Saturday, 10 May 2014

Post-Visual Theatre

The term post-visual theatre was the final step in a process that began with frustration at post-dramatic theatre and the proliferation of jargon in the discussion of it. Its first articulation was as ‘audio criticism’ – a series of podcasts made by Tramway Young Critics that accompanied their spoken reviews of performances with music that evoked the mood they experienced during the performance. Since this format allows dialogue between the critics, it offers a pluralist critique, against the more traditional review that privileges a single voice. It also attempts to offer an experience to the listener more akin to the experience of art.

The first stages of Uncle Vanya in Dub were an immediate response to Rapture Theatre’s production of John Byrne’s translation – it dramatised the questions posed in the company’s process. Act II dwells on whether it is comedy or tragedy; Act I struggles to find the subtext to the script.

Post-visual theatre is fundamentally critical in intention. It comments on the already existing text, and uses a bricolage technique of ready-mades… it differs from electro-acoustic composition in that it is exclusively made up from already existing texts (music, sounds and words). It shares a great deal with soundscape or installation sound art, but has a clearer connection to post-dramatic theatre’s interest in deconstruction.

Well... that is the version of DJ SpinOza... and defines post-visual theatre is a specific lineage. However, there are other works that fit into the post-visual category - based on the assumption that the strongest presence on stage is the audio. Take Ciara by David Harrower: its visual aspect is limited to Blythe Duff's presence and some subtle lighting, allowing the sound of the words, accompanied by music from Daniel Padden, to lead the meaning. Then there is Away with The Birds by Hanna Tuulikki, which becomes less interesting the more that it moves away from being a vocal piece (a version at Tramway introduced some dance moves, which felt tentative and clumsy against its majestic version at Techtonics 2013). 

Of course, the most notable use of a post-visual strategy came in Martin O'Connor's Theology (part 2). Although it did not mesh effectively with (part 1), in itself it used O'Connor's poetry as part of Nichola Scrutton's roving soundscape, conjuring A Govan of the Mind through the words and sounds... neither O'Connor's poetry nor Scutton's music would have had the same impact alone (although they are very good in themselves, anyway....)

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