Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Whisper It (Compagnie Moussoux-Bonté @Manipulate 2017)

A Moment's Dramaturgy: Lewis Hetherington

A Moment’s Peace has announced its exciting programme of February events as a culmination of the common ground project, unearthing stories about how we live now, and how we might live in the future.

These events – a combination of installation, discussion and performance – see the work we have created with participants over the last seven months travel around the country to open up a dialogue about land and housing in Scotland. Each event is free and open to the public. 

The work has been created with a real diversity of participants in close collaboration with the artistic team, resulting in a beautiful blend of photographs, creative writing, sculptures and sound pieces as a result of our common ground podcast.

Dundee Rep Theatre, Wed 15th Feb, 2-4pm Platform, Sat 18th Feb, 2-4pm Aros Hall, Mon 20th Feb, 3-5pm The Barn, Wed 22nd Feb, 2-4pm
Having worked across Scotland with groups who have had lived experience or knowledge of current issues to do with land and housing, we are inviting everyone to add their voice to the conversation, and to take this dialogue out to their communities and networks. 

At the start of the project, what made you interested in working with a moment's peace?
I've worked with A Moment's Peace in the past, and I find their ethos of working to tell stories which are not being heard very excited. I think the focus on participants is vital in challenging the perception that culture -  both making or engaging in it is for an elite. The desire to provoke, uncover and generally trouble the waters is always hand in hand with a desire to celebrate, to empower and to create.
How did the process of creation differ in a project with these concerns in comparison to, say, working with young people?
I really try not to approach anyone differently, I try to have the same philosophy with any group you approach, they are all artists and they all have interesting or surprising things to say. They may have different tools at their disposal, they may different experiences, they most likely have profoundly different lives outside the room which are perhaps chaotic, difficult, stressful, but in that room where you are trying to be creative together you just get down to the business of that. 

One of the most beautiful moments of the project for me was one man, who fled persecution and violence to come to Glasgow, spoke about the importance of theatre as a space where we are all 'on common ground'. However different we are outside the room, he felt the most significant thing about our artistic endeavours were that in those creative spaces we were shoulder to shoulder, sharing space, story and time. 
Did you find that the different locations gave different experiences?
Very much so, there is a huge diversity of concerns as you travel from mainland to island, from city to country. in Mull for example we were told that the landfill site is nearly full, and they are soon going to have to make a choice to either drastically reduce waste, or ferry rubbish off the island at great expense. 

Now that's a very specific example but I think really succinctly illustrates an Island specific issue, but one which causes us all to think about our engagement with land. 
In broader terms however, there is so much that unifies people, so many ideas that resonate across rural and urban areas -  you can see the way that people are now looking to do community land buy outs in city centres inspired by the success of places like Eigg.
What kind of emotional - or intellectual- response do you think the performances will get?
I think it will be as diverse as our potential audience will be. I suppose one thing, that I always hope art will achieve, is to make something feel relatable, to feel human. There is a danger that when you start talking about land reform, property law - it feels like something quite removed, arcane and specialist - I really hope that the work we've created demonstrate how immediate these issues are to our daily lives and encourage people to be part of a conversation and decision making which is too often done through a too small group of people. I'd hope people might come and realise they have more power and autonomy than they think.
In what ways do you feel that theatre is a good place for this kind of social engagement?
With common ground, so much of what we've done is really far away from any conventional mode of theatre. I think that if you take theatre in it's broadest broad, as a shared space where people come to here or tell stories which try to make sense of the world around them - theatre has the most amazing capacity to offer a space for people to share, empathise and reimagine the world around them. So what we're talking about is much more akin to, I don't know, people telling stories round a campfire, or the spirit of the ancient greek Agora spaces than the Victorian gilded proscenium arch which is conjured up into most people's minds when they hear the word theatre.
We're using theatre in terms of we are finding voices that need to be heard, and inviting an audience to listen to those voices  - whether that is through podcast, a workshop or an exhibition - it's a chance to listen, to sit with someone else in their experience.
 Presented for one day only in each area, this event follows on from workshops and creative sessions in partnership with Dundee Rep Theatre, Glasgow Life, Platform, The Barn, Argyll Youth Arts Hub and INSP and funded by Creative Scotland, Glasgow Arts and Music and Glasgow City Council.
A Moment’s Peace (AMP) has worked with community groups across Scotland and created a series of distinct yet interconnected cross—art form pieces, communicating the complex and compelling stories of our land, our homes and the changing housing landscape. Since July 2016, we have been delivering common ground creative sessions, engaging with over 320 participants across Scotland (in Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Argyll). AMP’s method of encouraging participants to be authors of their own work is carried through in all aspects of delivery: Deep Engagement (working with participants who had had little of no arts engagement over a longer period of several months to years), Intermediate Engagement (working with participants for several sessions to several months) and Concise Engagement (working with participants in one-off invitations and/or sessions).

Notes and Thoughts on Unenlightened and Enlightened

Some time ago, I argued with my nephew: he said that the past can't be changed. Being a smart arse, I answered that the study of history iss  the process of changing the past so that it explains the present. In other words, the Enlightenment...

The most frustrating thing, perhaps, about the history of the eighteenth century is the constant emphasis on religion. Maybe there is a better way to phrase that... most accounts of the 'age of reason' pay so much attention to the anti-clerical aspects of the philosophes that it starts to become tedious. Everything seems to relate back to some project to destroy religious thought, whether it's Voltaire having a crack at the Jesuits or Helvetius going hardcore atheism. This makes any attempt to disentangle strands of Enlightenment thought - say, the interest in time, theatre or civic virtue - very difficult.

Yeah, I get it, and a single sentence can sum it up: the French philosophes wanted to challenge religious authority, and replace tradition and revealed truth with reason. And yep, this allowed them some flexibility in the way that they understood the universe, compared to the most dogmatic theological speculations. But it's like a neurosis - here's a chapter on how they understood geological time, and it challenges the Old Testament. Here's one about the social contract, and the Vatican can take that

I started to wonder - who were these philosophes trying to convince? Nipping over to Germany, and there's Kant joining in... and it's religion where freedom of thought is most important and...

You know, it's funny. Kant and his 'take courage and think!' routine. It's funny how he worries not about state censorship of the arts and the sciences - apparently, his Freddy the Great isn't bothered about that. It's the danger of a state imposing religion... 

And Freddy was a notorious 'dissident' in matters of religious observance. Kant might be daring to think, but he's not daring to think against his monarch. He's supporting the freedom that Frederick II was giving him, probably.

With all this shouting about religion in France, there seemed to be little consideration of the nature of power itself, no challenges to the monarchy directly. Or are these being ignored by historians in the rush to align the Enlightenment with secular modernity? Now that most European kings are either gone or toothless, is the attack on religion the only revolution left? Or are they finding the contemporary equivalent of 'the acceptable target'?

Dunno. But I am bored by it. I fear that the past might have been rewritten in an attempt to explain the present. 

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Theory Isn't Working...

Apart from the apparently rushed handwriting, the notebook is difficult to translate... the ferocious of the sentences sees them running at angles to the lines of the page, or disappearing into the margins. The jumps between subjects - although they all rotate around an unexpressed theory of theatre - occludes any systematic meaning.

Aristotle provides a template for the analysis of 'the theatrical experience'

is followed by half a blank page, then a change of pen

founded on mimesis - particular
                           form and content
-particular impact

genre is an instrument to assess the reasons for effectiveness and not the measure of effectiveness

tragic - epic - history - rhetoric

Perhaps this is an attempt to decode Aristotle's use of genre as a hierarchy: tragedy is the highest form (because, per Aristotle, it is the closest to philosophy), and rhetoric, the lowest.

'music' (is philosophy a genre? it is presented as 'a good', since the virtue of poetry is in its closeness to 'universals' and therefore philosophy)

Of course, when Aristotle talks about 'universals', it mean something akin to Plato's forms. This might be in contrast to the idea of 'universality' that is sometimes identified as the finest quality in art (that it transcends its temporal context and points to some absolute of the human condition). Diderot, conversely, sees those plays, like his own, that deal with specific ideas (like, say, fatherhood) are more likely to achieve this universality. That is despite these plays being very concerned with the immediate debates around the idea in question.

Tragedy's value is educational... (probably need to ask what counts as 'education' - at least, implied 'good education'

Monday, 23 January 2017

Diderot Loves a Paradox (a dialectic tension)

I found this phrase at the front of the notebook. It probably alludes to Diderot's thoughts on the nature of acting - his Paradox discusses the irony of the performer who, in presenting an emotion, does not feel it (in fact, must not feel it, in order to perform it accurately). 

The next comment in the notebook is a quotation from Diderot. 

Oh you who make general rules, how little you know about art!

There is another paradox here: Diderot did make general rules about art. Like the one in the Paradox

Turn a few pages, and a few more quotations, all taken from Entretiens sur le fils. Apparently, it is on page 135, in the Irresistible Diderot, a compilation of his writings.

We should no longer be portraying characters but ranks or stations... more fruitful... the father as a social function has not been done.

A character need only be slightly exaggerated for the spectator to be able to say to himself: I'M NOT LIKE THAT!

From the following page, I have tried to copy the author's diagram of connections between Diderot's notions of light and serious theatre. 

Then, a new page and a new heading... Discours Sur La...

To judge a work well, one should not compare it to another work.

There might have been a gap in both time and location before the next set of notes were written. Several pages later, a new heading:

Theatre is anti-christ.

The following comment is unsourced and may be considered the author's own.

Only through the training of the critical faculties can the theatre be redeemed (question mark) (in which case, the training of the audience is more crucial than the training of the artist)

Next page, an obscenity followed by 'until you answer my question - St Augustine knew.'

(In fact, he fucking nails the problem of Aristotle's 'catharsis' - feelings are attached to external worries, not CARE OF SELF)

Again, this statement may be considered the author's own. The shift from Diderot - Enlightenment, rationalist - to a more primitive and theological thinker may reflect the author's anxiety about the function of performance and denies Diderot's optimistic belief in its social good. 

Turning the page, and it becomes evident that, for several pages, the author has written from back to front... the obscenity at the front of the previous page makes sense in this context, as follows...

Truth and lies all mixed up - I worried that the effect would be to make an audience think the lies were the truth. I'm not stupid enough to think that watching Oedipus makes me (previous page, first line) want to fuck my mother.

But I'm still smarter than Aristotle's students who put together their lecture notes and called them Poetics.

I recognised a problematic ontology - 
(roughly, that is, the way a play exists)

This statement is a description of 'ontology' itself - reduced to absurdity - rather than the problem, which is described as follows:

It both really happens and pretends to tell...

Moving forward several pages and reading backwards may clarify the development of the author's argument. It begins...

Aristotle and Diderot agree: the value of theatre (and probably all art) is dependent on its ability to 'teach' the audience.

So does Brecht, Boal - but isn't there a problem? The efficiency of pedagogy relies not only on the 'genius' of the artist but on the receptiveness of the audience.

The scare quotes around 'genius' suggests that the author is referencing either Diderot's definition of the genius or another quality - such as a guiding spirit, following the etymology of the Latin genius. 

Next page, the text continues...

I am forging my own aesthetic - that champions what exactly? A theatre or art that refuses its responsibility to teach, to have virtue?


The absence of a source here is frustrating. If Diderot did say that, it's disappointingly cliched.

A beautiful rationalist, worthy of admiration but ultimately to be rejected.

What follows is an interpretation of Plato's thoughts in The Republic on the dangers of allowing actors into his perfect state. It assumes that Aristotle's Poetics are a response to Plato's dislike of actors.

(Plato is aware of art's ability to instruct for good or evil... his censorship is of a specific type (he does not banish theatre until after it has been performed... he's much harsher on certain modes of music)

Aristotle's intention is to define how theatre acts as a moral teacher - he shifts the emphasis from Plato's recognition of the nature of performance to the content and form - 
Plato was concerned about the DECEPTION of the actors... banishing them and not theatre

(he does recognise the falsehood St A would in 'crying over Dido'

This refers to St Augustine's anxiety that he spent more time reading the Aeneid and getting upset at the death of a fictional woman than taking care of his personal salvation. 

Plato's specific charge remains unanswered. 

Diderot is adapting Aristotle to contemporary ends (yet aims for 'universality' - where would this reside? in the quality of the art -- not the content...

(Does Aristotle discuss quality?)
Plato does.

Plato says - 
You still haven't got it, have you?
No- when I said banish
The actors notice how
I said I'd do it after
The play, the laurels, the praise.

What I didn't want 
Is Celebrity.

Actors hanging about,
Respected for their ability
To deceive and shift-shape.

I'm talking about bisociation
And how you've missed it.

Trying to tell me 'content can be moral.'

I know.

It's a side point, the bad stories
About gods and heroes.


I'm not saying I'm not totalitarian. 

This returns us to the earlier pages. 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Donald Trump and the Myth of Progress

In my confused reading of Enlightenment philosophy and the origins of Dramaturgy, only two things have remained clear. Putting Donald Trump in the headline of an article guarantees interest, and there are few things that can't be related to eighteenth century ideas about knowledge.

Robert Darnton's idiosyncratic selection of essays, The Great Cat Massacre (1999) includes an attempt to explain the epistemology of the Encyclopedia, the compilation of knowledge published during the latter half of the 1700s. Examining Diderot and d'Alembert's advocacy of a 'tree of knowledge' - which was sometimes described as a map - Darnton recognises the confusion of d'Alembert's metaphors and language (sometimes, he's drawing on Newton, other times, it's Locke) but concludes that their serious purpose was to 'remove it from the clergy and to put it in the hands of intellectuals committed to the Enlightenment' (page 209). In part, he did this by drawing up a lineage of approved thinkers (yep, all white men) who had advanced human understanding. 

If it was nothing else, the Enlightenment was a self-conscious movement (don't worry, I'll get to Trump eventually). Rather like a contemporary internet fandom, members would mention their affiliation, reference each other and, as in the case of Kant, offer definitions of the philosophy. As the contemporary apologist Vincenzo Ferrone comments, it was 'the first cultural phenomenon expressly recognised by its contemporaries through the name that it gave itself' (page 4, The Enlightenment, 2015). 

Diderot and d'Alembert's various prologues to the Encyclopedia, then, made the project's importance clear and, through their 'tree of knowledge', established an epistemology that divided information into the valuable and the 'unknowable'. Religious knowledge was dumped. But by imagining a lineal development of human achievement, they did advocate a myth of progress, something that still turns up in ideas like 'manifest destiny' or the vision of social justice advocates - known as 'progressives'. 

Myths aren't bad things, in themselves, although Diderot would probably debate that. Of course, the word is used to describe bullshit: those classical myths about gorgons and cyclops, anti-vaccine propaganda, gender binaries, anything that the speaker doesn't believe. But a more neutral definition - a 'story with meaning' - allows a less prejudiced conversation. Following Adorno, the 'myths of the Enlightenment' are another way of saying that the Age of Reason ended up with a reliance on untested articles of faith. That's interesting, but not the point.

The 'myth of progress' seems to demand a counter-myth, the myth of degeneration. If this guy says things are getting better, this other guy is bound to say things are getting worse. And that is where Trump can be shoehorned into the conversation.

I'm not even getting into the wrongs and rights of Obama and Trump - for most people, these are self-evident, anyway. But Obama appears to stand for the myth of progress (when he claimed 'change' as his manifesto, he evoked a brave new future). Trump is the other guy, looking back to the past and asking 'where did it all go wrong?'

Trump is an anti-Enlightenment President. Although I am pretty cynical about the religiosity presented in his inauguration, he is deliberately suggesting that Christianity was part of those good old days. In itself, that's not against Diderot and the gang - they were a lot more circumspect about religious belief than their contemporary apologists claim. But add in the specific Bible that Trump swore on - his mother's old copy - and the backwards glance is more obvious. Unless his finances are even worse than he admits, it's not like he can't afford a nice new translation. 

Hope that everyone notices my dramaturgical reading there.

The appeal of Trump has been explained away a thousand times - it's latent racism, it's a reaction to progressive language policing, it's fear of Islam and so on. And saying that he is simply appealing to one of the great myths is just another essay for the bonfire. I mean, I can use a classic British text to support my point.

Of course, I am being sly... calling something a myth removes it from history and makes it a negotiable truth, an act of faith rather than reason. It also places Trump's critics on the side of reason, and Trump on the side of a reactionary tradition that feeds on pessimism. I'm claiming that the dramaturgical reading of Trump's inauguration is more useful than any amount of critique toward his policies, because it reveals an underlying philosophy rather than creates flash-points for skirmishes. This claim is not especially original, nor is it necessarily helpful. 

It's just today's attempt to relate my research to contemporary life. 

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Red Chair of Dramaturgy: Sarah Cameron on tour

Clod Ensemble

The Red Chair – Scotland 2017 

Written and performed by Sarah Cameron
Produced in association with Fuel
Directed by Suzy Willson 
 Music by Paul Clark
Touring Scotland for the first time, Sarah Cameron’s towering solo performance is a delicious feast for the imagination performed in luscious Scots dialect and served with tasty morsels 

A contemporary take on folk and fairytale storytelling traditions, The Red Chair is a surreal ballad populated with larger than life characters which draws the audience into the extraordinary world of a troubled family, living together but each trapped in their own lonely worlds. Told in a saucy Scots dialect, The Red Chair tells the darkly humorous story of a father who eats and eats until he turns into the chair he is sitting upon, the wife doomed to cook his meals and their 'inveesible' daughter.

The epic and lyrical narrative takes audiences on a journey through a landscape of twisted reason, extreme compulsion and eye watering complacency, where domestic drudgery happens on an operatic scale and a father’s dereliction of duty reaches epic proportions. At three points in the show, audiences are invited to try tasty nibbles sourced from local suppliers and a dram of whisky to oil the way.

Created in collaboration with Dundee-born Sarah Cameron and based on her original book, The Red Chair is performed with the physical vitality that has become a trademark of Clod Ensemble’s work, rooted in the training that both Sarah and director Suzy Willson received at the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris. Woven into the production is an original sound score created by Clod Ensemble co-artistic director Paul Clark.

Director Suzy Willson said “Clod Ensemble usually works with music and is movement based work rather than being centered around text. We had worked with Sarah Cameron as a performer for many years but had no idea she could write too, so when she showed us the book she had been working on called The Red Chair, we were blown away by the quality of the language. Sarah is a virtuosic physical performer as well as a sculptor -the story felt to us like a kind of sculpture of words and we immediately wanted to hear and see her telling it.”

Writer and performer Sarah Cameron said: “A Scottish tour is a thrilling prospect as it is an opportunity to bring the work back to its natural home. The language and the dialect of conjurer’s up the wild beauty of the Scottish landscape. The text speaks of family and ancestry and in many ways is a romantic remembrance of Scotland, which is ingrained within my being and my heart.”

 I'd better be careful: I might be out of my depth talking about storytelling. But reading the synopsis for The Red Chair, I am struck by the way it could go two (out of many) ways. On the one hand, it reads like a fantastic fairy tale for younger audiences; on the other, it is pretty dark and might have some mature content. Can you help me out on that?

Every piece of theatre and every film is a bit of storytelling - but I know what you mean! We tend of think of something very specific when we think of storytelling. 

When I began writing the story, my idea was that it was for children. In the very best tradition of fairy tales and myth, it was always going to be dark. When you deconstruct Ashputtel (Cinderella) or Hansel & Gretel for example, the predicament of the child is pretty grim. When I got my teeth into “The Inveesible Child” a much more troubling story began to emerge. Her voice, the lemon juice cutting through the fat of the narrator’s, is very different. 

Whereas the narrator is poised, barbed, flamboyant, Queanie (written in a more dynamic and guttural dialect) is mercurial, raw, visceral, elemental - the howl of a wolf. The Red Chair begins like a fairy tale - the baroque and cartoon structure of the story creates a safe space, I suppose, from which we can explore the darker aspects of the human condition.  

As the story goes on the voice of narrator and the voice of Queanie merge - it becomes less like a fairy tale, and more like a poem, perhaps. The form of the story begins to unravel as the transformations occur. My children (aged 6 &10) saw it - but yes, I would say that older children (from age 12 onwards?) would get something from it - but it’s a story for all ages and all people, in the way fairy tales are intended.

I'm really interested in how you'd approach storytelling from a dramaturgical perspective. That is, you start with a book and transform it into performance. Where there any strategies that made this process easier?
Well, it was much easier because it was adapted from a story that I’d written and consequently I knew it inside out. Also, there was no rush - Clod Ensemble’s co-artistic director Suzy Willson & I took our time to adapt it from the original - over a period of about 3 years. It was vital to have Suzy’s impartial and fresh, outside eye. We had writing & editing sessions, as well as performing sessions. 

Along with Paul Clark (the other artistic director of Clod) we showed scratch performances to invited guests about 5 or 6 times during those 3 years. That gave us an idea of what worked and what didn’t. It was a great privilege actually, to be able to take that amount of time and it was brilliant that Suzy & Paul chose to work this way.  

In the early 90’s I was a resident company member of the Young Vic under the directorship of Tim Supple. The first show we made was the Christmas Show, an adaptation of Grimm’s Tales. Up until that period (1993/4) there wasn't very much good children’s theatre around but Grimm’s Tales turned out to be a seminal show and set the bar for a new kind of children’s theatre. During rehearsals we’d used the original tales - in their narrative form, as scripts. We improvised with them, edited and dramatised as we went along, on our feet. 

Through this process we discovered what needed to stay as text, what we could do in action and when we could use both. Carol Ann Duffy poetised our dramatised version of the tales. I learned how to tell a story with simplicity & clarity. 

So when it came to adapting The Red Chair I had some knowledge in my bones. It became clear to me too that verse was going to really help the telling of the tale, especially because of the language and dialect. 

Suzy was brilliant in cutting out the fat and we jiggled and re-jiggled bits of text around, until it came together. It was also edited after during the run of first few shows and it really found its feet (half an hour shorter than the first ever show) at the Brighton Festival in 2014, where we won an award. It’s the putting of it on its feet that’s an essential part of the adapting process.

Because I have spent all afternoon reading about the Enlightenment (and not watching YouTube videos, not at all), I am currently obsessed with the idea that the world has become 'disenchanted': it's not really full of sprites and angels anymore, just mathematical equations and people trying to sell me stuff. But The Red Chair seems to inhabit a timeless world, where magic is still present and transformation is always possible. Do you feel a connection with a more mystical vision of the world and is that expressed through the story?

Gosh. And yes. Good question. Glad you’re not watching YouTube ;) I do think the world has become ‘disenchanted’, at least parts of it. I do find physics (not that I understand much of it) and the exploration of space extremely enchanting - so science has its own magic and wonder. 

But (& I’ve become a little obsessed with this too recently) there’s something about masses of technology, closing down of pubs and gathering spaces, mass urbanisation, the speeding up of lives, the blurring of day and night, our heads in screens, living in a secular society (I’m not religious, but biblical & other religious stories are full of enchantment & strange things) and so on that’s created this age of ‘disenchantment’ perhaps? 

I feel that we're losing our sense of spirit/soul, how each of us is connected to the next, and the other, and ultimately to our world, our universe. In the story, there's no technology at all and so the young hero, Queanie, has no other choice but to rely upon her imagination, and her books. It was important to create a sense of no time or all time - I feel that the story has mythical resonance. Queanie survives because of her imagination. 

She’s a product of her environment certainly, in more ways than one. Queanie is an embodiment of the land about her, she’s the moor and the mist and the blizzard and the lightning strike - the fox, the wolf, the snawy owl.  There’s something in that for me - our attachment to the land, our spiritual connectedness to the trees, the earth, the animals, the stars, the universe - our ancestors too. At the moment, and I don’t know why, I feel very strongly that I walk in their ancient footsteps. 

I don’t know if you’ve seen images of the stencilled hands (9,000 years old) on the Cuevade Las Manos in Patagonia? I’m very inspired by this image, fixated by it somewhat - a sea of waving hands, made up of many individuals over time - open, joyful, ancient - and yet symbolising a whole community. I feel a primal rage against what’s happening/happened in our society, where so many people are isolated and alone. 

George Monbiot has coined our era ‘The Age of Loneliness.’ We’re pack animals and we need each other to thrive. Perhaps as you suggest, re-discovering ‘enchantment’ can bring us together? Stories certainly can.

I do feel a mystical connection to our planet, and beyond. But you know I come from a great line of storytellers - don’t all Scots? My Gran and Dad told endless eerie stories and of course we visited haunted castles and misty moors as children. The melancholy hues of the Scottish landscape and the dark, forbidding architecture of the land is fertile breeding ground for such spooky tales, and I tramped through the Glens, the moors, the Highlands often throughout my eighteen years in Scotland. 

There was never any doubt that ghosts do exist. I was told as a child that Ghosts were about us, all the time. And of course, as you get older you could choose to understand that in a different way. I do think that it’s in the Scottish DNA to believe in spirits, ghosts and such-like. 

The magical transformations in the story are also metaphors for emotional and/or physical states. They can be interpreted and understood in that way too. There are transformations happening around us all the time and in their own small ways, they are miraculous. Perhaps we’ve forgotten how to acknowledge them?

So, the other thing that might make it look like I have done some reading, the use of Scots strikes me as another counterblast to the Enlightenment: this is very much locating the performance in a particular location (and I think I read something in Adorno about how capitalism aims at the universal, like how Disney flatten everything into a generic animation style to sell it more easily). What made you decide on using a language that isn't easily marketable outside of its own area (although that might be an assumption on my part - but I am hoping that there's something about the tradition of the language in there…)?
I didn’t really decide. First of all, a few smatterings of Scots arrived, imperceptibly really. A friend suggested I build on that. So I started searching for Scot’s words and I was beguiled - I felt like I’d found a box of golden treasure. The language was just so beautiful, colourful, rich, resonant, witty, chewable, sculptural. I was transported to my young years in Scotland and the liveliness of the language that had been all around me - which actually, had been forbidden to me at the time - of course that made it all the more delectable and exciting. 

My mum was English and when my dad and she returned to Scotland after they'd met, he began speaking in the local dialect again much to my mum’s displeasure. So, she sent us all to elocution lessons to make sure we didn’t pick up the local lingo too. And of course living down South for so many years, I’d lost my connection to the language, I’d also suppressed it. But as I wrote The Red Chair (I read aloud as I write) I felt like I was discovering my real and true voice - and it was very Scottish! So in the process of writing The Red Chair, which is all about transformation, I myself was being transformed, in more ways than one. I do think there was some enchantment going on!  

There is great liberation in performing and owning these words. And I feel very strongly that these words must survive - I think there’s a bit of a movement in Scotland now isn’t there - a reclaiming of the Scot’s?

Although the story is clearly set in Scotland, I don’t say it specifically. I say, ‘someplace in the glum north o’ the warld..’ I feel that the Scot’s dialect in the Red Chair is a poetic voice. The words have been formed over hundreds of years and are as ancient as the hills. In the same way that the story is timeless and has something of the ancient myth about it, so the dialect, for me (perhaps because I’m an outsider) is timeless; for me it’s a universal voice, in the very best sense; an ancestral, ancient, mythical voice; a potent voice full of knowledge and wit. 

So yes, it might be challenging for some but no more so than going to see a Shakespeare play. After 10 minutes your ear attunes to the difference and it’s no longer an issue (I hope!). We’ve done lots of shows in England and people have often commented on the Scots and how much they love it. Whilst it’s idiosyncratic and distinctive, it’s also mercurial - it’s not academic, it’s not specific. 

There’s some made up stuff and there are words from different parts of the country (the world too) - it’s by no means purist. I agree with what you say above re. Disney etc. I feel stubborn about this wonderful language (and heritage) and it can and must be heard outside of Scotland - it’s too brilliant not to be shared. There’s a strong desire to combat the machine that says we all must be alike, homogenised.   

Of course there were also huge influences from Rabbie Burns, Hugh MacDiarmid, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Billy Connolly, William Topaz McGonagall, Robert Louis Stevenson et al from when I was wee. The sculptural dynamic of the language, its toothsomeness, the way the mouth and body has to move to accommodate the words, is inspiring to me too. They resonate with my training as a sculptor, and a Lecoqian. 

Lecoq is all the rage in my house. Are there any aspects of the performance that you would ascribe to the school's teaching?

All of it. And I write that with a big smile on my face.

Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins | Suitable for ages 14+

Directed by Suzy Willson           Written and performed by Sarah Cameron

Music by Paul Clark                  Lighting Design by Hansjorg Schmidt
Design by Sarah Blenkinsop      Produced in association with Fuel

Listings information

3 & 4 Mar
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
63 Trongate, Glasgow G1 5HB
8pm | £10 / £7.50
www.tron.co.uk | 0141 552 4267
6 Mar
Eden Court, Inverness
Bishops Road, Inverness IV3 5SA
7:30pm | £11
www.eden-court.co.uk | 01463 239841

17 & 18 Mar
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
10 Cambridge Street, Edinburgh EH1 2ED
8pm | £16.50 / £13.50 / £8.50
www.traverse.co.uk | 0131 228 1404
20 Mar
Theatre Royal, Dumfries
66-68 Shakespeare Street, Dumfries DG1 2JH
7:30pm | £10
31 Mar
Dundee Rep Theatre, Dundee
Tay Square, Dundee DD1 1PB
7:30pm | £14 / £12 / £11
www.dundeerep.co.uk | 01382 223530

Clod Ensemble is one of the UK’s most prominent interdisciplinary performance companies. Music and movement is deeply embedded in all of the works in the company’s repertoire. For over 20 years the company has created an extraordinary body of work lead by Artistic Directors Suzy Willson and Paul Clark. Their work is presented across the UK and internationally, including Sadler’s Wells, Tate Modern, Public Theater New York and Serralves Museum Poto. Clod Ensemble has a repertoire of critically acclaimed work, each production with its own distinctive musical and visual identity. Recently the Company has embarked in a new music collaboration with OENM in Salzburg.
Suzy Willson graduated from Manchester University before studying with Jacques Lecoq in Paris. On her return she co-founded Clod Ensemble and has directed all of their productions to date. She teaches drama and movement to students, actors, musicians and leads the company's Performing Medicine project. She has worked as a movement director on productions at the Gate, Soho Theatre, BAC, with film director Arnaud Desplechin, performance poet Malaika B, and Jessica Ogden for London Fashion week.

Paul Clark is a leading composer on the British performance scene. His music has reached a range of international audiences and venues such as Lincoln Centre NewYork, Vienna Burgtheater, Berlin Schaubuhne and Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg, through collaborations with Gare St Lazare Irelend and Director Katie Mitchell.

About Sarah Cameron
Sarah Cameron is an artist, performer and writer. Born in Dundee, she studied sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art and theatre at Ecole International de Theatre Jacques Lecoq. She has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Young Vic, where she was a member of the resident company that created the legendary production of Grimm Tales. She first worked with Clod Ensemble in 1999, touring their production of Greed internationally in 2003, performing in Zero at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, and most recently in a production of An Anatomie in Four Quarters at The Lowry. 

The Red Chair is produced in association with Fuel. Founded in 2004, and led by Louise Blackwell and Kate McGrath, Fuel is a producing organisation working in partnership with some of the most exciting artists in the UK to develop, create and present new work for all. Fuel is currently working with artists including: Will Adamsdale, Clod Ensemble, Inua Ellams, Fevered Sleep, David Rosenberg, Sound&Fury, Uninvited Guestsand Melanie Wilson. 

Dramaturgically Made in India: Satinder Chohan

In a surrogacy clinic in Gujarat, three women meet.

Londoner Eva is in motherhood’s last chance saloon. For village girl Aditi, dairy worker and single mother, surrogacy is a lifeline out of poverty. For clinic owner and businesswoman Dr Gupta, it’s all just another transaction.

But set on the fault lines of profound global forces, can it possibly remain that simple?

A thrilling new play about motherhood and blood ties between women and nations in a brave new world.

Forgive me if this sounds a little negative to start off with, but I am struggling with the idea of political theatre at the moment (mostly because I live in my head too much, but...). 

I worry that a play which addresses a political or social concern can pander to an audience, in that it states a situation, the audience nods their heads in agreement, then leave and do nothing about it. What is it for you that makes a serious topic like this good for the dramaturgical treatment?

Agreed, it’s difficult to write plays like this and put them into the world - a depressing enough place as it is. But we need serious plays that challenge audiences and might make us think about political or social concerns or glimpse another world we wouldn’t know about otherwise. To realise we are connected to a bigger world or other worlds. To let those connections and contrasts percolate dramatically, maybe resurface elsewhere in our lives when and where we might do something about them in our own lives or the lives of others.

With ‘Made in India’, I hope audiences might make connections as Western consumers who rely on low-cost, low-paid global workers to provide the material stuff of our lives - whether a pair of trainers or a baby. Because we’re the ones who can afford to blank out those workers’ lives and struggles rather than understand how we connect to them. 

Also, since ‘Made in India’ is also a layered play about gender, global economics and reproductive technology - those complexities need to be approached from different angles. I hope the play does that by showing the entwined lives of three very different women in a fertility clinic in Gujarat.

Actually, I was talking about the show the other day (on my radio show) and suddenly got excited because it struck me that the subject matter was not just looking at a literal story, but spoke to the way that the west treats India - as a kind of resource hub for consumer goods, and damn the consequences. Was this a factor in your approach to the script?

Absolutely – and it’s a play that deliberately explores colonial and neoliberal relationships between India and the UK. Commercial surrogacy is a fitting metaphor for it all. In India’s service or ‘surrogacy’ economy, locals are hired to service a global/Western economy. 

Many are Indian worker ‘surrogates’ substituting Western workers, who are even given Western names in call centres, for example. Commercial surrogates work for profit-driven clinics and affluent global clients - like low paid workers say in the sweatshop or electronics industry. Whether it’s about their exploitation or empowerment, there are still frequent reports of low pay, harsh working and environmental conditions, health risks, excessive overtime, child labour etc that suggests there is still much to do to protect these marginalised workers. It shouldn’t just be about valuing profit over workers and sacrificing human dignity for a quick blood stained buck. 

‘Made in India’ tries to explore this terrain. It’s also interesting because as a society we’re only just catching up with the repercussions of reproductive technologies such as surrogacy - hence the recent ban on commercial surrogacy in India. In our ‘everything for sale’ society, the reproductive technology industry perfectly plays out this controversial, highly charged financial markets vs morality debate.

Another thing that I angst about (and I am sorry that I am asking you to talk about stuff that, I think, needs loads of different people to discuss in any depth) is that there is an under-representation of diverse voices in theatre. 

I know that you work hard to address this, but are there any particular problems that you face when you try to broaden the stories that are told on stage?
I’m so glad you asked this question because from theatre companies to theatres to mainstream play publishers, it’s incredibly tough to get non-mainstream stories like this read, heard or seen. There is a real reluctance to expand an audience’s understanding of the world, by presenting challenging new diverse work, which is seen as too risky, irrelevant and marginal. I’ve been (struggling!) in theatre for about a decade now and sadly, nothing has changed from trying to get my first play staged to trying to get this play staged. You never know if the next one will happen and if it does, it takes years to do. Always back to square one! 

In fact, it feels like a much tougher climate now for new writers like me. It’s vital we have opportunities to tell our diverse stories before they disappear but it’s hard when the theatre establishment repeatedly closes doors on us and we’re struggling to make a living from it all. 

For now, I’m so grateful to Tamasha and all the other theatres involved for staging this work and supporting writers like me who desperately need the experience of our work being staged, so we can preserve our stories, reach out to new audiences and become better writers.

And an old stand-by: what companies would you say are either an influence or working in similar areas to you?

I wish I had more experience of other theatre companies. Obviously, all the ‘Asian’ theatre companies like Tamasha and Kali who give voice to our work have been a huge support and influence and without them, I wouldn’t be a writer today. Other Asian theatre companies like Tara Arts and Rifco are doing seriously important work too. I also admire companies like Clean Break and Paines Plough for their passionate commitment to new writing. As a diverse writer, I still hope to work with more varied theatre companies but mostly, it’s hard to get a look in. 

Still, I’m hugely thankful that companies like Tamasha and Kali exist, understand our creative struggles and make us feel we belong to a creative community – especially when an alienating, insular British theatre establishment makes it as difficult as possible for diverse creatives to develop and for our stories to be heard.