where he is. And this morning, the longer he looked in the mirror the less he could see of himself. And so begins Robbie's journey on a very weird day.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
It all began on a night out when I had a conversation with a woman who was caring for her terminally ill partner. She was explaining the frustration and difficulties of being a carer – earning enough money for the both of them, dealing with the bureaucracy of claiming benefits for her partner, the physical demands of caring for him and helping with his physiotherapy, the emotional burden of seeing someone you love so ill. At that time I was running drama workshops with a group of young people and knew that one member of the group was a young carer who cared for both of his parents. 

I thought,  ‘Flip! He’s having to go through all of this and deal with all these different aspects and he’s only 14!’ There are thousands of young carers across the UK all doing this remarkable thing without anybody paying much attention to them. I wanted to share their stories with a wider audience. I began working with the young people at Glasgow South West Carers Centre. 

They were very clear that the story we told shouldn’t be one of doom and gloom and that they didn’t want people to feel sorry for them. So together we decided that Invisible Army would be a documentation of both their experiences and their imaginations – that way it could be serious and  funny and sad and uplifting and silly, which seemed a more accurate depiction of who they are.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Scotland is so crammed full of talented theatre folk that gathering a team is always joyful. I like to work with people I think are better than me because that stretches me and forces me to up my game. 

I approached people whose work I liked and whose approach and style I thought would suit the production. We have a fabulous team assembled and it’s exciting to see where they’re taking the production. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
​My work is always inspired by real life stories so my process often begins with interviewing and meeting people who will inspire the production. This process began with a block of workshops with young carers at Glasgow South West Carers Centre. These workshops were an initial exploration into these young people’s experiences of being carers, and I expected to follow up the workshops with more in depth interviews. 

But the young people I was working with were so energetic and playful that interviews seemed the wrong way of working with them – they wouldn’t be representative of their character. So I took a slightly different approach to usual and carried on collecting information and ideas from them in workshops – setting different exercises, asking them to devise scenes, to create new worlds, to design characters. 

It became apparent very quickly that these young people should be involved throughout the creative process because it was their show as much as it was mine so they have worked with me to plot the story arc and offered feedback on rehearsed readings of drafts of the script. They are also working with Rosie Reid (Drama Artist), Kim Beveridge (Film Artist), Kim Moore (Sound Designer) and Alice Wilson (Designer) to create an installation for the audience to experience alongside the production at the Macrobert. I can’t wait for them to see the full production!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience will experience the things I like most about theatre – a good story, great characters, twists, surprises, humour, heart. The show is about young carers, and I think it’s interesting and unusual to hear story about a young person who is responsible for an adult, but the show isn’t worthy. It’s the story of an adventure - imaginary and real world’s combine in the story making it familiar and surreal and dark and silly. 

There’s also live music in the show, with a musician onstage throughout the performance, and the story is told with text and movement so the audience should experience a show that looks good and sounds amazing.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
The show is aimed at teenagers and their families. Young people can be a tough audience – they’ll let you know if they’re bored! So the show has to be exciting. 

One of the great thing about having the young carers involved throughout the process of creating the show is that they are the target age group for the production so their ideas and feedback have helped us to create a show that they and their peers will enjoy. The show uses a lot of direct address, where the performers talk directly to the audience, and we have three great performers who will respond to each audience making it an exciting live event.
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Scotland has a rich tradition of creating high quality and exciting theatre work for children and young people, and Invisible Army is certainly inspired by a lot of that work. 

The Imaginate Festival has also given me the opportunity to see
brilliant work from the rest of Britain and around the world which has undoubtedly been influential on my writing. So work by Catherine Wheels, Barrowland Ballet, Mess by Caroline Horton, Titus by Jan Sobrie,  Mouth Open, Story Jumps Out by Polarbear, have all made an impression. Scotland also has a tradition of creating personal, politically motivated theatre work about its people and Invisible Army fits with that work too.
Are there any other questions I ought to ask that might help me to understand the meaning of dramaturgy for you in your work?
I guess the only other thing you might like to know is how important it is for me that I interact with the subjects of the stories I’m telling, so the work is for them as well as about them. It’s  important that they have ownership of the show. The show is a celebration of them, a documentation of their story, and the production is made all the better for their input.

Sat 22 Oct  | Eden Court Theatre | 7pm | £7 | 01463 234234 |

Mon 24 Oct | Platform | 7pm | £8.50/£5/£4 | 0141 276 9696 (opt 1) |

Thu 27 Oct | Beacon Arts Centre | 7pm | £10/£8 | 01475 723723 |

Sat 29 Oct | Dalmally Community Centre | 7pm | £5 (includes food) | Tickets from Dalmally Post Office 01838 200915

Invisible Army is a new play by Victoria Beesley (My Friend Selma) which has been created in collaboration with young carers from the Glasgow South West Carers Centre.
Combining storytelling with movement and original live music, Invisible Army is a funny, moving, imaginative and charming insight into the life of a young carer.

Invisible Army is directed by Emily Reutlinger (director of Uncanny Valley - winner of 2016 CATS award for Best Production for Children and Young People); choreography by Tony Mills (Room 2 Manoeuvre); designed by Alice Wilson (Magnetic NorthPlutôt la VieVision Mechanics); sound design by Danny Krass (Royal Court, Traverse Theatre); lighting design by Elle Taylor; music composed and played live by Dan Beesley.

Victoria Beesley is Artistic Director of Terra Incognita. She graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2010 and since then has been creating new theatre productions inspired by real life stories. Victoria wrote and performed Terra Incognita’s first production My Friend Selma, which has been touring schools in the Highlands and the north of England since Spring 2014, and toured Scottish theatres in October 2015. Victoria also works on arts projects with a wide range of community groups, and has been developing Invisible Army with the fabulous young carers at Glasgow South West Carers Centre for the past year and a half. 

She has worked with companies including Stellar Quines Theatre Company, A Moments Peace, Scottish Refugee Council, Aberdeen Performing Arts, the Arches and Toonspeak Young People’s Theatre.