Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Medieval Theatre: Roots in the Mass

In The Medieval Theatre, Glynne Wickham (1986) imagines a society that understood performance as ludus, inheriting a Latin tradition that included sport and tragedy in a single category. The key quality of the ludus, Wickham believes, is that it is not 'real life': it contains a set of rules which allow for its repeat performance. Since the Roman ludus included gladiatorial combat, that repeat might not always feature the same players...

Whatever: but Wickham observes the introduction of a theatricality into the Mass, with a seasonal addition to the Introit: the shepherds asking where they can find the saviour. But I think this misses a trick. The status of the Host is intrinsically theatrical, in that it is both literally a wafer and allegorically the Body of Christ. So that's bisociation, which I believe allows theatre audiences not to get confused by those blokes pretending to be kings or something. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

A Lovely Swiss Watch: page two of Watchmen, issue four

The painting that Dr. Manhattan is studying is “The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali.  The melting pocket watches, in this context, symbolize the malleable nature of time with respect to Dr. Manhattan’s perceptions, while the title of the work itself is another way of looking at Dr. Manhattan’s quantum perception.  

To him, all things happen at once, which is to say that he remembers everything about his life because he has already experienced it, thus he has a persistence of memory.

Armed with the knowledge from the first page's abstract - that the panels will not follow a lineal chronology, that issue four is concerned with Dr Manhattan's battle with his identity and memories and that time will be a major theme, the reader can turn the page. 

Moore and Gibbons have not, however, finished with the abstract and orientation. Page two uses another convention of comics - and cinema - to remind the reader that this page is part of the prologue, namely the title at the foot of the page. Focusing almost exclusively on Dr Manhattan walk on Mars - only panel four pictures another location, it repeats images from page one to continue its non-chronological impetus (panels two, five, six with seven arguably a long shot of five).

The repetition of key images effectively slows down the narrative. Not only does it jump backwards and forwards it time, it returns the narrative to certain points. Moore and Gibbons are exercising considerable control over the pace of the reading, building a vocabulary based on specific images, marking a return to the protagonist's intellectual starting points. Yet the issue has not yet reached the story proper, despite offering more hints about its path. 

The detail and pace of these pages provides the tone that will characterise issue four: Dr Manhattan's philosophical ponders accompany a series of spectacular images. The backdrop of stars, especially in the final panel of the page, provide the context for his meditations, and he introduces his inquiry. He is trying to understand the force that has put what appears to be a clockwork universe into motion.

A Clock Set Running By God

The model of the Universe as a clock has two famous advocates: Isaac Newton and William Paley. Both of them believed in God, although their models have been put to very different uses. Dr Manhattan alludes to both of these models on page two.

Newton's Principia represents an attempt to reconcile the emerging consensus of scientific thought with a belief in God. Writing in the seventeenth century, Newton spent time developing a mechanical, and evidence-based, understanding of natural laws, as well as dedicating himself to Biblical exegesis. 

The metaphor of the universe as a mechanical entity is made explicit by Newton in his arguments with Leibniz,  who commented in a letter that

Sir Isaac Newton and his followers have also a very odd opinion concerning the work of God. According to their doctrine, God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion.

The compromise in Newton's conceptual clockwork universe came from his desire to include an interventionist God within a scheme that appeared not to need one. However, his model provides a clear answer to Manhattan's question: the force that set the stars in motion is called God. 

Paley, arguing for religious belief through the evidence of design in Natural Theology (1802), called up an argument first used by the Stoics and mentioned by Cicero.

Suppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think … that, for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for a stone?… 
For this reason, and for no other; namely, that, if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, if a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it.

The Watchmaker becomes a name for God in Paley's formulation - and this claim is parodied in the title of Richard Dawkins' Blind Watchmaker (1986), in which natural selection is promoted as an alternative explanation, without any need for a divine creator.

In alluding to these hypotheses, Moore and Gibbons set up a clear line of inquiry, expressed by a being who, at several points in issue four, is compared to God. In the first three panels, Manhattan establishes his credibility as a thinker, by revealing his awareness of the physical processes around him - he describes the passage of light from the sun to the outer reaches of the galaxy - before revealing his personal history. His father inspired him with an interest in the natural world, and drew the comparison between the universe and the watch.

That his father is a watchmaker adds to the theological tone of the words - father often being used as another description of God. This is also a foreshadowing of a later scene in issue four - with the repetition of panel four signposting this explicitly. 

Dr Manhattan's theology, however, is at this point distinctively pre-twentieth century, and ignores the revolution in science that is marked by Einstein's theories of relativity. The reference to the speed of light in the first panel aside, Manhattan uses sense-based evidence as the foundation of his meditation. He observes the motion of the stars, the cogs of the deconstructed watch, draws parallels but questions the invisible metaphysics beyond them.

Finally, he drops the photograph, walks across the deserted surface of Mars, and the title appears. Ambiguously, it could refer to Manhattan himself, the Newtonian God or Manhattan's father. 

The issue is ready to begin. Page three reveals a sudden shift in mood, location and character, heralded by a repetition of panel four (the cogs).

A Lovely Swiss Watch: one page of Watchmen, issue four

Meanwhile, over on his website, Scott Eric Kauffman is suggesting a strategy for analysising the first page of Watchmen, issue four. There is a lively discussion in the comments, often criticising Kauffmann for his desire to explain the panels, or his use of Scott McCloud as an authority. Like most 'below the line' commentary, it's often aggressive and ad hominem. Sigh.

Kauffman points out, using McCloud's definitions, that the first panel is 'duo-specific' - that is, the words and the image deliver the same information. The second panel, however, is 'word-specific', in which the image illustrates the words' information. There is movement between the panels - Dr Manhattan has dropped the photograph. This movement is emphasised by the words in the second panel... in twelve seconds time...

This is followed by a panel that represents a static figure: Manhattan lost in contemplation of the photograph. 

Panels One to Three: A Programmatic Strip

While such tight focus on a mere three panels (a third of a page, from twenty four pages in total) is hardly the usual way to read a comic book, it presents the first row of the issue as a self-contained sequence, the common size of a comic strip printed in newspapers. Here's a lovely and somewhat meta example.

Treating the three panels as a stand-alone sequence, the introduction to issue four imitates the pattern of a strip. Not only does it introduce several themes for the issue - time, Dr Manhattan's contemplation of time and the relationship between his current situation and his history - it provides a dialectic narrative. 

In panel one, the protagonist - Dr Manhattan - is introduced alongside his antagonist. The photograph is a symbol of his past (specifically, it was taken in 1959, before his transformation into the blue superpowered being). 

Panel two jumps to the conclusion: he drops the photograph. The antagonist has been overcome, left in the dirt. Between the two panels, the story has been completed. This is a programmatic sequence - issue four's narrative arc follows Manhattan's rejection of his past. The photograph, which pictures him with his first lover, symbolises his time as a human: issue four examines his rejection of the emotional ties he has to that identity.

The tension between the two panels is within Manhattan's mind, symbolised by his literal holding and dropping of the photograph. However, the punchline in panel three draws Manhattan back in time: he remains in silent contemplation of the image - setting up the rest of the page, in which he reflects on his memories of the photograph. He can never leave it behind, and he is 'still there' (panel four).

In short - and, frankly, this is reading a great deal into a tiny portion of the text - the movement of the story goes from 'a man and his past' (panel one) to the past abandoned, with the third panel announcing the impossibility of ever abandoning the past. There's a slight dramatic irony in the third panel, in which the reader is aware of the conclusion to the story even when observing the story in motion. This irony is complicated because Dr Manhattan is also aware of the conclusion, effectively sharing the experience with the reader.

Too much on too little? Look at the rest of the page...

Throughout the page, Moore and Gibbons play with the grid pattern of nine panels to set up a series of associations. The photograph is presented in close up at the very centre of the page (panel five), and the second panel is repeated (with different words) in the final panel nine. Panel two becomes a foreshadowing of the conclusion, and by placing the photograph in the centre, its importance is emphasised. Page one of issue four is 'the story of the photograph' and, while it continues to be programmatic of the issue's story arc, it is also a self-contained sequence. 

The First Page as a Self-Contained Narrative

Karin Kukkonen (Comics and Graphic Novels, 2013) suggests two models that can be used to define 'the minimal complete plot' (Todorov, 1969, cited by Kukkonen, page 36). Initially, there is Todorov's notion that it must 'begin with the disturbance of an equilibrium and ends with its re-establishment'. 

The first three panels perform this process: the words in panel one, due to their cold, dispassionate tone, establish the tension between the man and the object he is observing, while panel two shows the result of the disturbance - an abandoned photograph on the surface of Mars. Panel three resolves into the res-establishment of the equilibrium - by panning back to show the complete man and not just his hand.

However, Kukkonen offers a more detailed structure: Labov's 'six steps'. A narrative will progress through these stages, from abstract to coda. 

The abstract 'previews' the narrative - a function performed elegantly in the first three panels. Stage two, the orientation, which introduces the world of the story and the main characters, is enacted in the same sequence, with the addition of panel four (two locations - Mars and the Gila Flats - the protagonist Dr Manhattan and his memories, symbolised by the photograph, are all introduced).

The complicating action is in both the dropping of the photograph, Manhattan's memories of collecting it, and his reflections on its meaning. Evaluation, Labov's fourth step, both provides the words with their story and is at the heart of the page. This story is about evaluation. 

The resolution is Manhattan dropping the photograph and walking away (panels seven and eight), while the coda is in the ninth panel - the abandoned photograph, still existing and referring back to panel two. Within the tropes of comic book adventure stories, this final image echoes the final appearance of the antagonist, after their apparent defeat (usually promising a sequel).

Within the wider context of issue four, this page provides the abstract and the orientation, yet it is able to stand alone as Todorov's 'minimal complete plot'.

Page one: a programmatic sequence

Aside from standing as a simple narrative, the function of page one could be considered as programmatic. Containing both the abstract  and orientation, these nine panels set up the mood, atmosphere and themes of issue four, encouraging the reader to recognise certain key themes and the strategies of the creators.

When questioned about the intentions that drove him to write Watchmen, Alan Moore has repeatedly insisted that 'it was show off the things that comics could do' (All Time Greatest Comics, 2016). The conscious repetition of the nine panel grid on each page, for example, deliberately exposes the foundation of the sequential medium, relating Watchmen to earlier comic books which imposed a strict structure on the page. Jack Kirby's art for The Fantastic Four (1961 and following) made use of the clearly defined panel, even as he experimented with their number, size and shape.

This brief action sequence - starring the ever-popular Thing - shifts perspective and point of view repeatedly, but marks clear contrasts between each scene. This is in stark contrast to the work of Stephen Bissette and John Totleben on Swamp Thing (1985, written by Alan Moore).

Since Moore's Swamp Thing used a more fluid approach to panelling, the decision to revert to an earlier model is clearly aesthetic. Whether this further reflects his intention to 'show off' comics as a medium, it certainly lends an old-fashioned atmosphere, enables a clarity of story-telling and presents a measured rhythm to each page, almost establishing a consistence reading length to each page. 

It is not, however, usual - even in the Kirby examples - for the first page to be so carefully delineated. Indeed, most first pages are a 'splash page' - a single image, rather like the Bissette and Totleben above - which provide an abstract, as in the following examples from Kirby's Fantastic Four.

Watchmen dispenses with the title, the details of the creators and replaces the splash page with sequential panels - a change performed in every issue of Watchmen except the final, issue twelve. Scene-setting is performed in the style of the ongoing story, immediately immersing the reader in the rhythm of the issue. The turning of the page is a natural moment of transition - and one used by the traditional 'splash page' and Watchmen alike, in contrast to the practice of the traditional literary novel.

Page one is programmatic in that it trains the reader's eye to follow the narrative both sequential and as a field, as well as establishing the major themes. Each of the first six panels panel contains a reference to time: a specific date (1959) in panel one, a countdown in seconds in panels two, five and six, and 'twenty-seven hours' (in the past) in panels three and four. In the final two panels, Dr Manhattan reflects on the time taken by light from the stars 'to reach us'. And while the sequential reading of the nine panels appear to follow a lineal time, each panel is non-consecutive, jumping through time and space. The illustration below reorders each panel according to its sequential location, set alongside the published sequence. 

It is the captioning - Dr Manhattan's thoughts - that locate each panel's moment into a chronological sequence: the words are working against the flow of the images, imposing an order on a jumble of moments. The subsequent story uses this tension, as Dr Manhattan slowly recalls episodes in his life, attempting to piece together a sense of identity. Flashbacks are given a commentary, returning to Manhattan's 'present moment ' - a solitary stroll on Mars.

This use of panels 'make immediately clear (that) the rows and panels are meant to be read both next to another and all at once' (Baetens and Fry, pg 105/6 2015). The preoccupation of the words with time is echoed in the placement of the panels, disorientating the expected lineal progression.

However, the reordering also highlights the repetition of images: panel two and panel nine are the same - reordered to panels seven and nine. This strategy is repeated throughout issue four, with several images repeating throughout the chapter. This particular panel is also repeated on pages five, twenty four and twenty eight, and provides the cover image for the issue.  The standard checkerboard pattern of the panels is imitated by the repetition of specific images. 

Finally, the central image of the page - panel five - has a distinctive quality. It is a close-up of the photograph. Unlike the other panels, the image it contains does not exist in time, but is an image of an image. 

On the first page, the meaning of these patterns are not clear: the programmatic nature of the sequence merely draws attention to a way of reading, without disclosing its purpose or meaning. 

Tiers and Rows and Columns

Having recognised the flexibility of the panels, and their amenability to reordering, the potential of reading them in different sequences is suggested. For example, here are the panels presents as if read down rather than across the page.

While the clarity of the words' narrative is lost, the images alone provide a coherent narrative, with each column providing a three panel story, similar to the comic strip format. This does, however, disrupt the lineal narrative imposed on the images by the words, while retaining the dramatic relationship between the protagonist Dr Manhattan and the photograph. What is most obviously lost is the resolution of the final three panels: while the first six panels jump around in time, the bottom row complete a chronological and lineal sequence, with panels seven to nine following each other in time. 

This hints that the words might be carrying the narrative thrust. 

Monday, 19 September 2016

Publication Format

It's a shame to dismiss Baetens and Frey so summarily: their conclusion that the graphic novel does not represent a clear break from comic books is even-handed, and recognises the weaknesses of their attempted definition. Unfortunately, the Wikipedia page provides a livelier discussion, including the historical evolution of the term and its format, as well as criticisms of the term from Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. 

These criticisms hit at the heart of Baetens and Frey's discussion: ultimately, the term is a pretentious cover for the true nature of the book, which is a comic within a specific history. Perhaps lumbered by a title that begs a definition, the two academics are forced to begin their study by defending their subject: the emphasis on quality as a characteristic drags them away from the accepted process of definition - which is on quantifiable elements, not the value of a form. They also get caught up in the genre wars (superhero is a genre, not a form), and draw comparisons between comic books and graphic novels which dissolve under cursory investigation. 

I'd like to say their conclusion is, at least, honest, but when Wikipedia shows more academic rigour...

Turns out it isn't content, either.

If Baetens and Frey's attempt to define the graphic novel by form is an echo of the traditional division between pornography and erotica, the subsequent concentration on form appears even less viable. Given that the association of comic books and superheroes is so strong that nearly every serious criticism of comic books begins with the disclaimer that they are not the same thing, trying to define the graphic novel through its content falls into a trap that Baetens and Frey seem unlikely to evade.

Content matter is adult, not in the sense of pornographic, but in the sense of serious and too sophisticated... for a juvenile audience... disposed towards realism (here we mean contrary to the science fiction... of superheroes comic books)

Aristotle, in the Poetics, did a far more elegant job of characterising tragedy and comedy through their content, but merely through the type of story and personalities that could be presented on stage. That this notion has fallen out of fashion - probably because Shakespeare demonstrated that the rules did not need apply for popular, intelligent and serious drama - is reflected in most definitions of art forms. Content usually defines genre, and that the pair go on to claim that the graphic novel can encompass documentaries and autobiography, even history writing.

It's a shame they have forgotten what a novel actually is, by this stage: when Joe Sacco is evoked as 'journalism' (not inaccurately), the notion of 'fiction' as a key element of the novel is abandoned.

They also get ridiculous when autobiography is identified as a possible content: Ghost World is associated with creator Daniel Clowes' personal life, quoting a generic comment from an interview about the relationships between the female characters, even Frank Miller's Batman lives in a world informed by the writer's experiences in New York. 

Yes, writers and artists work from their life experiences. Using this to define the difference between two formats is trite. 

Why on Earth did they set themselves an unnecessary task?

The Graphic Novel: it's not the form, is it?

Jan Baetans and Hugo Frey (The Graphic Novel, 2015) argue for a distinction between 'comics' and 'graphic novels'. Considering differences in form, content and publication format, they present a series of comparisons between the two forms.

Beginning with form, they consistently fail.

'Differences... are not always very clear-cut,' they understate, before noting that the great exemplars of the graphic novel, Watchmen and Dark Knight 'started life as comics and then were republished as graphic novels'. Suggesting that graphic novelists will try to give a distinctive 'twist' to their work (without defining what this might mean), they identify 'layout and narrative' as the key areas.

Apparently, the past century has seen a consistency in the use of a grid system which is designed to be read sequentially. Ignoring the shifts in the use of the grid pattern (for example, EC comics frequently separated text from image, Little Nemo made adventurous use of the standard grade without using the changes in perspective that characterise comics from the 1940s onwards), Baetans and Frey gesture vaguely at the ability of the graphic novelist to 'explore' the rules of composition. 

Julie Doucet is then invoked as a 'graphic novelist' who deliberately aims at an ugly aesthetic. Never mind that Doucet's Dirty Plotte was published from 1991 by Drawn and Quarterly in a 'regular comic' format, or that she announced her retirement from comics in 2006, and her subsequent work has followed a more fine art path of collage and illustration. ("A Good Life: The Julie Doucet Interview" by Dan Nadel,  The Drama, issue no. 7, 2006). 

A stronger example is Will Eisner, who consciously experimented with breaking the traditional frame format throughout his career: his masterwork, The Spirit, however, was clearly produced in the era before the graphic novel became a defined term and his graphic novels, written from the 1970s in prestige formats, share with the comic book the inventiveness Baetens and Frey claim as a distinctive quality of the graphic novel.

Finishing off by claiming that 'the abstract comic' was unthinkable before the graphic novel enabled it, Baetens and Frey reveal a poor reading of Robert Crumb's 1960s' work, which frequently eschewed narrative or coherence for an illusive, psychedelic series of juxtapositions.

While this is only round one in their attempt to define the graphic novel - or their use of the term - pages 8 to 10 are a spectacularly poor effort, falling between the stools of vagueness and weak historiography. 

Will their focus on content redeem them?

Why Study Watchmen?

Despite a snide aside in Grant Morrison's Supergods and Alan Moore's ongoing deprecation of its importance, Watchmen has become one of the most respected comic books of the twentieth century, even featuring on lists of the century's greatest novels. While its blending of mature themes - the link between sexual potency and violence, the gap between comic book convention and 'real life' morality - is neither unique nor original, its impact was marked out immediately, with a plethora of newspaper articles celebrating its deconstruction of the superhero mythos.

Published in 1986, it is a contemporary of both Maus, Spiegelman's autobiographical reflections on his father's experience of the holocaust (with added animal faces) and Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns. These three works have become a 'holy trinity' of comics, with the year delineating the moment 'comics grew up'. Their collected editions - both Dark Knight and Watchmen were initially released as serials, and episodes of Maus appeared in the compilation Raw, itself a self-conscious attempt to showcase comics for adults - heralded the introduction of the term 'graphic novel', a problematic term. Regardless of Moore's complaints, and Baetans argument that the use of the term dates back to the 1960s, it adoption by publishing houses encourages a more respectable distribution and recognition of comic books.

Watchmen's plot follows a stereotype tale of superheroes, trying to save the world against insurmountable odds. The twist comes from the sophisticated characterisation that Moore and Gibbons lent to the heroes, and the moral ambiguity surrounding their behaviour. Dr Manhattan, the only super-powered hero, has the qualities of 'the flying brick', which lead him to become increasingly detached from human behaviours: Rorschach  combines the signifiers of the vigilante detective with a brutal, right-wing ethos of vengeance, and even Ozymandias, the clean-living, socially conscious mastermind hides an egotism that allows him to commit atrocities for the greater good.

The 'originality' of this conception is undermined by the parallel theme, in which Moore and Gibbons draw on the history of comic books to describe their evolution from the optimistic and imperialistic cold war heroics to the darker antiheroes of the 1970s and early 1980s. For example, Dr Manhattan's origin story is clouded by patriotic celebrations of his status as the USA's 'weapon of mass destruction', while The Comedian imitates the brutality of characters like The Punisher (who operates under a morality shaped by his experiences in Vietnam). This point is made tellingly by the opening credits of the film, which uses Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' over a montage of photographs to place the heroes in their historical context.

The film remains a controversial adaptation - variously condemned for its reliance on the comic as a story-board and its variation from the source plot - this sequence captures the subtle weaving of history, comic book tropes and 'realism' that infuses Watchmen with a particular, disorientating dynamism.

Both Moore and Gibbons are  concerned with Watchmen's relationship with comic tradition: the subversion of the hero relies heavily on an awareness of the tropes that inform them. Equally, the use of intertextuality, evoking other comics, films and books, layers Watchmen and offers more complicated interpretations. Far more than the violence and sex, it is this openness to the reader that has made Watchmen a symbol of the mature comic, and susceptible to academic analysis.

Friday, 9 September 2016

I Got Dramaturgy Superpowers For My Birthday: Katie Douglas and James Greive

Ethan, William and Fiona are about as different as three almost-teens can be. The only thing they have in common is that tomorrow is their birthday. And they’ve just discovered they have superpowers.
Which is lucky because someone needs to protect the world from The Darkness. An evil overlord with plans to turn everything to ice.
Join our three heroes on an epic quest to save the planet in this brand new play for ages 7+ from award winning writer Katie Douglas.

What was the inspiration for this performance?


How did you go about gathering the team for it?

Katie Douglas: Paines Plough have a long list of theatre people they love working with who tend to come back again and again.

James Greive: Every year in Roundabout we present a repertory of new plays performed by a single ensemble of actors This year the rep is directed by my Joint Artistic Director George Perrin and performed by an incredible trio of actors – Remy Beasley, Richard Corgan and Andy Rush. Their energy and skill and range know no bounds as they flip from playing teenage lovers to consultant surgeons to gargoyles and dragons across three shows. The shows are lit by LED wizard Prema Mehta with exhilarating sound design by Dom Kennedy. They both return to PP having recently worked on our UK Garage musical WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK, and Dom designed sound for last year’s Roundabout shows, so Katie’s right, we love welcoming great people back to the team again and again. And we have a heroic, hugely talented team of production, technical and stage managers who are the unseen superheroes.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

Katie Douglas: Yes, in the sense that as the writer I just lock myself away and come up with a script. After that the director and actors and the rest of the team take over and the hard work really begins.

James Greive: It’s all new for us. This is only the second show we’ve made specifically for children. We’ve been lucky to work in co-production with Half Moon who are leading experts in making theatre for young people, and with a writer of Katie’s immense creativity and imagination.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Katie Douglas: Fear, excitement and a good few laughs!

James Greive: Just as with last year’s Our Teacher's a Troll by Dennis Kelly, we and Katie wanted to make a show that enthralled the grown-ups as much as their little superheroes. So hopefully the adults will find much to amuse them whilst their charges are enthralled by the adventure.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

James Greive: We built Roundabout because we're really passionate about new plays and we wanted more people to see them. We thought more people would come if we created a context and environment for new plays that felt as exciting as when the circus came to town as a kid, or as exciting as going to the football. A different kind of theatre. A new kind of theatre. A theatre that was bright and colourful and welcoming. A theatre that was comfortable and unpretentious and democratic - where the view from every single seat is the same so every seat is the best seat in the house. Where you're so close to the action you can see the whites of the actors’ eyes. Where you see incredible drama in 3D. So we hope seeing shows in Roundabout gives audiences a unique theatrical experience.
We also want the young people who come to Roundabout to have a really exciting, memorable time. So we lay on a few extras for those very special guests. Stickers and badges go down very well, and this year there are balloons too, plus lots of fun things to see and do around the theatre before and after the show.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

James Greive: Touring theatre is as old as theatre itself and we’re as passionate as ever about making work for as many people as possible to see, so as well as being here in Edinburgh we try to travel the length and breadth of the country taking Roundabout and our shows to the heart of local communities. This Autumn Roundabout tours to a churchyard in Eccles, the pedestrianised centre of Hanley in Stoke-on-Trent, the seafront in Margate, Marsh Farm Estate in Luton and lots more places besides.

Dates and times
08-11 September
Roundabout @ The Lowry, Salford
0843 208 6000
16-18 September
Roundabout @ Lighthouse, Poole
01202 280 000
22-25 September
Roundabout @ Theatre Royal, Margate
01843 292795
29 September-02 October
Roundabout @ Lincoln Performing Arts Centre
01522 837600
06-09 October
Roundabout @ Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal
01539 725133
13-16 October
Roundabout @ Barnsley Civic
01226 327000
20-23 October
Roundabout @ Appetite, Stoke-on-Trent
01782 454404
27-30 October
Roundabout @ RevoLuton, Marsh Farm
01582 345567

Grey Dramaturgy: SPASM @ Edfringe 2016

Neuroscience takes on the nation’s most violent young men - Grey Matter at C Nova

Jack has failed his 18+: assessed 82% likely to commit murder, he has been incarcerated in a secure neuro-treatment facility in the bleakest Norfolk Fens. His only hope is Daniel, neuro-rights activist and teenage-stroke survivor with no concept of left. 

But, as Daniel enters Jack's dangerous world, can he even save himself? Grey Matter presents a dystopian near-future in which profound questions arise as violence erupts between the nation’s most volatile young men: is risk-taking inherently human? is free will an illusion? and just how angry can someone get over a stolen Twix?

Developed from psychologist Adrian Raine’s proposal in his recent book The Anatomy of Violence that eighteen-year-olds assessed above 79% likely to commit violence be detained indefinitely, Grey Matter is a new play, which combines claustrophobic realism, black comedy and fast-paced physical theatre with projection on to the bodies of the performers. 

Its depiction of the disastrous consequences of a referendum has become as topical as its exploration of the ethics of safe-guarding society. The play brings into this scenario the condition of hemispatial neglect as described by renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks in his classic book The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat

The recent death of Sacks prompted the question of whether the extraordinary humanity shown in his writings would survive in a future where neurological research will increasingly affect all our lives.

What was the inspiration for this performance?Some of our company attended the same school as the great neurologist, Oliver Sacks. Following his death last summer we wanted to celebrate his work. We read case studies of neurological conditions in his books such as the particularly famous The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, but it proved difficult to find a way of knitting them into a coherent production. Eventually we decided to approach his work from a completely different angle, imagining a future without people like Dr Sacks, a future where the extraordinary humanity and understanding of human beings which Sacks shows in his writing is under threat. We decided to take his case study of hemispatial neglect and explore it in a dystopian near-future. Discovering psychologist Adrian Raine’s recent book The Anatomy of Violence gave us inspiration for a scenario for that future. Raine imagines a world in which eighteen-year-ols are subjected to a mandatory set of tests at eighteen, and those assessed to be over 79% likely to commit violence are incarcerated in aneurotreatment facility. We decided to explore what would actually happen in such a facility, particularly as there seemed a clash between its right-wing approach to crime and a potentially dangerous liberalism in the daily operation of the secure unit - Raine suggests inmates’ girlfriends be allowed to stay over! 

Is theatre still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
Absolutely. Developments in neurology are raising again some of the most profound questions about whsat it means to be human (does free will exist? is risk-takingan inherently human characteristic? should MRI scans influence issues of culpability in a court case?). It is no surprise that we are not the only people to be investigating such issues in the theatre:Elegy, The Nether, Incognito... the list goes on.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I fell into directing scripted plays when teaching drama: The Fire Raisers, Pravda, Tartuffe, Marat/Sade... It rapidly emerged that I got far more of a buzz from the plays where I and the cast had a greater creative input. At that point I decided to take the plunge and devise with my cast a radical re-working of Cocteau's Orpheus film. The stress levels were massively higher, the excitement and sense of achievement massively higher. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Yes. There's nothing remotely clever about it. I come up with a concept which interests me, the bare bones of a plot, very broad character outlines. I audition and cast. From then on I encourage as much input from the cast and the technical creative team to develop the piece. The actors improvise situations, and we film it all. I watch all the filmed material and try to construct rough scenes out of it. We rehearse the scenes. The actors complain about much of it. We rewrite the scenes during rehearsal. I write it up again. That often basically sorts the scene, although we often tinker with it long after, and trickier scenes can go through the process multiple times.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I'm particularly keen for theatre to appeal to young people. I'm keen to find ways of getting audiences thinking about profound moral issues, whilst hooking them with a fast-paced story. I think in order to survive theatre needs to be pacy but should find ways of doing so without trying to emulate cinema. I want audiences to emerge with a story and performances they will remember which will push them back to the issues we have explored. There is some very dark stuff in the production, but we hope audiences will find that there is quite a lot of humour in there as well. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We went into the rehearsal process planning three different stories which would allow us to blend serious moments with the blackly humorous. We decided to incorporate some more physical-theatre sections with projection in order to increase the pace of the play at various points and to present a lot of information (tests and treatments for a neurological disposition to violence) very quickly.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Post Fringe Rampage

Mr Dramaturgy's Queen Victoria: Bob Kingdom @ Edfringe 2016

Written and performed by Bob Kingdom

In 2016, HRH Queen Elizabeth II may have taken the crown as the longest-reigning monarch but HRH Queen Victoria is back and taking up residency at the Assembly Hall from 4 August.

Legendary Fringe-First winner Bob Kingdom returns to Edinburgh with MR KINGDOM’S QUEEN VICTORIA (OR A LITTLE BIT OF WHAT YOU FANCY), a bittingly irreverant, painfully funny and strangely moving account of the Queen who ruled a ‘Kingdom’ (and an Empire). Opening at Assembly on 4 August (press from 6 August), it promises all the zest of a classic Victorian comedy.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I look for people it might be fun to play and write about. Queen Victoria, why not? What would that be?

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

Richard Jordan, my producer, and l have worked  well together for 20 years and l have some very talented friends who help with everything else.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I used to impress people at drunken parties with my Dylan Thomas and they said you're wasting this. You ought to do it for real. They were right.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

Yes, you read a bit and think of ways of making it your own.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Moments to be moved and to laugh by things they may not know that might surprise them.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Keeping it simple, chair and table, text-driven communication in ways people can identify with.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
A good solo show should make us feel that the person in question is actually standing before us, expressing the private face behind the public one.

Kingdom’s critically acclaimed production, Dylan Thomas: Return Journey has been seen by over 80,000 people worldwide including sell-out seasons at London's Lyric Hammersmith, Off-Broadway and Sydney Opera House.

Having written and performed in productions featuring Truman Capote, Edward VIII and Stan Laurel, Bob turns his offers his take on Victoria as you’ve never seen her before.

Dramaturgy in the Timing: Ben Rigby @ Edfringe 2016

Chubby Hmm productions presents 
All in the Timing
6 short comedies by David Ives

David Ives’ comedic shorts have amused, challenged and surprised audiences since their first publication in the early 90’s.  

Whether you’ve wanted to swallow back words for your perfect meet-cute, imagined the creative juices inside the ‘Infinite Monkey Cage’, replayed the death of Trotsky as tragedy and farce or just fancy a sing-along to Philip Glass, this collection has something for everyone.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

All in the Timing is, in many ways, a response to bringing The Gambit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015.  As a company (director, producer and technical supervisor working together) we wanted something that stretched us in different ways, moving from the pure acting exercise of last year to a more anarchic and stylised production with a much lighter tone. 

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

In short yes.  At it's most transcendent theatre can confront audiences and challenge pre-conceptions.  Equally theatre can be about escapism and aesthetics. It's the variety, this scale between the 2 that makes it fascinating.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I'm a late developer, with no experience or desire for theatre until I went to university to study Pure Maths.  Originally I joined the drama society to meet people & drink a lot, but over the 3 years I developed a love for theatre, both in the diverse productions we performed and the frequent trips to the northern theatres.

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

Using published scripts certainly impacts the way you create the show, you still have the freedom to develop characters in a way that works for you, but there are limitations to the way the script can be approached.  That said Matthew Gould is a brilliant director, encouraging us to try different approaches to each sketch, stretching the performers to explore each scene.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Primarily we want them to laugh.  'All in the Timing' is a classic collection of sketches that completely sideswipes the audiences, with the absurdity of the situations.  Whether it's Philip Glass facing an existential crisis or Trotsky's imminent demise slowing dawning on him as he sits with a mountain climber's axe buried in his skull. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

There are 2 main strands to this, on the one hand we deliberate chose a venue (Greenside @ Informary Street) where the audience are close, and with a corner set up, allowing audience members to see each other across the stage.  We also ask audiences to choose the order of the sketches, which is proving especially popular for fans of David Ives.

Chubby Hmm productions comprises of director Matthew Gould and producer Ben Rigby returning to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the second consecutive year following success in 2015 with The Gambit.  Joining them are Fringe freshmen Elliott Bornemann, Maya Helena and Felicity Jolly.

The Dramaturgy of Democracy: Michael Emans Touring Scotland

by Michael Frayn

Democracy by Michael Frayn is a gripping spy thriller, based on a true story, from the writer of the West End Smash Noises Off.

West Germany, 1969. Charismatic Willy Brandt has been elected Chancellor. However, his own political party are starting to plot against him. 

As his enemies tighten the noose around his neck -and the threat of an East German spy in his own office is discovered - Brandt believes the only man he can truly trust is Gunter Guillaume, his devoted personal assistant. But in the world of political intrigue,espionage and betrayal, who can you trust?

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The play is one that I have always wanted to tackle as it has echoes of the great Shakespearean power plays that i love  . It is also extremely precedent in a world that is becoming increasingly politicised and where we have a political landscape that is increasingly changing and challenging .

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

The assembling of your collaborators whether that is in the casting or the selection of other members of your creative  team is crucial and one that I spend a lot of time on.

Casting  is about finding the best and most right people for the parts as well as taking into account that the plays tour and you also need people who can work well as a team .

The "team" also have to buy into your vision  and have to be prepared to follow you .

Does theatre still have a place in the public discussion of ideas - in what ways does this work feed that discussion?

Absolutely --the feedback we receive at post show discussions tell us that theatre is the ideal forum for discussion .

Our work is there to entertain but by entertain we mean to stimulate, challenge and provoke ---the feedback at the show and after the shows tell us we do that 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have always wanted to direct plays and to create theatre from a very young age -- inspired by the great touring companies that I saw a youth 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
The process in this project is still evolving  but I am finding it invigorating and challenging 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

That they will fall in love with the play , in the same way I did .

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

How will they engage with the play and what "baggage" or previous experience that  they will bring to the play .

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

Not really --- on the page Hamlet is Shakespeare's play  and but once you bring it to life its your Hamlet ---you shape your tradition yourself !!

Fresh from an acclaimed West End run in Gypsy movie actor Tom Hodgkins (Red 2 and Hanna) leads the cast as Willy Brandt with Brookside and RSC actor Neil Caple as Gunter. 

Completing the 10 strong cast is Colin McCredie (Taggart), Sean Scanlan (River City), Michael Moreland (Under
the Skin and 16 Years of Alcohol), Jack Lord (Crime and Punishment), Alan Steele (Bard in the Botanics), Jim Kitson (Globe Theatre), Steven Scott Fitzgerald (Shang-a–Lang) and Stewart Porter (River City, Shetland and The Sash).

Michael Emans
Set and Costume Design
Richard Evans