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...

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Manly Dramaturgy: Temper-Mental Theatre @ Edfringe 2017

Presented By Temper-Mental Theatre
Edinburgh Fringe 2017 /14th- 19th August


Are the doors to the important things in your life always locked? Are all the awesome bits just out of reach? 

At the All male, male retreat for menTM Guru Nigel will show you how to grasp the long hard (door)knob to your life. It will be no walk in the park but a race; the race to find out where your knob can take you. Can Temper-Mental find their knobs and re-gain their masculinity?

TEMPER-MENTAL ARE Six averagely good-looking lads bringing the fun back to theatre with original devised comedy. “We want to leave the serious business to everyone else, this is proper fun night out where you can have a beer (or six) and leave with that warm tingly feeling that Chekhov,” says Nalin Dissanayake

theSpace on the Mile:
10:05pm 14th- 19th August 2017
Box Office: 0131 510 2382

Inspiration for our performance
This show is Temper-Mental's first show and it really epitomizes what we are all about. Fun. Throughout our degree at Middlesex University we found ourselves performing in shows that were all incredibly dramatic which just isn't what inspired to get into theatre. 

This is why we formed Temper-mental we want to make the type of theatre we love. Fun and light-hearted we want to make people laugh and Man Up's main objective is to make you laugh. 

After that we want to look at what it means to 'be a
man' nowadays we follow these characters to the 'All Male, Male retreat for men' and this is where they all try to 'Man Up' Our inspiration was in each other, none of us are exactly what you' call 'real men' and we wanted to make fun of that.

How did we become interested in theatre?

Again all of us loved the entertainment you can get from theatre both watching and performing, it really made us want to give people that fun they may not get from some of the shows that look issues in a real dark way. 

We became interested in theatre have discussions through making people laugh.

Approach to the show

We made this show because of our ability to tell
each other when we were and were not funny or making sense. Honesty really helps in our rehearsals and one of the main points for us is to always try everything anyone suggests. 

Even though some ideas may be completely out of no-where we will always give it a try and if its funny and can work, it'll go in the show. 

We have a great dynamic as we are all great mates, and our working relationship is boosted by that. I think you can see that in our work, we are having a great time performing it and had a stupid about of fun creating so hopefully that shows for the audience.

Does it fit other work we have done or will do?

'Man Up' @thespace on the mile is everyone's first chance to see the kind of work we want to carry on making this will be our professional debut and its a perfect representation of us. 

We think our sense of humour is clear in this show and in future shows that humour will follow over. We like to mix our comedy and this show is just the beginning of our experimentation with our humour. 

Audience Experience

We just want people to have fun at the theatre and leave not feeling any pressure to go change the worl but just in a good mood, we want people to drink and laugh and then have a good night after, we want to entertain you. So have a beer or six and come watch temper-mental theatre try and 'Man Up'.

CAST- Chris Adams, Elliott Lewis, James Thorne, Nalin Dissanayake, Dane Clements and James Hart
DESIGN- James Thorne, Nalin Dissanayake
TECHNICAL MANAGER- Nalin Dissanayake

Dramaturgy is the product of a bourgeois class consciousness

Welcome to jargon hell. I am your host, Gareth K Vile and tonight I want to tell you why dramaturgy is the reason that theatre is incapable of expressing anything other than the cultural values of capitalism.

Only joking: I love dramaturgy. And as one of the few people who actually knows what it is, I am the perfect guide to this tricky subject.

How do you like my new persona? I've been watching YouTube and finally realised that being arrogant is the best way to develop my cult of personality. Never mind the quality of argument, I have strong opinions.

As for dramaturgy: if Diderot isn't mentioned. the person describing it does not know what they are talking about. Back in the 1700s, Diderot initiated a conversation that led to the development of a new way of thinking about theatre. I've banged on about that quite enough elsewhere, but the basics are a focus on the live performance rather than the script, a move away from neo-classicism and, f course, the introduction of rationality in analysis and production.

That's your philosophical dramaturgy, mind. There is also practical dramaturgy - which is a fancy way of saying how a play gets made - and the dramaturg, a person with a specific role (in making theatre better). I'll be talking about philosophical dramaturgy today. 

I spent ages trying to understand dramaturgy, developing a hypothesis about it that recognised its essential political component. I was well pissed off when I found that Georg Lukacs summed it up in bout 1910 when he said 'modern drama is bourgeois' and that the nineteenth century saw the first class conscious theatre, articulating the battle between the bourgeois and the aristocrats. Still, at least we agreed.

Philosophical dramaturgy provides the hidden assumptions about theatre that inform the other types of dramaturgy. 

Hang on - this is my PhD. Watch while I try to put this into a blog post. Ambitious, much?

So - assumptions, right? Hidden away in theatre is this philosophical dramaturgy, which drives considerations of what makes good theatre. It's so omnipresent, it is invisible, inaudible, tasteless. It's a mash-up of enlightenment thought, a bit of Aristotle, social theory, audience analysis. It isn't systematic, more a collection of ideas petrified by time and tradition. 

I'm not interested in practical dramaturgy, except I totally am... it's just that it doesn't prove my point as easily. In the tradition of philosophers until about 1980, I am going to generalise about theatre without actually giving examples. Or footnotes.

But now for a word from our sponsors, and I'll be back after a break. Remember the take-home: philosophical dramaturgy is the hidden engine behind theatre, and it expresses a bourgeois manifesto. Enjoy the adverts...

Monday, 22 May 2017

Dumbstruck Dramaturgy: Sam Goodburn @ Edfringe 2017

Sam Goodburn: Dumbstruck
Presented by Underbelly and Sam Goodburn
Underbelly Cowgate (Belly Button), 66 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1JX
Thursday 3rd – Sunday 27th August 2017 (not 14th), 14:40

Dumbstruck, a world premiere by multi-award-winning performer Sam Goodburn, tells the story of an endearing young man taking his first steps into adulthood. This exciting lo-fi circus show features offbeat comedy, world class unicycling, juggling, knife throwing and impeccable feats with sliced bread.

Dumbstruck takes place ‘the morning after’ as Sam creeps around a girl’s apartment, collecting his discarded clothes from the night before; as he wonders what on earth he’s doing, he learns that his introverted nerdiness can actually be joyous, empowering and just a little bit charming.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I find circus performances that tell a story, however simple, are hugely interesting. There is a hula hooper called Annabel Carberry who I watched in a cabaret in Blackpool in 2014 who tries to pour a glass of wine whilst keeping the hoop going. 

The hoop becomes normal, it is always there and it has to be there and it leads to excellent situation comedy. You can see the same premise in Dumbstruck - every circus trick is used to complete a task or fix a problem.

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

I love those brief moments in shows when the audience are so completely absorbed in the rhythm or the scene that they forget themselves. Not many other media can make you feel connected with the performers and see things through their eyes in the same way. 

You have the audiences undivided attention unlike most other forms of entertainment. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I become interested in making performance accidentally. When I was 18, I joined a traditional circus as a unicyclist. The clown was in a traffic accident and left the show. With no time to find a replacement and a full house that night, I was naive enough to think I could fill in, the owners agreed and I bodged together and improvised four clown acts. 

Nothing went to plan, everything messed up. And
it was very funny, just not in the way I had intended. I've been creating comedy material and messing up ever since. 

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

I spent a long time training and inventing tricks with everyday objects with just a rough guide in my head of what might happen in the show. In rehearsals we wrote the show chronologically finding the comedy naturally as the world unfolded. Lots of tricks I know haven’t been used, but having a big artillery to choose from meant the blend of visual comedy, circus and theatre does not feel at all strange.  

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I am most in demand for shows as a unicyclist and the comedy character and all my other skills come second. Which is great, but it usually becomes a game of which is the most impressive trick I can do right that’s 100% consistent.  What I like about the show Dumbstruck is if you took out all of the circus skills out it would still be a great show. The tricks aren't just there to impress but to push the narrative and create hilarious situations. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I would like the audience to come away feeling like children again. The show is about finding ways to enjoy and play with everyday situations even when things are getting perpetually worse. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

As I am writing this there are still 4 days left of creation so who knows where the ending could go. But things we have considered on the journey are a toaster that fires bread when you're not looking, an inflatable sofa that surfs the audience and a line of 40 beer bottles used to unicycle across the top of. Only 66% of these ideas have made it into the show!

Directed by renowned clown Fraser Hooper, Dumbstruck showcases the amazing skills of Underbelly’s Circus Maximus Winner - a competition held at the Udderbelly Festival on London’s South Bank to find an exciting new circus performer.

Underbelly director Ed Bartlam comments, Underbelly are delighted to welcome Circus Maximus winner Sam Goodburn to the Fringe this year. Circus Maximus was created to discover and nurture homegrown circus talent and to give young performers a chance to showcase their work on an international platform at the world’s biggest arts festival. Sam was chosen for his outstanding skills and creativity in the 2015 Circus Maximus competition and we are very much looking forward to his Edinburgh debut.

Director Fraser Hooper comments, I'm thrilled to be working with Sam Goodburn on this new exciting project. His unique skill set combined with his ease at making audiences laugh is such a great recipe for creating a wonderful circus comedy show.

Not a clue, to be honest