Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Miss Hill, Making Dance Matter @ Art Screen

Martha Hill
Having grown up in a ballet school, I am very familiar with the energy, enthusiasm and (perhaps) mania that drives good dance teachers  - somewhere in Wessex, my mother is still urging young people to appreciate the glories of ballet. Martha Hill, admittedly working in a more contemporary choreographic context shared with Gypsy Booth a dedication to training, a determination not to be beaten by larger forces and a life-long passion for expression through the body.

Sentimental memories of my mum aside. Martha Hill comes across in the film Making Dance Matter as a champion of the avant-garde. Although she began her career as a dancer in Martha Graham's company, she soon discovered an aptitude for administration and pedagogy, which would lead to her long term role as Juiliard's director of dance (1952-1985).

Using old footage of her schools - including some spectacular sequences of many of the great American Modern Dance pioneers - and interviews with Hill and her friends - Making Dance Matter serves as  a fine testimony to someone who could be ferocious but also dedicated to her students' excellence. That her latter years were tangled by a conflict with New York Ballet over who got the best studios during the relocation of Juilliard only emphasises that here was a woman unwilling to bow to even the brightest names in the ballet firmament.

American Modern Dance - and its offshoots, such as the dance theatre developed by Pina Bausch - is one
My mum and my sister
of the most crucial theatrical movements of the twentieth century. Hill's personality - creative, dogged and lyrical - can be read in the work of the finest choreographers: indeed, Bausch herself was Hill's pupil. By pulling together talented creators into her school, Hill allowed collaboration and even found space for this pioneers to rehearse within Juilliard.

The film has the charm of a lovingly crafted obituary. It never baulks at showing Hill's ferocity, but dwells on her compassion and enthusiasm. Her pupils do remember her power, but also a more nurturing side, and the film operates both as an essay on her influence and as a marvellous archive of  contemporary dance vocabularies.

Of course, without Miss Hill, there would never have been the Sunday lunch arguments between Vile Jnr and his mother regarding the relative aesthetic worth of ballet against AMD. So, I can thank Hill for the long silences and my mother's continued campaign, a bit like Freddie Mercury, to bring ballet to the masses.

Definitions of Dramaturgy.... (1)

Definitions are tools. I know that Plato saw them as an end point in his philosophy, but I prefer to fashion something then use it until it breaks. Then, I either fix it, or pick up whatever broke it, and use that instead.

Every so often, I need to come back to definitions, so that I can move forward, deeper into my analysis. These definitions might not be helpful, but they provide some kind of code that might clarify my postings, at least for a week or so.

The whole process of making theatre. Key uses include: dramaturgical choices (decisions made by the maker of a piece). Most frequently used to examine the way that a performance is made: to look at the dramaturgy of a play is to discuss the ideas and theories that formed its form and function.
Warning: there is a school of performance studies that uses dramaturgy to look at any human behaviour (the same school, inspired by Goffman, that regards all behaviour as 'performed'). This is useful because it expands the scope of theatre studies, and can explain stuff like gender identity or the reasons why certain groups act in the way they do (e.g. that Chelsea fan made a dramaturgical choice to use a stanley knife rather than a broken bottle).
Dramaturgy is often described through the use of metaphors (such as when my friend Elliot Roberts talks about 'the dramaturg as pyro-maniac'). This is useful for makers, but does not cover the full range of dramaturgy's functions. I am going to stick with the definition given by Graham Eatough in a recent seminar: it is about making a structure in time and space.

This is where the problems start: the dramaturg has no fixed role, but is variously described as 'the outside eye' or a fixer. Roughly, the dramaturg comes into a rehearsal process at various stages, and offers advice. Different dramaturgs have different approaches.
Warning: a dramaturg is not your mate coming in a week before production deadline. And there are far too many people who claim to be dramaturgs with no training or awareness of the possible strategies. Unless the person has had many years of theatrical experience, or has been trained as a dramaturg, odds are that they are a chancer.
Many writers double up as dramaturgs, and a responsible one will clarify their role - and they won't be writing the script. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014


Sam Shepard is hardcore. He was in that film Voyager, about needed to be a bit more careful about his sexual partners. He wrote Paris, Texas and recently did his first ever post-show session at The Citizens, where somebody asked him whether there were any DVD box-sets that he would recommend.

Ah, Glasgow audiences are the most sophisticated in the world. 

Now, there is a roadshow doing the rounds dedicated to him. It's like his work can't be contained by the usual theatrical presentations. It's a mixture of performance, film and workshops, with live music, and it all started when Ben Kritikos (out of Herons!) and Jack Talton (the one who played Mozart on the BBC) were pulled together with Simon Usher (artistic director of Coventry Belgrade) to create a new work based on Shepard's prose and poetry. Making the Sound of Loneliness was then commissioned by Latitude Festival in 2012 (I think that was the year my tent was swept away in the night), and has inspired Actors Touring Company to hit the road with a sack full of Shepard shenanigans.

There is so much going on that I got a little confused by the press release. I think all the genres are being The Animal (You)... no, they are 'staging two further pieces by Sam Shepard, the visceral early play The Holy Ghostly and the poetic monologue The War in Heaven and a screening of the rarely seen film version of Savage/Love, directed by Academy Award winning director Shirley Clarke.'
slapped into a single piece, called

'The workshop will focus on another little seen film by Clarke, Tongues. As The War In Heaven was co-written with actor Joseph Chaikin who was left with Aphasia, there will be additional workshops and outreach activity in partnership with Connect, a charity for people living with Aphasia, to create awareness of this language disorder.'

The Holy Ghostly is vintage Shepard: out in the desert, a father and son duke it out. It does sum up why some people might find it a bit much: he isn't just a male writer, he is always banging on about masculinity - and it tends to be the rough'n'tough variety. That said, artists have no moral responsibility to be balanced, and his virtuosic word-play (and the inherent theatricality of his scripts) get him off the hook.

There is one other great thing about this roadshow. Back to the press release: Ben Kritikos creates a badland soundscape for all the shows and will also play post-show gigs while on tour with Presence Theatre.

That'll be my cross-platform button ticked. Score...


CHORALE Directed by Simon Usher Design by Carmen Mueck Lighting & Projection Arnim Friess Sound Design Paul Bull Music by  Cast John Chancer, Valerie Gogan and Jack Tarlton

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry 10th–17th May (show times vary) 024 7655 3055

Rhoda McGaw Theatre, Woking 23rd and 24th May, 7.30pm 01483 545999 mcgaw-theatre

Òran Mór, Glasgow 28th May, 7.30pm 0141 357 6200

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 30th and 31st May, 7.30pm 0131 228 1404

The Poly, Falmouth 5th June, 7.30pm 01362 3194

The Acorn, Penzance 6th June, 7.30pm 01736 363545

Eden Court Theatre, Inverness 12th and 13th June, 8pm 01463 234 234

CLF Art Café at the Bussey Building, London 16th–29th June (show times vary) 020 7732 5275

Dugdale Art Centre, Enfield 3rd and 4th July 2014, 8pm 0208 807 6680

Yama @ Tramway

Dramaturg: The Musical (Extract): Cap confronts the Secret Cabal of Funders

Dramaturg: The Musical (Extract): Enter the Dramaturg

Dramaturg: The Musical (Extract) Cap's Rap

Monday, 28 April 2014

Action Hero @ Buzzcut

When we perform, we are going to perform so well that you won't be able to review us. Although our purpose will be so clear, there will be something indefinable, just beyond your grasp that forces you to stutter and pause. You'll try to explain how we take a simple format, male and female alternating insults and evolve it into something profound, that sums up human conflict but goes beyond it.

Yeah? When I review, it will be like, there is no need to go and see this piece. I'll capture its essence and express it so exactly that it would be a waste of time to go out of the house and watch it. I'll take the best bits and expose their depth, and my readers will feel as if they experienced it from start to finish.

Sure, but when we perform, we go on for six hours, so that no-one sees the whole thing, only fragments. And they'll go home and wonder what they missed, making up bits and thinking about what could have happened. It will become their lives, the boundary between art and life slowly dissolving.

And I'll keep it short: so short that it is like a virus, infecting the reader's mind. Containing everything in embryo, ready to be born as soon as their eyes are cast over the page.

Our audience will wander out, stunned, impressed by the acting, our tenacity and the power of our words. They will be exhausted but tell others to go on in and see what we are doing. They will say it is the best thing that they have seen in ages.

When I blog, it will get retweeted and thousands of people will read it: more than ever can see your show, or who would want. It will go viral on the internet, and people will talk about the blog post in ways that your performance cannot match.

When we perform, and when we read the words on the machine, it will inspire the audience to ask what they have seen. They will ask whether it is a play or live art, a metaphor for gender conflict or the real thing. The scope of the subjects will astound them and all boundaries will dissolve. They will be unsure, but confident that they have experienced an event.

When I critique, no-one know what is going on. Is this some sort of joke? Is he trying to copy the form of the piece? Why can't he give it star ratings?

The purpose of art...

Scenes from the battle against the Spectacle....

The Gatecrashers of Criticism

Magneto on Criticism

Buzzcut 2014

Buzzcut  was set up in response to the collapse of New Territories, a festival that had brought many top quality international acts into Glasgow, but was still capable of controversy. Buzzcut is not a replacement festival, and if the growth of New Territories  reflected a period when large scale experimental performance challenged the boundaries between the genres of dance, installation and theatre, Buzzcut has rapidly become an iconic symbol of a younger generation's aspirations.

The ethos is clearly on DIY creation - the popular Five Minutes to Move Me strand emphasises how much can be done with so little. The more well-known artists, such as Action Hero or Claire Cunningham, are able to present more experimental work - Cunningham's Give Me a Reason to Live is a shift towards a more performance art version of her usual choreography - and up-and-coming artists are given a platform that will get more attention. Curators Nick Anderson and Rosana Cade founded the festival on the ideal of 'artists giving space to artists,' and this has led to a tightly-knit community supporting the main Buzzcut festival and its various off-shoots.

It is clear that the community-building is working: Buzzcut 2014 occupied the Pearce Institute in Govan, and the cafe became a space for celebration, friendship and conversation: the familiarity of the artists who were performing contributes to a safe atmosphere, both for new work and new friendships. The range of performances on offer ensures that diversity is more important than theme, or even notions of polished products, with walks, installations and coffee breaks all part of the fun.

There are problems with the model - any community has an in and out group, and Govan is not necessarily the best location for challenging live art - and the Buzzcut community does not connect, at least in terms of curation, with the other arts communities of Glasgow. Frustrating as this is, it is perhaps unfair: Buzzcut is affirming its own identity, creating a focus for artists working on the edges of traditional theatre. It is from here that effective dialogues can be made - with the music community, or the funding bodies that won't be able to ignore strong grass-roots dynamism.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Storm struggles to tell the truth in criticism...

In Defence of Alan Bissett, Heavy Metal and Open Interpretation (1)

And so it continues: The Daily Telegraph has a pop at Alan Bissett, on the grounds that he needs to lose some weight. This one hit home for me - I am heavier than Bissett and have more of a paunch. Personal insults are taking it way too far, and I actually thought that bit where he stripped down to his shreddies revealed a fairly good body.

Not that I appreciated it in any way other than a neutral, calm manner.

Of course, press attacks on artists that get personal are obnoxious and need to be called out. More than that, it seems that these journalists are encroaching on my territory, art criticism. I have always made it clear that I am not a journalist (no shorthand for starters), and their articles are making it pretty bloody clear that they are not critics.

You see, to be a critic, you need to have some basic understanding of the function of art. Art isn't a series of instructions to be blindly followed by the audience. It is a creative expression of a subjective viewpoint, presenting ideas for discussion. Regardless of the way it is presented, the apparent sincerity of the artist or the opinions expressed, an intelligent audience is free to interpret.

By intelligent, in this case, I mean able to see or hear or feel or touch.

Let's switch attention to another right-wing newspaper and see how The Daily Mail addressed the suicide of a young man.

A sixth-former who became introverted and withdrawn when he met his first girlfriend was found hanged after spending three hours searching for death metal songs on YouTube, an inquest heard.
Oliver King, 16, viewed songs including The Body of Death of the Man With The Body of Death by Pinkly Smooth before taking his own life while his mother was out of the house.

He left no suicide note and had never received any medical help for depression or mental illness.
But he texted a friend weeks before his death saying 'I imagine killing myself every day' and police found deleted images on his iPod which included the words: 'I'm sorry I want to give up. I’m sorry I want to die. I’m sorry I want to kill myself.'

The inquest heard Oliver, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, turned from an outgoing schoolboy into an introvert and began wearing dark clothes, long hair and makeup after beginning his first serious relationship.

He began listening to metal bands he had not listened to before, including Avenged Sevenfold and Black Veil Brides, and relations with his parents became strained.

The teenager began spending little time at home, lost weight and fell behind with his A-level studies. He had coursework deadlines the day after he died in February last year.

After the inquest his father Adrian King, 43, a management and IT consultant, said: 'I think the music did contribute to his state of mind. He was hanging out with the wrong crowd and I believe this lifestyle was more to blame than anything else.'

The surprise expressed that a teenager might have trouble relating to his parents, the salient fact that academic pressures are barely acknowledged compared to the space given to his 'death metal' enthusiasm, and the emphasis placed on the music as a catalyst suggest that there isn't a deep understanding of... well, life behind this article.

Just as a comparison, here's a description of some people listening to Wagner.

Thus again there arose a silence, full of expectation... out of evenly trembling waves of sound, in gradual, cruelly voluptuous crescendi, continually sinking back into themselves, there developed the most violent attack on human nerves... everyone, in their own way, felt gripped, overwhelmed, tortured, delighted, dishevelled. Even Frau von Ramburg could not maintain her dignity; she began to writhe on her chair like a snake.

Ferdinand von Saar is a better writer - that is a beautiful description of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde - but it articulate the same moral panic. It suggests that music can change personality. 

I'm bored now, but here's the connection. Slagging off Alan Bissett for his opinions, or blaming metal for suicides, or Wagner for an aristocratic family having an orgy, is to miss the possibility that the human mind can interpret art. It doesn't take a genius to recognise that reading anything with irony completely subverts its meaning. The particular work that took a slagging, Ban This Filth! has problems, but they are caused by Bissett's willingness to offer multiple interpretations: his physical vulnerability reflected the emotional vulnerability he was chasing in his speeches. 

Oh, and Avenged Sevenfold are not death metal. I got cornered at a party once by a speed metal fan. Forty minutes later, I knew the difference between black, speed and death metal. In detail...

Oh yes - and this: the Werther effect. Expect the next sanctimonious article not to include the line '... a copy of The Daily Mail was found by his bed.'

Nic Green takes a Walk @ Buzzcut

Action Hero @ Buzzcut 2014

Blue Lotus @ Botanics

Give Me A Reason To Live @ Buzzcut (1)

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Scottish ballet's Romeo and Juliet

Captain America fights orthodox Live Art

The Future of Theatre

The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants plot theatrical revolution...

Further to my comments on muck-spreading journalism...

Indian Dance, hip hopera, churnalism and sheds

Dance Ihayami presents the final outdoor performance of Blue Lotus, a classical and contemporary Indian dance collaboration with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and classical music composer Ash Madni. Live music will be performed by the Antonine Quartet (supplied by Music Co-OPERAtive Scotland).

Blue Lotus explores the connection between Indian dance and the natural environment, reflecting the changing seasons. As human beings, we interact with our environment in every moment and with every movement - dance explores the resonance of our body landscapes in tune with the natural surroundings.

Blue Lotus is Dance Ihayami’s public engagement project running from summer 2013 to summer 2014 and is kindly supported by Creative Scotland. Over the past year, Dance Ihayami has worked with many local people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, engaging them in Indian dance movement inspired by the choreographic development of Blue Lotus. Some of the project participants we have been working with will open Dance Ihayami's Blue Lotus performance.

Saturday, 3 May 2014 @2:00pm
Venue: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Outdoor performance spot by the Inverleith House/Café
Closest entrance: Arboretum Place (John Hope Gateway) Edinburgh EH3 5LP
Admission: Free
Additional information: Bring your own rug to sit on. Please arrive at the venue at least 10 minutes prior to the start of the show. In case of severe weather, an alternative indoor venue will be provided.

London, UK - On the 2nd of June 2014 Josephine & The Artizans will release their highly anticipated debut
EP, ʻDies Iraeʼ, alongside an official music video
for the title track, ahead of an intensely busy summer on the stages
of the UKʼs most exciting music festivals.

With their forthcoming EP, the band explore their signature Hip-Hopera style in depth, fusing classical strings
and operatic vocals with Hip-Hop beats, rap and electric guitar. The unique ensemble tackle extremely relatable, and surprisingly diverse, subjects from the cultural pressures on todays youth all the way to isolation in plain sight. Each and every song is carefully crafted to create an incomparable experience set to the backing of ethereal strings and driving rhythms. The accompanying music video tells the story of three different teenagers forced to follow an unchosen lifestyle by an older generation juxtaposed with images of the band performing against the backdrop of a gothic church.

Josephine & The Artizans have received wide spread acclaim since supporting bands such as Maximo Park, The Fratellis and Tom Odell on the main-stages of Galtres Parklands and Brownstock festivals, among many others, last summer. The band have received amazingly positive reviews and airplay on national radio stations from such reputable sources as Tom Robinson on BBC 6 Music and Premier Radio as well as an overwhelming response from online and printed press, for example Fresh On The Net, Love Music Magazine, Adam Not Eve and The Times. The group have also been creating a buzz with their unforgettable live show in their hometown, London, with performances on the main stage at the massive O2 Islington, the legendary Bush Hall, Brixtonʼs award winning Hootananny and Camdenʼs world famous Jazz Cafe, and thatʼs only counting 2014.

Josephine & The Artizans have already confirmed a flurry of live appearances this summer including Boomtown Fair, Lechlade and Headlander festivals with plenty more yet to be announced.

Greenock’s iconic Sugar Sheds are to be the stage for an ambitious, site-specific performance, White Gold, as part of the Glasgow 2014 Cultural programme, this June. 

A 200-volunteer cast will join a team of professional artists and performers to tell the untold stories of the people of Inverclyde, through drama, movement, music and breathtaking aerial performance. As audiences walk through the performance, they will be immersed in the experience.

The multi-art form production is an original creation conceived and overseen by Mark Murphy, directed by Simone Jenkinson and Joseph Traynor of Cuerda Producciones, Argentina. It is produced by arts organisation Iron Oxide, with All or Nothing Aerial Dance Theatre, Tigerstyle and the Beacon Arts Centre.

The Creative Team said: “Our vision is to create a show that has the power to transform: to find the extraordinary in the everyday; to confound expectation of what a group of people with a united intention can achieve and in doing so get to the very heart of what makes these incredible communities of Inverclyde tick.”

Touching, personal stories have been gathered from across the area. Inverclyde Community Development Trust has worked closely with community groups and individuals to discover memories and anecdotes – old and new - that have in some way affected the lives of the storyteller. Echoing their past industrial use, the Sugar Sheds function as a store for stories and a refinery for their production, before the raw material is turned into White Gold.

Paul Bristow, Story Harvester, ICDT, said: "Our team have collected lots of reminiscences and stories over the years, but this was something quite different, White Gold asked us to look at a series of ten questions, such as ‘who do you wish you’d told you loved?’, ‘which song means most to you and why?’ and ‘tell us the story of a door you wished you had never opened’ and our volunteers sat down with folk from all across the area to see where those conversations would take us.

“We’ve been amazed by the power of the stories and the generosity of those who have given them. We’ve genuinely had moments of people bursting into tears or laughing aloud, sharing their answers and experiences with us. Most people, perhaps because we were strangers, were only too happy to share and there were some really sad and beautiful stories in there. We’re really interested to see how they have been adapted and incorporated into the performance.” 

Edinburgh’s All or Nothing have been running aerial workshops with groups in Inverclyde throughout the year. White Gold aims to develop a lasting legacy of aerial workshops and classes in Inverclyde at the Beacon Arts Centre.
Jen Paterson, All or Nothing, said: “All or Nothing has been leading aerial workshops at the Beacon as a way of introducing one of the main art forms that will feature in White Gold into the Inverclyde area. As well as free taster classes in aerial skills, a group of local volunteer cast will train up more intensively in aerial harness and flying so that they have the skills to perform aerial alongside professional artists in the production."

“It is really exciting to be working alongside Simone Jenkinson and Joseph Traynor of Argentina’s Cuerda Producciones, and to be showcasing some of the leading, most experienced aerial performers in the UK.”

DJs and musicians Tigerstyle have been working with school groups, asking them for their take on the questions, teaching them the fundamentals of digital music creation and using their responses to influence and create music which will inspire the show.

Pops, Tigerstyle, said: “We had a great time working with students from St Andrews and St Francis Primary Schools. The children told stories to each other, we played some word games and then they collectively wrote some lyrics using their wild imaginations. We then worked with them to put together sounds to compliment. Everyone is really looking forward to seeing how the music will fit into the show.”

Creative Team
Conceived & overseen by Mark Murphy
Directed by Simone Jenkinson & Joseph Traynor
Assistant Director & Performer: Brigid McCarthy
Lighting Design: Lizzie Powell
Set & Costume Design: Becky Minto
Set & Costume Design Assistant: Rebecca Hamilton
Musical Director: Nathaniel Reed

Listings Information
White Gold, Sugar Sheds, Greenock
Wed 4 June (preview), 6.30pm, FREE but ticketed.
Thu 5 – Fri 6 June, 6pm & 9pm, tickets £5 (£3)
Sat 7 June, 3.30pm & 6.30pm, tickets £5 (£3)
Tel: 01475 723723 / book online:
*Important venue information: Audiences must arrive promptly at the Beacon Arts Centre by the time stated, where they will be transported to the venue by bus. Beacon Arts Centre, Custom House Quay, Greenock, PA15 1HJ.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Dj SpinOza talks Chekhov

He looks relaxed. The beard is more ragged than usual, and he hesitates when he speaks. He gesticulates wildly, of course, his hands betraying his anxiety that he might simply have created something that already existed. It is the danger of the autodidact, to expend energy on reinvention through ignorance.

'Come on, then,' he laughs. 'I'm ready to be grilled.'

I wanted to ask you about the name you've given to the work.
Post-visual theatre? Or Uncle Vanya in Dub? That's easy: I took a version of Chekhov's play, and dropped it into music. And some of it is dubstep, but the dub record, in reggae, is one for the dancehall. And I did that with my Text.

I was thinking about post-visual theatre. Inventing a genre is pretty bold, and isn't this just a radio play?
No - radio plays are still about the script being performed. I took a pre-recorded text of Uncle Vanya, and treated it as music - editing it, distorting it. This isn't a play, in the sense that its foundation was a soundfile, not a script.
There is a clear punk aesthetic though, with a dash of Duchamp. All the material used counts as a ready-made, and was put together with common technology. Punk has been mistaken for a sound - you know, loud guitars, shouting - but it is an ethos. Use what is available, do it yourself.

But the visual part - there are no visuals at all.
I'm inspired by Wagner's idea of total theatre... immersive performance too, which seems to be its natural successor. I was working on a visual theatre festival, manipulate, when we tried to decide what the genre meant. I see certain work, say David Harrower's Ciara as not being visual, because they are all about the voice and the words. He strips back set and movement, even presence of the actor.

But the bottom line is that all theatre is visual to some extent, except the radio play. And while this is not a radio play, it exists as audio. So the post prefix denotes that although it is influenced by visual theatre - and here I mean Dance Theatre, puppetry, works that contain video and so on, it has no intrinsic visual element. Yet.
Think of it like a soundtrack, only the video part is whatever you look at while listening. It does bear some similarities to electro-acoustic composition, in terms of the actual sound, especially in Act II.

How about that prefix, then?
I get to see a lot of what is called post-dramatic theatre. Lately, it has got into a rut, laying out all of its elements in order, encouraging contemplation on the form, not the content. Well, like the post-dramatics, I share a willingness to deconstruct theatricality, and challenge what 'theatre' is. And I like to make narrative into a problem... unless you know Vanya, you'll have a hard time following the plot.

What seems valuable in post-dramatic theatre is its diffidence towards big statements, but also the opportunity to play with themes rather than stories. The post-modern idea of destabilising, of rejecting a central position, solid ground... it makes theatre open to interpretation, emphasises the negative capability.
But I like to feel post-dramatic theatre can be about emotions. That is why music is so essential.

Important... although even post-modernists have to admit that there has to be an audience of some sort. So there are essentials, I guess.

What was it about Uncle Vanya?
It's a classic. Now, when directors say that usually, they mean - I have no idea why I picked it, but it is the thing to do. Vanya is a classic, and it might be good - although the version I have, both translation and performance is shocking.
I want to expose what it means to be a classic: it means that directors think it is enough, sometimes, to do it straight. The LiberVox recording I use, God bless them for making it free, is very straight and was made out of a sense that this classic ought to be available. Never mind that they kill it with bad acting - Chekhov is available.
First of all, I was attacking the idea that a classic can be done with no interpretation. The way I cover it in music is insulting it.
But Chekhov poses other questions - like the one I address in Act II. Is it funny or a sad? Chekhov thought it was a laugh-fest, but Stanislavski treated it like tragedy. That tension runs through all the versions...

You use quite a range of music... from holy chants to drum and bass. What dictated those choices?
After I had my text, I wanted to give it moods. I try to interpret Vanya as a series of shifts in mood. Different episodes demand different styles... the dubstep is a short-cut to express the aggression I detect just beneath the civilised exchanges, and the classical music speaks for itself.

And does the music reflect the themes?
Yes - in Act I, I go between heavily mechanised music and more pastoral, classical pieces... I say pastoral, but they have a drama. There is also a leitmotif throughout, the blackbird, which resolves in Act IV.
I detected a kind of melancholic futurism in some of Astrov's speeches where he looks to a thousand years hence. He cares for the forest, he's an early environmentalist, but he fears for it. Funnily enough, Astrov's story of the plague and his forestry reflect Chekhov's own experiences as a landlord. Chekhov is often seen as presaging the sudden changes in Russian politics... the move from rural economies to the industrial... the weight of the dubstep is a nice contrast.

Each Act seems to have its own identity...
Each Act deals with a different set of formal possibilities... Act I is the straight one, it just gives the mood and reveals the vocabulary, or technique of post-visual theatre... Act II follows a question... Act III is a party... Act IV is spiritual. I was trying to see what the different boundaries were.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Chris Deerin

My new found enthusiasm for Twitter (I remembered the password) has run aground. I loved having loads of interesting people's opinions to read, between the self-regarding bullshit I slap up there. But then I was led to an article by a Daily Mail columnist called Chris Deerin.

I guess the main thing that lefties like me find hard to take is the authoritative tone of The Daily Mail column: there is no sense of provocation or suggestion, just the damning big statement. In this case, Deerin has a go at Alan Bissett, using him as a symbol for the 'indie lovey' brigade (artists that Deerin doesn't like, who support independence for reasons he regards as self-interested).

As it goes, I don't know whether I support independence. And I don't really like the poem that Alan Bissett wrote about independence, although I can relate to the anger and lively delivery. I do like his play Turbo Folk and his recent piece about Andrea Dworkin didn't smack of political opportunism - it had that very quality of doubt that I value in art (again, I don't agree with his take on Dworkin, but not liking something's position is not the same as saying it doesn't deserve to exist).

The thing is, Deerin's column makes a really big assumption - that he can judge Bissett's intentions (and that they are self-serving).

There's a nice bit in Alan Moore's Promethea  where a devil points out that he can only understand angels on his own terms (and thus, they must be running a scam). The angel looks at the demon and replies that she sees someone doing a rough job as well as they can.

A critic, or academic, assuming that they 'know' why an artist followed a certain path on an emotional level is dumb. It isn't unfair to criticise the poem - although starting the article with a comparison with writers inspired by the holocaust is a bit... melodramatic - and it isn't even unreasonable to make a few assumptions about the writer (it is a fair guess that he believes in a YES vote, eh?). But the assumption of self-interest, that Bissett is lining himself up for a big reward when Big Eck is crowned... it's too much.

I'll try to avoid doing it myself...

The other problem is making Bissett represent other writers. There are a few other playwrights who are up for independence but I don't see them as being much like Bissett in terms of  style or personality. But Deerin takes one writer and makes him stand for the whole (he pretty much takes one piece of poetry...).

It is kind of dumb. But that is the way criticism works - one piece at a time and vapid generalisations that masquerade as objectivity. What we need is a criticism of doubt, tentative assertion and playful methodology. Probably in blog format, written by someone studying dramaturgy.

The National Theatre in 2006: from the Skinny, back in the day

The National Theatre of Scotland has managed, in the six short months since the start of its inaugural season, to become a dynamic and celebrated force. A success on the Fringe with Gregory Burke's 'Black Watch' and Anthony Neilson's 'Realism', a series of collaborations and events held across the country have established it in the forefront of the cultural life of Scotland, from the Shetlands to the Borders.

By refusing to tie itself down to a single base, the NTS has avoided the financial problems associated with new companies and has been able to reach out into the broader community. Launched in February through an event, 'Home', that took place simultaneously in ten different locations, it has presented a wide range of dramas in areas that would not usually have the opportunity to see such impressive work.

The strength of the NTS lies in the clear vision of artistic director Vicky Featherstone. In her manifesto for the company, she states that her intention is to bring theatre to the people and cooperate with international companies, individual artists and local authorities. To this end, she has created a touring ensemble and the Young Company, bringing live theatre into schools and smaller communities, as well as supporting the training of young actors.

Rather than attempting to create a programme from nothing, she has also entered into successful collaborations with existing companies: 'Wolves in the Walls', an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's successful children's book, was made in association with Improbable, while November's tour of 'Snuff' is jointly produced by the Arches Theatre Company. Furthermore, the decision to use the existing infrastructure means that the NTS will be performing in the country's finest venues, from His Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen to Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum and Glasgow's Citizens.

In this way, regional rivalries have been bypassed and the company is inclusive of many sorts of theatre, from the experimental - as in the site-specific 'Home'- to the populist, via pieces for children. A strong commitment to outreach and education suggests that the NTS is willing to develop long term links to shape the next generation of theatre-goers and cultivate artists within Scotland.

The first half of this season has seen the NTS express its intentions through a diverse portfolio of works. Both 'Home' and 'Roam' represented site-specific, suggestive drama: the latter performed at Edinburgh International Airport and using a variety of texts to explore national identity and the experience of global travel. More conventionally, scripted plays have included Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' and Chris Hannan's 'Elizabeth Gordon Quinn'. Both of these works revealed the NTS' concern for theatre as a vehicle for social commentary, without descending into fashionable polemic. Overall, the season embraces the many aspects of modern Scottish theatre and operates as a summary of the state of modern performance art.

The remainder of the year promises to continue in the same manner: both the Touring Ensemble and the Young Company are hitting the road with three works apiece, while two further plays are coming from the main company.

The Touring Ensemble is taking 'Gobbo', 'Mancub' and 'Julie' across Scotland during September and October. Aiming for the younger audience as well as adults, they combine a hectic performance schedule with a community workshop programme. 'Gobbo' is intended for children aged five and over and describes the adventures of a 'goblin who doesn't like adventures'. 'Julie', on the other hand, is an updating of Strinberg's most famous play, relocating the battle of sexual and social politics to Scotland between the wars.

The Young Company are bringing two new works and one classic to the stage. 'Oedipus the King' by Sophocles is retold using Scottish and West African traditions and Raman Mundair's 'Side Effects' explores the consequences of a rowdy night out in Glasgow. Finally, 'Self Contained' is their entry for the Arches Live! Festival in September: a dark work that promises comedy and archaic technology.

However, the centrepiece of the NTS' year will be a production of John Byrne's acclaimed TV series 'Tutti Frutti'. Based on the music of the 1960s, it tells the story of a washed-up pop band, trying to rediscover their glory in the aftermath of their singer's tragic death. Byrne's sharp dialogue and wit made this one of the most beloved television dramas of the 1980s and its mixture of poignancy and laughter ensures that this will be a show to remember.

Finally, Schiller's 'Mary Stuart' affirms NTS' commitment to re-examining Scotland's past: set around a meeting between the Queen of Scots and her cousin Elizabeth I, it is a modern masterpiece of characterisation and intrigue.

In its first season, the National Theatre of Scotland has proven its vibrancy: the range of plays is impressive and its willingness to tackle serious subjects suggests that it is able to examine Scottish identity without resorting to shallow patriotism. Not only does it return drama to the people, it creates a model of stagecraft and engagement that will resonate around the world.