Sunday, 25 February 2018

Who Fancies a Culture War: Modes and Genres, not explained (part four)



Who Fancies a Culture War: Mad Cyril arrives (part five)

HEY VILE!

WHEN YOU STARTED OFF THIS EPIC – AND I DON’T MEAN IN THE HOMERIC OR BRECHTIAN WAY – RANT ABOUT MELODRAMA, YOU PROMISED A CULTURE WAR. SO FAR, WE’VE HAD A VAGUE COMPLAINT ABOUT HOW MELODRAMA HAS BEEN CARICATURED AS THEATRE FOR THE IGNORANT AND A SUGGESTION THAT THE CENTRALITY OF NATURALISM TO TWENTIETH CENTURY THEATRE IS AN EXPRESSION OF THE MIDDLE-CLASSES STEALING PERFORMANCE FROM POPULAR AUDIENCES. 

THROW IN YOUR USUAL REMINDERS THAT YOU HAVE ACCESS TO THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY, AND SOME OF THOSE BLOODY COMIC BOOK PASTICHES YOU LOVE, AND IT ADDS UP TO NOTHING: MORE PSEUDO-INTELLECTUAL RAMBLING PRETENDING TO BE A CONFRONTATION WITH CONTEMPORARY VALUES. 

CAN YOU HURRY THINGS ALONG A BIT? I’M BORED ALREADY.

YOURS CRITICALLY,


Mad Cyril

GREAT TO HEAR FROM YOU, CYRIL. AS ALWAYS, YOU’VE GOT A POINT. BUT BEAR WITH ME.

MY MAIN THESIS IS EXACTLY THAT: THE MIDDLE-CLASSES HAVE STOLEN THEATRE AWAY, AND WE’RE LEFT WITH PERFORMANCES THAT PROTECT THE CULTURAL VALUES, ECONOMIC INTERESTS AND TASTES OF A LIBERAL ELITE… 

NOW, I DON’T MEAN LIBERAL IS A NECESSARILY BAD THING (I’M NOT A NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE), BUT I AM CONCERNED ABOUT THE QUALITY OF THEATRE, AND THEATRE CRITICISM.

MAYBE QUALITY IS NOT THE RIGHT WORD… MAYBE I MEAN THE AESTHETICS…

THIS SHIFT HAPPENED WHEN NATURALISM WAS HELD UP AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO MELODRAMA, AND HAS KEPT GOING THROUGHOUT THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. TRUST ME, I’LL BE HAVING A CRACK AT SOME SACRED COWS ALONG THE WAY.

WHILE I HAVE THE CHANCE, I’D LIKE TO SAY THAT THIS WON’T BE SOME KIND OF NEO-CONSERVATIVE CAMPAIGN FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH. I DON’T LIKE THOSE XENOPHOBIC AND MISOGYNISTIC ELEMENTS OF MELODRAMA ANY MORE THAN THE NEXT AUDIENCE MEMBER (EXCEPT THAT TIME I SAT NEXT TO JIM DAVIDSON AT THE PAVILION. THEN, I LIKED MISOGYNY AND XENOPHOBIA A LOT LESS). 

I’M PROBABLY ON THE SAME SIDE AS THE LIBERAL WHEN IT COMES TO MATTERS OF DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION… ALTHOUGH I AM NOW TEMPTED TO DEFINE THESE TERMS AND POINT OUT THE PROBLEMS OF THE LANGUAGE USED AND THE HIDDEN RACIST ASSUMPTIONS BEHIND IDEAS LIKE ‘MINORITY’.
STICK WITH ME. I’LL BE TESTING EVERYONE’S PATIENCE SOON ENOUGH.

CRITICAL BEYOND BELIEF,
Gareth

Who Fancies a Culture War: Some definitions (part three)

Already I can see that I am getting myself in a tangle. So let me just explain what I mean by melodrama, tragedy, naturalism, genre and mode. It might help.


I'll do the other two in the next episode. Does it make any sense yet?

Who Fancies a Culture war: Why I love melodrama (in theory) (part two)

In part one of 'Who fancies a Culture War', I gave
two examples of how melodrama has been regarded as an inferior, working-class genre. I went on to suggest that the rise of naturalism was the establishment of bourgeois control over theatre, and that its popularity among the middle-classes coincided with an attempt by theatre-owners to attract a wealthier audience. 

Naturalism positioned itself as a sophisticated alternative to the melodrama, an aesthetic deepening of theatre that represented the reality of contemporary life on stage. Thomas Postlewait(Melodrama: the cultural emergence of a genre, MacMillan 1999) puts it like this.

Nineteenth century entertainment  - popular, romantic, sentimental and quintessentially melodramatic - gives way to twentieth century drama in the modernist mode, predominantly realistic... either a step by step transformation... or a difficult struggle between two adversarial forms... the American drama comes of age when modern realistic drama supplants melodrama as the definitive dramatic form. (1999: 39)

Postlewait sees this evolutionary progress as a myth, observing the residual features of melodrama within the twentieth century drama. In the same volume, Lothar Fietz discovers the  'structural isomorphy' between melodrama and the earlier genre of 'sentimental drama' that could, with its interest in reproducing 'the real' and middle-class preoccupations, be seen as a herald of the naturalistic tragedy.

What Postlewait and Fietz describe is a continuity between the melodramatic and the naturalistic theatre, which disabuses the notion that the latter is some kind of paradigm shift: the social melodrama of the 1830s, which was described as the breeding ground of socialism (citation needed) was a prototype for naturalism, but while the melodramas tended to depict the middle-classes as grasping villains, the naturalists filled their stages with first world problems.

I slipped in the term 'naturalistic tragedy' back then. That's because I do recognise a paradigm shift between the melodrama of the nineteenth century and naturalism of the twentieth. Naturalism is more likely to use a tragic structure. And if there is any 'difficult struggle between two adversarial forms', it is between melodrama and tragedy. Naturalism appears in both of these modes (they are a bit bigger than genres, so I'll call them that for the moment).  

But instead of this nuanced and frankly complicated analysis of theatrical aesthetics, the popular narrative - which is ironically melodramatic in its use of stark dualism - is that melodrama is a load of rubbish and naturalism is hip and honest, realistic and sophisticated. 'Melodramatic' is an insult. When Mark Fisher wants to complain about a weakness in the  structure of Bold Girls, he says that 'the third-act revelations (are) straight out of Victorian melodrama'.

Now, I am not saying Mark Fisher hates the working-classes. He's just using an accepted shorthand for a plot twist that is more about sensation than narrative integrity. I'm touchy because I've spent a month reading about melodrama. 

Who Fancies a Culture War: From melodrama to naturalism... (part one)

Both Rebecca D'Monte (British Performance and Theatre, Bloomsbury 2015) and James Woodfield agree (English Theatre in Transition, Routledge 2016): the melodrama of the nineteenth century is an inferior genre of performance, tainted by its rowdy audience and simplistic plots that celebrate the worst qualities of nationalism and prejudice. Woodfield is especially scathing, imagining a vulnerable theatre at the mercy of a voracious public.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the theatres had been deserted by the middle and upper classes and were forced (my italics) to play to a predominantly uneducated, lower-class audience who... demanded... four hours or more of action, emotion, sentiment, spectacle and horseplay and novelty (2016: 1)

D'Monte is a little more circumspect, although retains the class prejudice that delights Woodfield .

The melodrama did more than pander to the tastes of an unthinking mass audience... it could also reinforce racial prejudices. imperialist propaganda and social anxieties... xenophobic representations of corrupt 'Asians' or barbaric Africans who threatened the Christian way of life but were trounced by British heroism and moral supremacy... the dichotomous view of women as Madonna/whore (2015: 18)

D'Monte at least has the courtesy to identify the objectionable elements of melodrama: Woodfield is content to prove his position by quoting Charles Dickens' description of Sadler Wells' audience (Shakespeare in Newgate, 1851), and dismiss fifty years of theatre as 'vulgar fare'.

Luckily for both authors, the melodrama is merely a prelude to their studies of that superior theatrical genre that emerged from the social melodrama, but pretended that it was something utterly new: naturalism. Naturalism - sometimes called 'realism' - became popular at the time that the theatres decided to woo those disgruntled middle-classes by making the theatre a more comfortable and expensive experience. Championed by Chekhov and George Bernard Shaw and Ibsen and every single critic who can't get past their own bourgeois values, naturalism claims to be rooted in a scientific observation of human life, but initially manipulated the burgeoning theories of psychology to replace a theatre shaped by narrative surprise with one driven by character and motivation.

I haven't come here to blame naturalism as a genre, although the idea that 'realism' is some kind of gold standard for a medium that is a bunch of make-believe (or, as Aristotle has it, mimesis) makes me ache. I'm more intrigued by what this shift reveals about the way that culture is occupied by the dominant group in a hierarchy, and the culture of the defeated groups is reduced to a vulgar side-show.

Oh yes: I am also using it to explain why contemporary theatre is far too comfortable. If a study of the transition from melodrama is naturalism might seem a bit dry, hold on. I am going to say some nasty things about theatre criticism in the twentieth century. 

Friday, 23 February 2018

TIP-TOP TITILLATION FOR A TENNER
ILLICIT THRILL: TITS, TEASE AND TEN POUND NOTES AUG 4-6, 10-13, 17-20, 24-27 23:55 (00:55) The Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68)
The Fringe’s shadiest nightspot, the Illicit Thrill is back in the stripteasing business.
Housemistress Gypsy 'Fur Coat No Knickers' Charms and trusty sidekick Savannah 'Best Butt in the Business' Duvall will guide punters through the bump'n'grindy world of tits, tease and ten pound notes.
Leave your inhibitions at the door and pledge to perv responsibly as you meet the teasers who prowl the aisles plying their trade.


From the Girl-Next-Door to the Bootlickers peeler of choice they have found their gimmicks – and when you flash the cash they’ll flash the ...


Q 1:What was the inspiration for this performance?


The inspiration for the performance was my PhD which examined striptease in Scotland focussing on strip clubs.

Q2: Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Yes it is. The power of live performance in the discussion of ideas and dissemination of information remains a powerful tool. 

Q3: How did you become interested in making performance?

I've always had an interest in live performance (like so many who end up  working in entertainment), starting dance classes at age 3 definitely played an important part, and I have been performing in various genres since then. 

With regards to The Illicit Thrill, making the performance was inspired  by the PhD. 

Q4: Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

The Illicit Thrill has been running at the fringe for the last four years and the initial concept was to create a show based on strip clubs and strip club culture. The Illicit Thrill essentially is a venue within a venue where the Ballroom of the Voodoo Rooms is transformed into a strip club. 

Each year the show focused on an aspect of the PhD and the show is created round this. Last year the show was created around the history of striptease from 1960 to present day, examining the impact of social, political and economic factors on the modus operandi of striptease and the manner in which the industry adapted its services and operations.

This year's the show focuses on interactions in strip clubs and the impact this has on the personas and performances that dancers in strip clubs adopt. It also touches on using strip clubs as a site for gendered resistance, censorship and freedom of expression. The scripting, pace and content are determined by the time slot of the show (11.55pm) as a result audiences can choose to read the show on different levels. 

Q5: Does the show fit with your usual productions?

The Illicit Thrill differs from other productions in which I am involved (I often work in line-up style shows) in that it is a scripted show (with some leeway for improvisation as we provide as immersive a strip club experience as possible within the confines of the venue space). 

The casting for this show also differs from other productions in that cast members have all worked in various types of striptease-based entertainment venues, and some (like myself) have been involved in activism. This year's cast includes one of the founding members of the ELSC, Stacey Clare. 

Q6:What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that audiences enjoy the show! The show also aims to give the audience an insight into different aspects of strip clubs and strip club culture, demystifying an environment that audiences may not have been in before. For those who work in the industry it acts as a piece about them.

Q7:What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience? 

 The theme of the show very much dictates the strategies for shaping audience experience. Strip clubs are interactive environments where service providers and customers constantly interact. The Illicit Thrill provides similar interaction al structures to those of the strop club setting in show format. 

2016 answers...
What was the inspiration for this performance?

Essentially it's my PhD which looked at striptease in particular strip clubs.

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

Yes, I believe it is. Live performance creates a shared experience whereby the ideas and concepts within performance promote wider discussion out with the piece.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I find the premise of making performance a fascinating concept in itself. Essentially performance for most people is a part of everyday life  - I am a bit of a Goffman fan - whether they know it or not. Creating performances for an audience (in a show format) draws heavily on my own experiences...and I've been on a stage in some form or another for over 35 years.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Yes it was. The Illicit Thrill is a venue within a venue. The audience is presented with the dramaturgy of a strip club within a show based format where the venue is transformed into a strip club called the Illicit Thrill. The processes in making the performance including the essential strip club interactional structures of customer (audience) to stripper (performer) translate into a show-based performance model.

This year I decided to focus on the history of striptease from 1960 to now, bringing in the socio-political factors that affected the mode of operation and the services the industry offered. It was clear that the narrative progression  of the show would be linear (show times and audience expectation also shaped the narrative progression). The process of creating this edition of a the show was to pick key influences in the historical progression of striptease and develop a late night show around these.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that the audience will be entertained and also learn a little (if they didn't know so already) of the progression of striptease based entertainment in particular the way in which the industry and its' services have been developed by outside factors.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Effectively the questions I ask myself are: what do late night audiences expect; how can the show fit within this paradigm; and, how can the show best deliver a 'message' to the audience. The time slot of the show influences the scripting and flow of the show. Furthermore, a late night time slot determines the way in which the show concept is delivered. Being a late night show has its advantages in that audiences have come to expect more risqué elements in shows in that time-slot. It also presents challenges in that scripts have to be concise and entertaining, while also (in the Illicit's case) still trying to highlight socio-political factors that have influenced the industries development.

Wildfire @ Traverse

About Wildfire Theatre
Wildfire Theatre is made up of award winning experienced theatre makers, Wendy Seager, Pauline Lockhart, Molly Innes and Natalie Arle-Toyne. Our aim is to create high quality theatre productions that bring new and unexpected voices to the stage, with a special commitment to ensuring opportunities for women from disadvantaged communities.

A New Voice

For this project, we ran twenty workshop sessions with groups in our target areas around Edinburgh, which included Saheliya Women, Kirkgate session with Engender and LGBT Health, Meadowbank Writers Group, South Neighbourhood Office and Library Creative Writing Group, Comas Women, Link Up Womens Support Centre, Canongate Youth, Oxgangs Care Group Women’s Meet Up, Harmony Choir for Mental Health, Citadel Youth Peer Mentoring Girls Group,  Stanwell Nursery School in Leith and Grassmarket Community’s Women Creative Writing Group.

During these sessions we explored the women’s view of theatre and writing and it’s relevance to them. We then moved on to some simple writing exercises that led to the creation of a number of short scripts. This led to over twenty scripts coming into the Wildfire email over a two week period from women who previously had not been able to find an outlet for their creative writing due to lack of confidence or simply not knowing where to send their work.
The climax of this project was a professional performed reading of this work in the Traverse Theatre to which everyone involved in the various sessions was invited to hear their own words on the professional stage.

What was the inspiration for this performance?


I became more and more aware of the lack of working class voices in the theatre industry and the often cliche way the working class was portrayed.  Being from a working class background myself, I wanted to do something about this.  I wanted to connect with those intelligent, creative voices who were not being reached by existing opportunities.  To find a way of bringing those voices into established theatre.  So Molly Innes, Natalie Arle Toyne, Wendy Seager, and myself booked local community centres, distributed flyers and waited.  Women turned up with journals, stories, poems and shared them, often for the first time.


From that, this event and Wildfire Theatre was born
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

I think performance provides a unique platform to spark discussion.  It allows ideas to be presented in an indirect way and  can provoke often surprising reactions.


I don’t think there was any one thing that sparked my interest, it’s just always been there. 


The four company members all have many years experience in making and performing theatre, so we were able to draw on our collective skills.


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


This is the very first Wildfire Theatre performance!

Does the show fit with your usual productions?



I hope the audience will feel inspired and supportive of the need for change in the voices that are represented on our stages.  I hope they leave feeling entertained and that they have been part of the first step toward change.

We believe opportunities should be equally distributed and talent and potential should be nurtured no matter which social class you are born into or community you live in. We strive to blaze new pathways to those cut off from the opportunity to widen their horizons and challenge the entrenched inequalities in opportunities that exist in our society. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We aim to change the perceptions and expectations of working class women by presenting work which doesn't conform to a stereotype and challenges the image the media presents of the working class.

Rita, Sue and Bob

Rita, Sue and Bob Too

Unnecessary revival of 1980s’ gritty realism
2 stars

Gareth K Vile
Despite promising controversy – the plot revolves around the grooming of two school girls – Rita, Sue and Bob Too is a dreary production that has little to add to any debate about sexuality and exploitation. From an early sex scene that is played for laughs – the raising of the houselights does not add any clever commentary to the act of theatrical voyeurism but simply emphasis the flatness of the interpretation – to an amoral finale that appears to accept the cycle of female oppression with a wry smile, Andrea Dunbar’s script is populated with caricatures and humour that relies on comic swearing rather than wit or insight.

The controversy of this Royal Court production-  it was briefly banned in the light of the producer of the debut production, Max Stafford-Clark, being accused of sexual harassment – threw up questions about the play’s suitability for contemporary audiences, and whether paedophilia is an appropriate subject for a light comedy. 

Regardless of its moral relevance, a script that lacks character development – nobody changes throughout the action, despite divorce, domestic violence and pregnancies – repeats the same conversations in scene after scene – mainly Rita and Sue concluding that they shouldn’t feel any guilt for sleeping with another woman’s husband – and introduces a blunt foreshadowing when Rita buys perfume from Bob’s wife Michelle and then throws it away in a punchline to another scene that covers exactly the same ground, doesn’t deserve any revival, and Kate Wasserberg’s direction lacks the boldness that could open up a discussion around the issue of consent, agency and aimlessness that the play suggests.

Dunbar’s script has been praised for its naturalism, and Wasserberg clearly rejects any attempts to exaggerate the characters: the ensemble cast turn in solid performances, and the sexual intrigue of the titular trio is stripped of any erotic tension. Sadly, this exposes the weakness of naturalism: it lacks dynamic tension, and the inevitable shouting match that results from the revelation of the three-way affair isn’t made any more telling through its resemblance to a street-corner argument on Sauchiehall Street.

Ironically, it simply plays into stereotypes of the lumpen proletariat: Rita and Sue have no ambitions, Bob has a crisis of masculinity, Bob’ wife Michelle is a victim who has a brief moment of victory at the end, and Sue’s parents are a violent slob and a predictably protective mother. The production is true to Dunbar’s writing, but this isn’t necessarily a virtue. 

Stuck in 1980s culture, the allusions to Maggie Thatcher’s rule on behalf of the rich (at one point, Bob might have to sell his car because work has dried up) only date the production: while the theme of female friendship is present, it is hopeless and far from empowering – only motherhood or alcohol provide any respite. The strongest character – Michelle – is treated as a joke for most of the production and her redemption through self-reliance is revealed in a final dialogue, tacked on after the finale when Rita moves in with Bob. Theatre’s habit of presenting the horrors of working class life for crass entertainment – also seen In Scottish Opera’s recent Greek exposes a culture’s voyeuristic love of taking holidays in other people’s misery. 

Citizens Theatre, run ended


Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Ages of Comics


Burrowing Dramaturgy: Andy Edwards @ Tron

 In Burrows
A new performance in BSL and spoken word, created by Andy Edwards, presenting at Tron Theatre on March 23rd and 24th. 


credits: Julia Bauer

The performance frames the act of description through a series of choreographies, investigating the relationship between spoken language, sign and meaning, and exploring perspective and how we engage with the world around us.



In Burrows will be accompanied by a number of guest performances. Musician Blair Coron will perform a composition developed especially for the event. Petre Dobre and Adriana Navarro will present the short performance Words, who needs them?

 What was the inspiration for this performance?

In Burrows began as a short piece, first performed at Only Skin’s SCRATCH back in October 2016. In the work I would describe an image to the audience, an image that was placed onstage so that they couldn’t see it, in 1500 words. What inspired this performance was a desire to make the easiest piece of work I could possibly make, that offered the maximum amount to the audience it could while carrying with it as little as possible. So it made sense to work with an audiences imaginations. Then I also wanted a piece of work I could just turn up and do, make up on the spot, so it made sense to play with improvisation.

The method of improvisation I employ was developed as part of the ground, the highest point a duet of text and dance I performed with Paul Hughes at a couple of festivals during 2015. Initially it very strongly drew from (or, less charitably, stole) Tim Etchell’s solo practice but since then it has departed considerably, and I’ve improvised poetry across a wider range of contexts, developing my own particular set of enquiries. Those enquires are primarily linguistic – I’m interested in how language works.



When offered to present In Burrows at Tron I was posed with the problem of how to take a very solid short work and evolve it into something three times the length, without just dragging it out. I’d been curious about working with a British Sign Language interpreter for a while, largely out of a desire to make my work more accessible to an audience I’d previously not made any work for and also because I was curious about the language itself. Placing Amy Cheskin into the work has been brilliant. A simple act that has produced lots of tensions, questions, that have driven the work forward. 

Thinking about translation, interpretation and the fuzzy areas in
between has given the project a new lease of life – and certainly inspired me to push forward with it. Rehearsals are thundering along and we’re both pretty buzzed by how fascinating language is, and how it intersects – both producing and being produced by – what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, how you’re trying to position yourself to others and the world around you.



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

It is a good launch-pad for the public discussion of ideas – and then, that discussion, happens after the performance has taken place. Any good discourse is advanced by someone making a claim about something, and then other people assessing that claim. Me saying that I think this gives you something to react off of.

The way I go about making performance is to think that each performance I make is an act of making a claim about something, taking up a position, and that by taking up a position I’m inviting others to observe, discuss and criticise that position. That’s the basic task that I’m up to – trying to hold someone’s attention long enough for them to know what it is I’m claiming but with a relaxed enough grip so that they can react to it. And then things that I’m doing are hugely informed by the ideas I’ve previously discussed that have led me up to this point.

I think that’s why art in general is a good space for the public discussion of ideas – because it is often people making statements about the world that have a smaller impact on that world. That isn’t to say that impact is negligible. Not at all. Or that it doesn’t have a significant impact on the world. It most definitely does – and that isn’t always a positive one. But there’s something both flimsy and robust about art that means the stakes are low enough so that we can discuss it but that also our discussion of it won’t kill the thing stone dead. So yes, in that sense, it’s has the potential to be a great space to discuss ideas.

That’s all potential though, because if only a small segment of people can access the space in which the discussion takes place then it won’t be much of a discussion at all. So, it depends on what the performance is, where it is being held and who is allowed in.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I’m not particularly sure. I came about it the long way around and avoided it for a while, in part due to a certain type of pressure applied to me when I was younger, and in part due to being scared that I’d be totally rubbish at it. As a teenager I found acting, with characters and lines and arcs, such a release for a build up of emotions I’d not learnt how to deal with. I did a GCSE, then A-Level, in drama. Then fell in with the theatre crowd at University – after a brief attempt to avoid doing it – then did a masters – after another brief attempt to avoid doing it – and since then I continually flip flop between wanting to knock Shakespeare off his perch and “getting a job in a bank”, forgetting of course that getting a job in a bank is probably quite difficult / the banks might not be particularly in desperate need of my services.


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

Me and Amy work in a manner where the creative responsibility is a little imbalanced. Given Amy is a translator, that’s a really necessary thing for her to do her job, but it leads to the interesting tension where if the work is crap it isn’t her fault, it’s mine. So it is interesting how labour divides up as a result of that. The pattern is that we meet once a week and for three hours throw things about, try something and note what happens. Then I’ll go away and write something, some notes, a script, or whatever – and then we’ll come back together again and throw what’s left together again. So we move forward like that – and it’s going super well I think.

Thinking about our general approach, we spend a lot of time asking what the audience will be getting from the work, and how audiences with different abilities will receive the work differently. The work will be accessible to a range of audiences including those who are D/deaf, hard of hearing, partially sighted or blind, with integrated BSL interpretation and audio description. This desire to make a piece of work that offers a rich theatrical experience to these audiences informs a lot of decisions we make. Rather than to offer one blanket experience of the work, we’re curious as to what we can offer each of these specific audiences in turn. The work, as a whole, is concerned with a very specific relationship to each and every one of its audience members. It’ll be a bit different for everyone, given that a lot of it will take place inside their heads.




Does the show fit with your usual productions?

While I’ve performed my work before, most recently as part of Andy Arnold’s group show NOWHERE during Take Me Somewhere 2017, I am more commonly found as a playwright. Typically I write text for others, in a ‘New Writing’ context, whereas for In Burrows I’m speaking text that has never been written down.

There’s a thread that runs through all this work though, which is about being in control of language. That sentence sounds a bit gross, reading it back. With In Burrows I’m making that process more explicit to the audience then if I were to write a play, which I’d typically do out of sight.

So while it will look very different to a lot of my other work, I think the underlying mechanics are fundamentally the same.



What do you hope that the audience will experience?

The dramaturg for In Burrows, Paul Hughes, wrote this note to me after a development weekend:

I’m looking at a photograph by Andy Goldsworthy currently on display in the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art: a line of upturned leaves placed on dense patch of bracken, the stark white undersides standing out from the vivid green of the forest. It doesn’t impress the viewer in how it has acquired huge or rare or precious materials, or on how many people the artist holds in their command, or even in how it has hoodwinked and mocked the institution that houses it. No sustained physical commitment was required to produce this; in fact, the action so simple that we can imagine the exact steps with which it was undertaken. The gesture points towards the artist themself as much as any material circumstance or image.

Is this an alchemical transformation? Do we perceive the artist as a magician, effortlessly transforming reality around them? This can only be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the individual viewer’s tastes, affiliations and readiness to go along with the trick. What’s more clear is the particular sense of romance, of the poetic, within the artist: of the ways in which they read charm and delight in the world around them. Perhaps in this work - and obviously I’m talking about In Burrows too - the artist is inviting us to briefly see the world through their eyes - not as a way to seduce us, but to share with us a way in which we might allow ourselves to be seduced. We stand before an intimate proposition; the individual’s un/abashed offer of their very personal relationship to beauty

So perhaps that sums it up, perhaps it doesn’t. I’m wanting the audience to have the experience of observing something very personal to themselves, namely their relationship to language, memory, imagination and image. It’ll be small, quiet, and hopefully full of stuff for them to latch on to and play with.




Both In Burrows and Words, Who Needs Them? have been created for the enjoyment of hearing, hard-of-hearing and D/deaf audiences. In Burrows also features integrated audio description for blind or partially sighted audiences.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The Return of Dramaturgy: Ellie Stewart on tour

Eden Court Theatre presents
The Return by Ellie Stewart
Scottish tour 15 Feb to 10 March
# TheReturn
Eden Court Theatre brings the mysterious true story of missing man Martin Guerre to life in Scottish Tour of The Return

·      The Return is written by rising-star of Scottish playwriting Ellie Stewart (Strictly -Traverse Theatre, Mischief - Play, Pie & Pint)
·      Produced by the creative team behind the hugely successful Eden Court production Not About Heroes
·      Directed by Philip Howard, former artistic director of Dundee Rep and the Traverse Theatre
·      Cast is Emilie Patry and Thoren Ferguson, and Greg Sinclair playing his cello score live.
·      Based on the mysterious true story of Martin Guerre written from the perspective of his wife.
·      Eden Court creates quality theatre in the highlands and champions the production of small scale quality touring throughout Scotland.




Eden Court Theatre’s new production, The Return, inspired by an old and still mysterious story embarks on a national tour in February and March 2018.
The true story of Martin Guerre is an intriguing one. One day in 1549, in the small village of Artigat in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, a young peasant man named Martin disappeared, leaving behind a wife, young son, and relatively well-off family. Things had not been going well for Martin in the days before his disappearance. He had a troubled relationship with his family, with his own father accusing him of stealing and selling family grain, but no one expected him to suddenly vanish.
What was the inspiration for this performance?
The play is inspired by a true story from 16th Century France.  A man leaves his family and village without word or trace, then appears to return seven years later.  At first he’s accepted but then questions are raised about his identity.  When I first saw the 1982 film Le Retour de Martin Guerre I was intrigued by the story.  I also thought ... ‘well Bertrande doesn’t get a lot to say.’

Then the story resurfaced for me more than twenty years later, when I returned to the Pyrenees.  Overwhelmed by sensory memories, and feeling both changed and unchanged, I was inspired to explore the story further, and I put Bertrande (the wife) at the heart of the exploration.
I think our telling of the story explores the nature of identity and the nature of truth, as well as human relationships.

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

Yes!  Real bodies and voices in a shared space can cut through spin and prejudice. I think it’s even more important now that a lot of our lives and communications are conducted ‘virtually’.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Maybe we all like making performance as children.  Rituals, dance, poetry ... all of these were important to me growing up.  And I like making things for other people, but I’m not really that good at crafts or building or cooking.  When I write a play script I feel like I’m offering a gift.

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

If there’s a guiding light that I try to follow in my writing it’s to leave space for the audience.  The Director, Philip Howard, seems to have a similar approach in rehearsal when working with the performers.  He opens up possibilities, a palette of options, for the actors to choose from. I think there’s a strong synergy in this production.


Does the show fit with your usual productions?

A sense of place is important to me. Also, I’m often told there’s a sparse (or economic) use of spoken language in my work.

What’s new for me, and exciting, is that The Return is touring to fifteen venues across Scotland, from village halls to large theatres. And it’s a full scale Eden Court production. We have a very strong creative team and the writing is just one thread in the production

What do you hope that the audience will experience?


Vibrant storytelling, a sense of being transported to another place, beautiful performances and new angles on important questions.  A good night out.

Seven years later, Martin’s wife Bertrande is still in Artigat tending to her livestock and mothering her young, fatherless son. One day, out of the blue, a strangely familiar man walks into her life, full of mystery. Bertrande decides to present the man to the community as her long-lost spouse – returned. But is it really Martin?
Inspired by the true story of Martin Guerre, Ellie Stewart’s new play The Return is a gripping play about the mystery of identity and the survival instinct, and asks whether we can ever truly know even those we love the best.
Commissioned and premiered by Eden Court, The Return, is produced by the same creative team behind Eden Court’s Not About Heroes in 2015. Philip Howard, former artistic director of Dundee Rep & the Traverse Theatre, once again directs, joined by designer Kenneth MacLeod, who has worked with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Dundee Rep and Vox Motus amongst many others.
Playwright Ellie Stewart is a rising star of Scottish playwriting. Speaking of why she wrote the play, Ellie said:
I’ve been intrigued by the story of Martin Guerre since I first heard it about twenty-five years ago… It’s been told in different ways over the years, and I’ve always been interested in the pivotal role of his wife Bertrande. The story resurfaced for me recently when I returned to the Pyrenees and was bombarded with sensory memories.  My starting point for the writing was to explore the story from Bertrande’s point of view.
As I was writing I was thinking about people who are seeking refuge in our times, and about the challenges of relationships and parenting. And of course, it’s a love story.  Some things are timeless. Perhaps human instincts, emotions and behaviours haven’t changed that much over the years.”

The cast brings together Emilie Patry (Bertrande), Thoren Ferguson (Arnaud) and cellist Greg Sinclair on stage. 

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Gut Dramaturgy: Frances Poet @ Traverse



TRAVERSE THEATRE ANNOUNCE GUT – AN EARLY HIGHLIGHT OF SPRING/SUMMER 2018, IN ASSOCIATION WITH NATIONAL THEATRE OF SCOTLAND
· A taut psychological thriller exploring who we can trust with our children, written by award-winning playwright Frances Poet



· Shortlisted for the 2016 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting



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

Absolutely. This is where theatre is king. It’s not just the conversations in the bar at the interval and post-show, it’s the fact that when we watch together, the feeling of our communal response is palpable. 

Those gasp moments in the theatre where we feel a collective shock about what we are witnessing is how we gauge how our reactions tally with those around us. It’s a visceral shared experience that can unlock an idea with more force than any debate. And it’s an experience you just can’t get watching a movie at home alone.    

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have worked in theatre my whole career. I was a script reader then a Literary Manager and dramaturg for just short of a decade before I had my children. Pausing for a year of maternity leave with my son, awoke an impulse to write that I hadn’t allowed to flourish before. I left my job as Literary Manager at the National Theatre of Scotland shortly after returning from maternity leave six years ago and have been writing ever since.      

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

I’ll be better placed to answer this when we start rehearsals next month. But early conversations with the director, Zinnie Harris, about how she plans to realise the ideas of the play have been very exciting.  

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

The work I’ve had in production since my One Act debut play, Faith Fall, has been mostly adaptations of classics; free adaptations of Molière, Strindberg and Racine. Even Adam, which was my highest profile project to date and which won a number of awards at the Edinburgh Festival last year was an adaptation of sorts, in that I was serving both Cora Bisset’s stage concept as well as the biographical details of the extraordinary man it was based on and who starred in it. So in some ways Gut feels like my first full length play as it serves no other master but my own ideas. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Gut is a psychological thriller. First and foremost, I hope an audience will be engaged and excited by it. I think it could provoke strong reactions. When it comes to how we raise our children, people tend to have a strong emotional response and I can’t wait to hear the discussions coming out of the theatre.        




Written by Fringe First award-winning playwright Frances Poet (Adam), and directed by Traverse Associate Director Zinnie Harris – herself Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland’s ‘Best Director’ 2016-17, and winner of a Herald Angel for her trio of productions at Edinburgh Festival 2017 (Meet Me at Dawn, Rhinoceros and This Restless House).

Gut centres on Maddy and Rory, devoted parents committed to keeping their three-year-old son happy and safe. But when an everyday visit to a supermarket café turns into a far more troubling incident, their trust even in those closest to them is shattered.

A taut psychological thriller exploring our instincts when it comes to who we can trust with our children, Gut ultimately asks the question of whether it is perhaps more dangerous not to trust at all.

Gut was shortlisted for the 2016 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting.






Frances Poet, Writer, says:

‘I wrote the first draft of Gut when my kids were two and four. I was in the eye of the parenting storm: exhausted, fire-fighting and looking at the world with new eyes. My daily stimulus was fellow parents with one topic of conversation – how to keep our children not just happy and well, but safe. Was it OK to leave the kids in the car while we paid for our petrol? Or to fall asleep while our children were playing? Could we trust other people with our kids? There appeared to be no rule book and everybody’s gut instinct led them to form different judgements. Out of these funny and impassioned conversations, Gut was born. It’s a thriller that asks big questions about the world in which we live and with that I hope it will challenge and excite parents and non-parents alike.’



Zinnie Harris, Director, says:

‘I am delighted to be working with the wonderful Frances Poet on her new play. Frances has a strong dramatic imagination and knows how to tell a compelling story; Gut explores vital themes about parenthood and how we raise our children safely within a culture of fear. It puts a woman at the centre of the play – exploring in a theatrical and thought-provoking way her responses, and the fine line between what is rational and what is irrational.’



Orla O’Loughlin, Traverse Artistic Director, says:

‘I am thrilled that Gut by the brilliant Frances Poet will be the centrepiece of our Spring/Summer 2018 programme and part of Jackie Wylie’s inaugural programme for National Theatre of Scotland. This is a very timely play – a razor sharp thriller that explores the challenges of contemporary family life. Gut asks big, pertinent questions about trust and responsibility and at its heart is a study of how far we should go to keep those we love safe. It is great to be working with National Theatre of Scotland on this bold and contemporary world premiere, and also celebrating their reimagining of Midsummer – a former Traverse premiere – which they will restage at Edinburgh International Festival next August.’



LISTINGS:
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Tuesday 24 April-Saturday 12 May (previews 20 & 21 April)

Box Office: 0131 228 1404