here are many advantages to the cosy glow of studentdom. Life's certainties - death, taxes, TV licence fees - are largely shielded from us by youth, education and a cavalier disregard for bureaucracy /excessive laziness. But soon we will be cruelly forced out, out into a cold, cold world where the words 'discourse' and 'metaconceptual' are redundant, and <sharp intake of breath> things must be bought at full price. That's right, the wasteland of the non-concessionary-pricing between student-life and lifeless-old-age-life. So, friends, gather ye financial opportunities while ye may: Methuen Drama are offering any NSDF participators, student or otherwise, the chance to order their books with a 20% discount. In addition, there will be not one cost, not two cost, but NO cost for UK postage and packaging. This includes books written by folk who are like totally here and stuff, so you can like talk to Mark Ravenhill and then in a fortnight, when your wonderful days here in Scarborough are fading to sandy nostalgia, into your home will be dropped a book by Mark Ravenhill. Literally great way of receiving the literary greats.
I can only wonder at the amazing versatility of Helen, from the NSDF Team. Not only is Helen Sadler Duty Manager; but she also finds time to shape shift into a technical manager in the form of Martyn Andrew. A difficult task you may think, but be prepared for more magic and even more technical advice, in the truly amazing persona of Mark Jenkins. You may think that three identities are sufficient for one Helen, I couldn't possibly comment, but no, I see another one on the horizon! That of Dave Larkin - even more technical advice.
Thank you Cat and Co in SJT for all your help teching our show. We appreciate your speedy-style, professionalism and finding us four stools, you saved us much schlepping! Thank U, thank U, thank U! A, E, I, O, U
Many thanks all that ask what's what. Any chat back was gladly had by cast.
With so much technical advice to dispense, no wonder Helen finds the need to aspire to multiple personalities. Does it take three extra men to add up to one woman? (see page 6/7, Festival Programme) Val Lewis
Thanks chaps, Dart Arts. Rachael Clarke
here'a great article in today's issue by Sam Stutter, the lighting designer and operator of No Wonder. In it, Sam identifies two different strains of theatregoer. While I'd dispute the precise lines by which he divides the two camps, Stutter hits on something absolutely central to one of the biggest debates in British theatre. In the process he also highlights an interesting tendency in yesterday's discussion session. The idea that "British theatre" is even something that can even be discussed as a single entity is flawed. Say "theatre" to some and it immediately conjures the musicals of London's West End, to others it is the prestige classics of the RSC, Donmar in the West End and the National (I apologise for this London-centricity I'm based in London, and am not lucky enough to have anyone who wants to pay my rail fares to review around the UK or pay me enough to pay them myself), for others, British theatre immediately connotes the new writing boom of the past ten or more years. For others, the very idea of "new writing" is deemed reactionary in the extreme and the new movement in British theatre is the various schools of physical theatre, devising, post-dramatic texts and Live Art. Elsewhere mainland European-style director's theatre and experimental combinations of all of the above are making a bid for recognition. However, in yesterday's discussion, as Stutter notes, several of those making comments made some pretty bald assertions about what is and is not acceptable theatre. The staging of Vowel Play, for example, was criticised for being too static. The use of microphones was questioned, while the style of acting was both praised and criticised. It was interesting to see one type of theatre being roundly condemned for not conforming to the rules of an entirely different sort of thing. Of course various festgoers have their own tastes from which their analysis stems. But their criticisms are easily dismissed by the companies concerned when they foreground such preferences. In one way, this might be a pity - after all, the problems described may well contain a kernel of truth. However, while they remain couched in terms that could be read by those being criticised as coming from an entirely different place than where they intend, the charges levelled get dismissed without consideration. Some of the best writing in the magazine today comes from contributors trying to articulate their responses to completely unfamiliar forms. A number of reviewers begin their write-ups of Never Enough either mentioning or apologising for their unfamiliarity with dance theatre/physical theatre/contemporary dance. However, where they differ from those who reckon they've already pinned down what theatre is "meant to be/do" is in their willingness to open themselves to the new experience, involve themselves actively with what it's doing, and respond to it by relating their emotional and intellectual reactions. Allowing yourself to be moved by something you're not sure you even understand is a pretty brave move. Articulating this response in writing and allowing it to be printed out and shared amongst your peers is courageous in the extreme. It is both moving and very hopeful that there are so many at this festival prepared to do so. Andrew Haydon
hat a stunning piece of physical theatre, with three stunning cast members. It was refreshing to see organised costume and set as we entered the space, to get involved in purple material and crunchy rainbow drops. They breathed together and seamlessly swapped positions, creating sexual tension and weighing us down with heaviness and light and at the same time movement. A considered soundtrack overwhelmed the feelings in a positive - this is the party you're at - way. Lizzie is watching untouched life detailed in a notepad. Does she wants it to be brutal and blue or just stroked? She becomes blue handprint skin, out of the who wore it best dress. Rebecca thinks and becomes cake. Will buys boxes in a showhost - I've brought a game - way. Their animated faces capture and take time, and the characters are awkward by self confession, but the actors are entirely living the moment at home in their play. There are mutterings of stories? And pieces fitting? But do they always need to? I watched their bodies. Never Enough flowed like their red wine at the overcooked lamb, three's a crowd dinner.
collection of three - but to make one form of emotion. It's hard to describe something that makes every muscle in your body tense and twist, through moving and leaping on an area of air, to float through each other, to make each musical theme push and entertain you. The performers moved over and under each other to feel in such effortless shape. It's such a pleasure to see figures illustrate and accentuate a sense of themselves, so openly and in such a relaxed manner. And to finally have to come to terms with a giant cake of temptations which teases you from your seat. For this cast of three, every minute was their own and I was lost in this physical fusion of shape. Through biro blue, the sin of black stains mark each part of her skin - a sense of temptation, of a longing lust, of dirty pleasures - only to surface in moments of fight.
ue to my enthusiasm for watching dance pieces, I cannot help but fall mesmerised as people move, contort and glide in ways that I could never dream of doing, Never Enough has, so far, become the best chocolate sprinkle on my NSDF cake. Much like Rebecca, Lizzi and Will with their individual attempts to reach happiness, I simply could not get enough of the dance. Commendation needs to be awarded to the ensemble for choreographing a piece that was not only beautifully in tune with the chosen music, but also felt in no way repetitive, a trap that I have seen plenty of dance pieces fall in to. Both Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen, playing Lizzi and Rebecca respectively, showed superb control and expression in their dancing, while simultaneously developing engaging and contrasting characters for the audience to engage with. Marc Graham provided a strong male influence in the piece, exhibiting skills that appeared natural and effortless. It was pleasing to see a male dancer who did not fall into the extreme categories of a strictly poised ballet dancer or frankly, just awkward. To slightly digress from my gushing praise of this piece I feel compelled to say that the high calibre in the execution of this piece was unfortunately a little let down by the narrative. In short I think the piece would have been much more successful had it been cut by about half an hour. This is not to say that I could not watch the trio dancing for hours, it is that the progression of the individual's fetishes was maybe taken a step too far. For example, I particularly enjoyed the thought sequence of Rebecca's where she, as a dancing cupcake, fantasises about gorging herself on chocolate cake, but this was somewhat marred by the
mention of bulimia in a later scene. Similarly I felt that Lizzi's desire for a more forceful sexual relationship was pushed to and beyond the line. Much like Rebecca I felt as though I had been force fed a little too much, and unfortunately failed to digest. The piece would have benefited hugely had the plot been left to focus on Rebecca's jealousy of Lizzi and Will's budding relationship.
The performances thankfully outweighed the failings in the text of Never Enough meaning that it absolutely succeeded as a piece of engaging theatre. If they could just edge the narrative up to the same standard as the dancing, we would be presented with a compelling story coupled with the already stunning visual.
hysical theatre tends to be a risk. One which - in my opinion - rarely pays off. This pitfall is made deeper with the consideration that bad physical theatre tends to be as painful as a sandy fork in the eye. However in Never Enough a clearly dedicated cast and crew manage to turn a macabre clash of personalities into an electrifying and thoroughly engaging performance. With the dialogue providing a backdrop for the ambitious choreography, the three person cast confidently explore the trials and tribulations associated with consumerism, jealousy and self-doubt. The show opens with the three characters standing awkwardly around a dinner table, motionless until Will (Marc Graham) slowly breaks the tension with a tentative stretch across the cloth. At this point, I feared for my interest in the show as I am naturally cynical about anything emerging from the genre (unfairly or not). At the start of the show, the cautious but stylised direction suggested a highly artistic performance to come. The phrase 'interpretive dance' strikes fear into many a heart, and a university production built on these foundations will tend to face an uphill battle towards audience approval. With a large percentage of the opening dialogue formed by intercutting monologues, the show required an ambitious statement of a dance to ensure they stayed on the right side of the 'pretentious line' With Rebecca (Helen Goalen) toiling over her battle with low self-esteem and an eating disorder through a graceful but amusing dance dressed as a cake, it becomes clear that this is a production that can acknowledge its own message, without believing it to be gospel. The performances were strong across the board, with the small cast excelling both in terms of selling the drama and embracing their ambitious choreography. Marc Graham manages to create an audience affinity with a character possessing nothing but the most hollow and materialistic
ambitions, staying in constant control of his actions down to the smallest finger movements. In doing so the repressed yet outwardly confident character shone, aptly balancing the two female performances. In Helen Goalen the show possesses an actress with a strong sense of character. Many of the subtle twitches or slight tone variations early in her performance almost pass by unnoticed, until Rebecca's personality is fully laid bare and the audience is made privy to the careful observation that Goalen had clearly undertaken to lay her groundwork. Abbi Greenland completes the cast in the role of Lizzi, a seemingly likeable, if self-pitying, woman who it transpires is a grade-A nutcase. This transformation is made all the more believable, and engaging by Greenland's ability to slightly tweak the naive exterior shell of the character into that of the potentially dangerous stalker she is revealed to be.
The fact that, on top of this, the piece was devised and choreographed by the three should add to their achievement. While there were moments, in the first 20 minutes largely, where the dialogue dipped in pace and energy, on the whole the dances were appropriately peppered amongst the character development. Thankfully, time was allowed at the climax of the tension between the three for the drama to unfold without forcing in another routine. This awareness of the audience was felt throughout, and should be appreciated when considered against similar shows of this genre. While Never
Enough deserves genuine praise for the performance of their piece, the actual script is not entirely beyond reproach despite also being of ample quality. Perhaps too many messages were attempted, or dialogue established to support the dance -as it stood the show could have stood with losing about 15 minutes overall. The conversation pre-dinner party lacked the naturalism and resonance of later lines, while some time could have been spared were it not for the inclusion of the final dance. With the characters returning to their original positions around the table in a satisfyingly cyclical manner, I anticipated the house lights but received the final choreographed performance. Which, to be fair, was also gloriously performed. The word is that the three are not even professionally trained dancers. If true, this is a really disgustingly impressive achievement. To maintain such a high level of physical performance while both propelling the narrative and building a palpable sexual tension speaks wonders for their quite offensively wide array of talents. Not entirely without flaw, but a genuinely well thought-out production coupled with a quality of dance performance that is rarely seen in student theatre.
rom the opening to the final moments, Never Enough successfully manages to entrance through the minimalist dialogue, expressive contemporary movement and bare performance space. The selection of random, upbeat music compliments the action on stage and accentuates the diversity of the physical theatre sections. We are immediately aware of the character's interconnectedness through their communal dialogue and individual stories. Although the story appears simplistic, the choreography invites the audience to experience the raw emotion of these three 'normal' persons. As the play develops, we discover closeted demons through juxtaposed moments of falling artificial raindrops, towering red and blue retail boxes and a fateful notepad. The well-rehearsed comic moments of the stereotypical wives and jealous consciences, initially left the audience unaware of the shoplifting, bulimic and stalking-forcompany under the surface. 'Maybe we should do it again sometime?'
went into Never Enough with very little knowledge of physical theatre I don't know if that's important - but the piece was beautiful in a way that I have never really experienced before. The interpretive dance was intermittent in a crystal clear narrative; during the episodic dance sequences we see past the fronts the three characters present to the world, and they are laid emotionally open to us. This, combined with three psyches that are suitably fucked-up, makes for theatre that is really, really good. It looks so good - there was an awesome bit where Lizzi jumped up onto Will with her right knee over his left shoulder. Hot.
ometimes a change from the ordinary is welcome, and this was spectacularly provided by Hull University's Never Enough. An extraordinarily choreographed piece, it combines stunning movement with dialogue (shock horror so far this year) to provide an intriguing and captivating piece. By far the most impressive part of this piece was the movement. The three plays seen before this were very static, with a great deal of direct address and a heavy focus on single characters telling their story, as opposed to interaction. Never Enough, however, was comprised of an equal balance of movement, dialogue and individual characters. As a result it maintained the audience's attention throughout. The choreography was impeccably executed and the work put into its devising was obvious, each actor knowing exactly what to do at each time with neither hesitation nor confusion, and a dropping of pace
(which one would expect from such a long, high-octane piece) to be seen. Tying in with the loud, blaring music and bright, glaring lights it was slick and memorable. Dance-based pieces have been done before, last year's Strict Machine being one example, yet this had much more of an effect than the entirely danced and loud music-based tale of competitive office workers. In Never Enough, the characters were deeper and explored to a much greater extent. One could understand the plot behind it, focusing on the two competitive lovers, unlike Strict Machine where the plot was less engaging. Yet, other aspects of their characterisation were plain to see. We understood how each was missing something in life, never having 'enough' and the acting was both genuine and progressive. The transition of Abbi Greenland's Lizzi from hopeful and doting to desperate and visceral was done especially well.
One criticism must be its length. Although time was needed to explore the characters and come to a natural conclusion, one of Strict Machine's positives was its short, snappy effect. There was no fear of boredom in this case, yet towards the end there were a couple of points where a snappier ending could have been achieved and some audience members visibly lost concentration. Nonetheless it is but a small criticism of a play which was captivating, new and, most importantly, enjoyable.
ontains Mild Nudity'. That is what you are told before stepping in to watch Never Enough. But no warning is necessary, 'mild nudity' is an overstatement; it is neither erotic, nor explicit. Humorous and sexual, the play shows that everyone has a dark side, and demonstrates how people interact with so many emotions, secrets, and bodies laid bare. Never Enough focuses on three people who want more out of life. Brought together at an uncomfortable dinner party is a man who steals things he cannot afford in order to pretend he has the life he dreams of; an upper class lady in lower class circumstances, desperately trying to keep up appearances; and a woman who watches them both, lonely and desperate for company. The show intercuts dialogue and dance to express the characters' passion, sensuality, and humour. The movement switches from slow sensuality to fervoured swing in a few beats. Initially, the sudden change from speaking to dance feels abrupt, but as the show goes on, the two strands become easily entwined. As the performance unfolds, an uncomfortable atmosphere impinges upon the audience. It is compelling how, as the characters deepest desires and true selves become obvious, they become much more ambiguous. The play's sexual charge is expressed so fluently by the physicality of the performers, the question of clothing, or lack thereof, becomes irrelevant. The final scene is the most gripping, with the language becoming poetic, and dancing that verges on the acrobatic combining to convey the woman's passionate desperation to be touched, to be loved. Never Enough is a tantalisingly dark piece of physical theatre that offers a raw glare at human nature.
eople who went to the Festival last year will be familiar with this company's work in a play called Strict Machine a half hour long entirely dance based performance. I was less than underwhelmed with Strict Machine and when I recognised the two actresses on stage I feared the worse. Fortunately, my fears were quickly put to rest as this new piece was vastly different to last year's piece if only in the lack of gender stereotyping. The addition of dialogue (and in particular a male character) added a new dimension to the piece in a clear and concise narrative. The dialogue was cleverly written and got straight to the point, an important issue as the writing needed to be informative but not overpowering since the movement drew most focus here. Having said that, the interlinking monologues that started the play start the audience on a journey towards the inevitable interplay of the three protagonists. The movement or 'dance' as what I have come to expect from the company that produced 'Strict Machine' was fast paced, succinct, well rehearsed and at times poignant... A friend described it as 'groin-grabbingly good!' When talking about the movement in the play I have to mention the physicality of the performers. I was overwhelmed with the performers themselves and how they committed to their craft. Having seen the two girls perform before I really felt that they had grown over the year and their new piece really gave them an opportunity to showcase their growth and new found talent. There was also an inexplicable attraction to both characters on stage, whether it was Lizzi's (Abbi Greenland) want to be taken roughly and her overt sexuality in her dance or Becca's (Helen Goalen) shyness and reservedness, I found myself inextricably attracted to these two beauties. My favourite moment was without a doubt the inclusion of 'You can Call me Al' by Simon and Garfunkel. A funky and catchy tune that epitomised the whole play with its playful nature and ability to please an audience. I must
applaud the two ladies with their achievement of appearing at two consecutive Festivals and after seeing this performance may it be many more.
requests Matt Hassall
onsumerism is replaced by emotional craving in order to highlight the human incapacity for satisfaction. Never Enough is a concoction of physical theatre and situation farce. The beginning scenes that intertwine three individuals who are, in turn, pursuing each other play out like a romantic comedy. Two women are in quiet competition for a man, making passes to win his attention whilst he daydreams of his perfect companion. By the end, the revelations become a little contrived and drastic knife-wielding reactions feel rather exaggerated. This is no criticism of the acting which is particularly strong even after rigorous dance interludes. It is the emotions in the script that become surface deep and because of this our investment in the situation is lessened. In moments where absurdity reigns, the interest is much greater and the cupcake fantasy sequence is a definite highlight. The movement, however, is extraordinary. It is incredible to see such inventive and controlled physical performances from the trio. The entire time could have easily been spent enthralled by these brilliant sequences and this element is by far the strongest.
constructed by Alex 'Mal' Mead
ever Enough is a very well produced and generally very well designed play with very tight choreography and acting which was held constantly to a very high standard. Most reviews tend to concentrate on the direction, acting or various facets of the script. I will freely admit that I am no expert in such matters and would certainly not feel comfortable commenting on these elements except to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Never Enough and would highly recommend it to anyone. I do however feel confident enough to claim that I have enough experience in running theatrical productions from a technical point of view to understand how technical decisions can detract from what was otherwise a slick, engaging, and competent production. Firstly, I believe a basic error was made in not spiking the spotlight positions for the two female characters. During one of the scenes in which both female actresses occupied downstage left and right positions, one actress was so far back in her light that nothing above her chest was visible. For the audience this can be extremely irksome; breaking the flow of the narrative and character. For the technicians it means that the time spent rigging, cabling, patching and programming the lights was for
by Carey Mackenzie Drama and Dancing. It fuses well and looks good. It makes me happy.
nought. It is a great shame that excellent acting can be thrown into darkness simply for a few centimetres of electrical tape. Secondly, the sound levels were generally too high. For most of the play this wasn't an issue as the music simply accompanied well choreographed and innovative dances. However, during once scene one of the actresses is expected to be able to project over the music and reach the audience. This left myself straining to follow her lines which was both distracting for me, and a waste of the actresses' rehearsal time; what's the point of rehearsing a scene in which an actress has to both remember a back breaking dance routine and the lines to go with it if the audience can't hear it? Thirdly and finally, I felt that the throwing of Ricicles all over the stage during the first half was poorly thought through. For one thing, throwing Ricicles at one female character to underline her desire to eat herself happy lacked the subtlety of the rest of the piece and which was dealt with far more gracefully, and to great comedic effect, later in the scene. For another, covering an otherwise pristine black stage with cream and pink coloured dust looks messy and
makes the whole second half feel a lot less slick, spoiling the otherwise brilliant routines. Lastly, the dances throughout the play involve considerable floor work which, postRicicle throwing, results in bits of Ricicle getting all over the actors - in their hair on their feet and clothes. Consequently, when they perform their more impressive manoeuvres you could observe tiny pieces of Ricicle flying out of their hair; often at high speed. Under theatrical lighting these showed up as clear as day. Please appreciate that I'm not trying to tell the team at RashDash how to do their jobs. They have assembled a beautiful piece of work which they translated extremely well to unfamiliar surroundings. I simply feel it is a tragedy (within the context of theatre) when the hard work of so many people is made less awesome because of issues which are either easily fixable or could be cut without detracting from the experience.
have seen dance pieces before... When I haven't been able to get out of it. I have always managed to tolerate them, I have sometimes even enjoyed them but I have never been moved by them. I always felt detached from the action, I didn't care about it. So why should it be that I loved Never Enough so much? Why was I engaged from the outset? Why did I find myself totally consumed by an overwhelming sense of joy? The play begins with a humorously tense conversation over the remains of a dinner party gone wrong. To begin with I wasn't yet sure if it was supposed to be funny or if I was laughing during moments intended to be overflowing with angst. As the scene played out it began to dawn on the audience that the laughs were welcomed. However, no sooner had we acclimatised to the scene than the first dance sequence broke out.
If I had seen this dance sequence in isolation I don't think I would have sat forward to get a better look, I wouldn't have moronically grinned my way through it and I wouldn't have wanted to give a standing ovation at the end. I wanted to do all these things because breaking into dance felt like exactly what these characters had to do. The tension of the first scene was so unbearable that it was the only possible release. I accepted all the dances immediately because every single one was earned by the cast. Abbi Greenland, Helen Goalen and Marc Graham all excel in this production; there were no weak links when it came to the acting or dancing. Greenland and Goalen especially generated many laughs with their well observed neurotic characters. The timing and delivery of the whole cast filled the first half with consistent laughs but they also revelled in the form of the play. Dance was used to devastatingly comic effect; one
particular sequence involving a giant dancing cake was as funny as anything in Aeneas Faversham Forever. As hilarious as the first half was, the biggest challenge for the cast lay halfway through. Remarkably they not only endure a twist that radically alters the tone of the piece, they actually make it work and effortlessly exchange laughs for a riveting sense of tension. A lot of devised pieces lack an identity; they are filled with thrilling images and wonderful scenes that don't quite hang together. Although Never Enough contains a twist which flips the tone on its head it never feels disjointed. The play constantly throws up new ideas and never lets any concepts grow stale. The darkness is earned by the humour and humanity of the first half. More importantly every aspect of the play is wholeheartedly committed to by the cast with a verve that you cannot resist being drawn in by. Even though many questions are left unanswered I never felt cheated. The characters had all been backed into seemingly inescapable corners and the tension of the play was so unbearable that there was nothing else they could do: they escaped into dance. And it was joyful.
aving built the venue and focussed the lighting I deliberately avoided the dress rehearsal in order to see the opening performance as a punter. The term "Contemporary Dance" had me groaning inwardly and the opening lines made my heart sink, but then the opening bass lines kicked in through the subwoofers under the seating rake and we were off into a world of lust - lust for material goods, for chocolately sprinkles and for touch and human contact. The physicality of the dance sequences was balanced with a sustained and coherent narrative - a story we could follow, laugh at and relish. Quick fire monologue exchanges snap into pulsating dance sequences that are sexy, funny, poignant and bright. We see the characters intertwine, their lives linked by one character's deception. All are shown to be outwardly confident and inwardly weak and highlight the human condition materialism, greed, loneliness. I question the ending: where to end such a clever exposition? I was expecting a snappy blackout much earlier but we were taken on a sensuous dance of paint and entwined bodies. In the end they faded out less brightly than they began but it was still moving and engaged me throughout. It was funny and witty and clever and sad. What more do you want? Go see it and enjoy the cake chasing sequence - I did.
azy. Why bother getting a cast, sand, some versatile blocks and a budget White Stripes banjo if the main focus, the piece de resistance, the elephant in the room if you will, is totally absent from the proceedings? I could barely contain my total rage at the fact that the cast were going to TELL us about the hanging of an elephant instead of SHOWING us. In fact I didn’t contain my rage. I dripped blood from my ears on their precious rake as a result of the vastness of this slight to the supposed credulity of the audience. Oh sure, everyone can visualise an elephant being lynched by a crane, it’s the clown character that people are going to have difficulty with… LAZY. And don’t come at me with the argument that it would be impossible to stage. I’ve seen a film where a circus elephant learns to fly with its wings, so don’t tell me what can and can’t be achieved if your ambitions
are high enough. Time and time again I squinted my mind’s eye as tight as I could so as to truly get an impression of a five-ton elephant being asphyxiated but I was thwarted at every turn by the terminable knowledge that I was just looking at an empty patch of air. An empty patch of air that the actors occasionally patted and talked to, like that was going to make a difference. No Wonder was wondrous, Vowel Play contained no vowels, Normal was anything but (it tried with the swan but everyone knows they don't have wings), Return to the Silence was loud, and Elephant’s Graveyard doesn’t have a real fucking elephant in it. I’m not even going to bother with the Last Yak. I’m fed up of being lied to, expected to do all the hard work of visualising the central concept because the cast are too LAZY to get off their arses and do some fundraising so that they can, say, buy an elephant, train it, clear health and
safety and hang it from the rafters. But this… insult. Words can’t express how upset and angered I am. It’s their loss though, the American symbolism was entirely lost on me as a result of their continued refusal to surprise us at the last minute with a real life elephant crushing a man’s head like a melon. The elephant is the emblem of the Republican party. Is this significant? We may never know. Next time do it right by stringing up an elephant or at least stoning a rabbit.
he townspeople of Erwin never know what hits them when the circus rolls in. They can't possibly comprehend the enormity of their actions when assembling in long lines for the long-overdue circus parade which rolls into their town. And at their head, the star, the mysterious and awe-inspiring elephant: Mary. Flicking like the follow-spot in the big top, our focus settles first on the people of Erwin, then on the transient performers of Spark's circus. They take turns in out-facing direct address to narrate their internal monologues and the events of the fateful day unfold. We have become voyeurs in a larger, human circus. Further explored in light, cheap-andcheerful segments of physical theatre incorporating chicken-wire fences and wooden crates scraping across the yellow mud that stains everything in this town, we're treated to the age-old convention of suggesting outlines of visual set pieces with props arranged to form variously a train, a pyramid, a stage... Although the production is heavy handed, it's success is linked to the circus it features. For what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in sheer determined energy. Committed to a galloping pace and steam-roller action, the cast are almost exhausting to watch, overwhelming the senses and drawing us in. On taking a step back, the production cracks a little under its own pressure, but is lucky enough to sell it to us, faster than we can notice its flaws. The action flicks slickly between the two opposing lives of the townsfolk and circusfolk. While one takes the limelight the other hunkers in the background, awaiting their turns and engaging in their daily chores. The overall effect is one of an inhabited stage, peopled with the hustle and bustle of each occupant. But as we progress, their background gestures become more morose, dwindling into inaction and grinding to a halt as the biggest thing to ever happen to this tiny hamlet overshadows everything.
The reason for their morbidity is in stark contrast to the gaudy festivities of the circus. The circus reflects our own desires, reflecting our soul back at us in the form of pure entertainment, and this doesn't change when the people demand something darker. As the circus travels around, it slowly picks up runaways. One of these is Red, eerily absent from the dramatis personae and only described as a man with red hair. But we hear he's upwardly mobile in the pachyderm hierarchy, even hopping onto the back of the mythically giant Mary for the parade.
E But disaster strikes, as forewarned by the more experienced animal handlers, whose noses are not merely put out of joint but practically launched out of the ballpark by the arrogance of Mr. Red. Try as they might to prevent Red of riding Mary, he goes ahead anyway and when she's distracted by a piece of watermelon, in his inexperienced panic, attempts to beat her into submission. In retaliation, Mary takes his life. Death, like in the Tarot, also signifies change. And a dark cloud settles over the town. But the show must go on, and in the show that night, the public demand vengeance. And so blood begets blood as the town attempts to gain its notority for being the first place in the world to hang an elephant for murder. They mostly regret their rash decision eventually, and it seems the world will mourn for the great beast fallen. Elephants are said to be the only creatures that understand death. After the many grim graveyard affairs I've attended in the past couple of years, I have to agree. Humans don't seem to have a clue. Although occasionally and briefly, we get a glimpse. Which, when the sorority of elephants attend the corpse of the fallen Mary, is what Elephant's Graveyard allows us.
lephant’s Graveyard was a magnificent piece detailing the effects of industrialisation and mechanisation on a small Tennessee town, and the resulting reductive mutation of the population to ambitious capitalists, pursuing monetary gains at the expense of nature and their own humanity. Industry and ambition change people. This play is set in 1916, when railways and telegraphs had at last connected even the more outward sections of America, making such a massive country seem physically and psychologically much smaller. Added to this, American industrial production had outstripped the British Empire, and the country only a little over a century old had truly become a world power. Americans now felt that they could live 'The American Dream'. This industrialisation contributed greatly to the ‘Roaring Twenties’ in the preDepression United States. In Elephant’s Graveyard, this new ambition is obvious, even in such a small, unimportant town. From having pride in their hometown and working for the community as a group (even meaningless tasks helping the greater cause), the citizens of Erwin divide, looking upwards to serve their own needs and expanding far beyond their traditional means. Originally pathetic and in dead-end situations, they gradually become ever more confident and individualistic. This, however, comes at a price, with the citizens losing basic human emotions in their inexorable pursuit of affluence.
The characters in the play soon focus on nothing but monetary gain, and seek a head-start in life, accepting technology and manipulating it to improve their quality of life. A result of this is the sacrificing of compassion for exploitation. An elephant, massive, unpredictable and practical, is the very embodiment of majestic nature. Yet as opposed to coexisting, opportunist humans regard it as nothing more than an “investment”, a short-term way of getting rich quick. This descent in conventional moral behaviour inevitably ends in tragedy, the citizens butchering the elephant in a hypnotised, protectionist rage. It is seen as a threat to their pursuit of affluence and has outgrown its job as a show-item, and so they feel it must be exterminated. They respond to the torturing of the elephant with joy and excitement, seeking a primeval form of arbitrary justice. Despite some regretting their actions later, they have changed irreparably, even exhuming the tortured body to gain a meagre profit from the tusks. It is not coincidental that as soon as the railway arrives, the citizens of Erwin suddenly change. Due to its overarching dominance of the community, it is not long before deluded people become dependent on it, abandoning their agricultural roots. This ends up as a battle between the artificial and the natural and, in the end, metal brutally destroys flesh. The elephant is mutilated whilst held aloft by a metal crane and tied to metal tracks, a prisoner of unnatural human punishment rituals. In this respect, it is human instinct, not industrialisation, which leads to such a moral decline. Humans are tempted into using technology to kill nature as part of their quest for affluence and comfort, sacrificing compassion and morality in the process.
o you wake the clowns back up, and you put the shovels back in their hands, and you tell them to dig her back up and saw off her tusks... And finally one of them says, "But, Mr Sparks, she’s an Indian female, she doesn’t have any fucking tusks." But like they say, people tend to forget the little details when they’ve got an elephant hanging in front of them...
always a winner. It is here that perhaps a minute criticism can be made. It is occasionally a strain to hear the actors over the music. Great credit must also go to the lighting design that is acutely atmospheric without relying on cliché and the roaming spotlight is a circus essential. The danger of directing a series of entwined monologues is a static performance, but it is almost difficult to notice that, in terms of the script, the characters never actually interact. The company come together so smoothly that a partnership is formed by their sharp and capable association with the language. Never accosted by description, they address us and enthrall us. Ah, if only more things were worth staining my worldly goods in coffee.
rying to contain enthusiasm for this production is going to be a little tricky, but bear with me. Elephant’s Graveyard is fantastic. (Whoops! Failed already.) The cast utilise all that’s accessible to their advantage. The space is vibrantly filled with choral movement; scenes silently unfold and blend swiftly into the next. Wooden crates are skilfully used to mark out the territory between circus and townsfolk, heaved as luggage and especially well as the front of a locomotive. It’s simple but extremely effective. The cast form an electric troupe. Their movement is refined and each role is strong enough to remain individual amongst the mass. Consistent in energy and delivery, the acting is superb and like a true ensemble, it is impossible to pinpoint any one stand out star. They bound around the stage to the point where the action almost reaches a frantic breaking point, but like the trusty railroad, stillness arrives right on time. Such frenetic action and affronting delivery may not be to everyone’s taste but passionate post-show discussions lead me to flail with joy at what’s just been seen, sending my cup of coffee flying across the table, splashing right into my bag and staining everything...But I don’t care! It was worth it. Live music lends vital assistance to constructing both the mood and the historic setting. A two-man band that sings and plays their way through a variety of instruments - a banjo is
had high hopes for this play as soon as I walked in confronted by a floor of sawdust, stage to a beautiful opening tableau created by the cast. After a less than inspiring start to the Festival, I was delighted to walk out of that cold auditorium (which only added to the play’s intensity) having seen a wonderful script done justice by a truly talented troupe.
he production as a whole was of an exceptional standard. The lighting was impeccable, from the orange glow of dusk to the individual spotlights at the end. The live music was a pleasingly successful touch. The sawdust on the floor amply represented the place and period of the piece, and the front row were happy to tolerate a dusty face. The cast discipline was an example to follow; especially those able to sustain the shaking in the train scenes without abating. Kwaku MillsBampoe in particular should be given credit. Here was an ensemble cast which enunciated well, co-operated with each other and their only props (the crates) very efficiently, maintained the tempo and energy and kept the audience thoroughly
absorbed. From watching British student-actors put on plays set in America, I've become accustomed to criticising the accents, yet despite the occasional falter a good number of the actors' simulations of the Tennessee drawl were entirely believable - special recognition going to Oliver Baxter and Jay Saighal here. Jay Saighal's character interpretation was in fact, immaculate and managed to stand out despite the overall high quality of acting. I also surrender exclusive praise to the youthful energy Rio West brought to the piece. Congratulations to the director's achievement in all areas. A fast-paced, captivatingly-narrated story that kept me intrigued at every moment. I felt inclined to hold my dusty sneezes for the entire hour (a couple of the previous glacially moving productions could take note). I am very grateful to have seen a piece of theatre which is the textbook example of an amateur student production, head and shoulders into professionalism. The next step would be to acknowledge that the background set was largely unused, that at times not all eyes were following the same imaginary elephant, and perhaps then to actually take the representation of the elephant to a next level; one which they have proved they are capable of reaching.
Emblazoned atop the original film poster for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? are the words “people are the ultimate spectacle.” I’d be very interested to know whether Elephant’s Graveyard deliberately set out to disprove this slogan as people are the one thing that their play neglects. There is a town and there is a circus. There are bags of popcorn peeking out from curtains. There are slatted wooden crates, gauze screens and coloured bunting. There is mass hysteria and petit-bourgeois morality
and there is elephanticide. There are interlocking monologues and physical set-pieces, choreographed to within an inch of their lives. But there is no characterisation. Meekly established conventions and over-wrought aesthetics don’t help. Mimed dialogue behind the monologues makes a brief appearance before retreating, tail between legs. An over-reliance on profiles and spotlighting washes out the cast’s features and with it any potential empathy. Having a cast of fourteen repeatedly scratching and worrittin’ in the background on a sandcovered stage proves distracting. Erwin may be a small town that has “forgotten its own name” but it is also a town that has forgotten about people. The characters are victims of the show’s central conceitrepetitively paced monologues dull any sense of individual motivation. Townspeople are barely distinguishable from the Circus folk. Issues of race, gender and poverty in post-war Tenessee are buried deep with the elephant carcass. They may not shoot the elephant, but they sure do shoot themselves in the foot
cast of thirteen were moulded around their crates and sitting in sawdust waiting for the circus to arrive. As individuals they told the audience a collective story in an expansive space minimally decorated by Cara Verkerk. It evoked a sense of emptiness, maybe that felt by the villagers before us. The actors manoeuvred crates to make trains and platforms, and they utilised the freedom of their space. Individually, in the same place, the actors illuminated in spotlights, delivered monologues and pursued their personal world actions. With thirteen actors and two musicians I was at first a little lost in the plot, not knowing where to focus my attention. Each audience member may have collected different fragments. For me it was Rio West as the town's young girl who captivated me with energy and tales of her older brother Eli. The second was the reserved Jay Saighal whose understated sadness was all the more powerful. The realisation of events twisted my stomach.
ear Elephant Graveyard Cast
There was a town. There was a rail road. There was a circus. There was an elephant. There were some very scruffy costumes. Please find an iron. Otherwise, well done. Yours sincerely Gaynor Prendergast (Mrs)
ex and death have always been thought to be closely linked common bedfellows, in fact - but rarely is that connection stronger than in the case of Peter Kurten. Germany in the years following World War One wasn't a terribly safe and secure place at the best of times, especially in the years covered by Edinburgh University's production of Anthony Neilson's Normal - roughly 1929 to 1931. Not only was 1929 the time of the greatest global economic downturn since...er, well, forever (actually, there'd been another pretty bad one during the nineteenth century as well), it was also a pretty dangerous time for ordinary people to be wandering the streets of Dusseldorf.
Children and women seem to be the ones at most risk from the neat, refined, and fussy Peter Kurten played for Edinburgh Uni by Paddy Loughman. He's a bit of a sadist, if we're honest (Kurten, not Loughman). This is a man who gets turned on by death, the bloodier the better. He is a man very much comfortable with his own desires and practices, showing no remorse or even an indication that he might think bestiality is in any way A Bad Thing. Worse yet is his ambivalence about rape. I'm pretty sure that should constitute A Bad Thing in anyone's book. Thing is, Kurten's book is different to most people's - most (ahem) normal people's, that is. His childhood seems to have made him amoral, a child that never had any innocence because his parents' sex life (consenting or otherwise) was conducted in the only room the family owned. It is because of this that he can act as though what he does is typical. Like other dramas featuring a coldblooded killer that manages to capture
audience or public imagination (like C4's recent Red Riding 1980, about the Yorkshire Ripper, and Silence of the Lambs), Normal is as much about the people investigating the criminal as it is about the killer himself. Hence Kurten's defence lawyer, who knows everything about law, but little about life and less about love. Bless him, he learns quick enough - in fact, he's really going for it while he lists Kurten's crimes. Neilson isn't a writer to shy away from the gruesome, giving us plenty of gore factor in the language spoken, if not in the actions seen. When actions are seen there is a sudden dose of brutality injected onto the stage in five minutes that pulse with a frantic animal energy, followed by a throbbing sense of remorse. This and the music hall listing of Kurten's victims act as a shot in the arm to a piece that could become just a body of monologues and dialogues set in an office. Lawyer Wehner (Nick Kay) is the one to introduce a major Neilson theme to Normal: insanity. Nielson's work often investigates where the line between sanity and insanity lies, and this is no exception. Having created a character (based in real life) who can question every definition and assumption Wehner takes for granted, Neilson can also use Kurten to question our own
definition of sanity. He certainly seems to be in control, though it's the casual regard in which Kurten holds death and trauma that make him scary. It sometimes worries me that I'm not lying when I say that sex and violence always seem to quicken my interest
more than anything else in theatre. Not for nothing do the French talk about 'la petite mort'.
set design seemingly lifted from an Escher painting, an excitingly misshapen wooden table, and, well...a giant hovering swan. Suitably, as implied by the productively provocative title, not normal. But as Anthony Neilson asks with his darkly comic, surreally horrific re-telling of the "Dusseldorf Ripper" case, what is normal? Where is the line drawn between sanity and insanity? Is the monster born or created? All questions that have been asked before - all interesting, relevant questions that remain unanswered - yet the literal fashion in which they're delivered leaves a lot to be desired.
Regardless, fantastic performances given by an incredibly cohesive threesome cannot go overlooked. Nick Kay, Paddy Loughman and Holly McLay each take it in turn to intrigue and compel us. The intrinsic duet of Wehner and Kurten does not fail. Loughman's strangely camp, strangely demonic cannibal creeps under the skin, and subsequently terrifies as his eerie voice echoes through the auditorium. A particular highlight: his squealing pig, manic and sudden, punches in the gut before we are plunged into darkness - unsettling and consuming the jury in our seats, eternally unprepared for the impending verdict. It was these moments that demonstrate why this show was selected. However its slick style, consistent throughout, alternating so snappily between a world of naturalism and stylisation, is rivalled by the need for...something...a missing something. Again so very fitting with that slick style - the lighting impresses, framing the transitions so effortlessly from time frame to time frame. Mirrored in the script - Normal is absolute crosscutting galore. Sometimes used to perfection, others to utter confusion, but undoubtedly overused. What begins so strongly soon becomes a
tangled web, the script uncurls. But to make up for that, there are plenty of moments of theatrical invention to keep us entertained, distinctly composed by the director or the company themselves. Yet odd moments remain unexplained, unfortunately. Why is Frau Kurten murdered four times in a row? With a rubber hammer? Maybe the latter is the reason for the former. The shrill scream pierces the air, the violent despairing struggle makes us hold our breath. But then it happens again, and again...and again. Is it for dramatic or comic effect? Brimming with a foundational creativity and talent, Normal has its highs and lows, a balance between the smoothly executed and the obvious. Whilst it presents an imagination driven vision, a brutal story well acted, it lacks clarity and genuine depth. I wanted more, to know more: about Kurten; Kurten's father; Kurten's childhood. Perhaps this was Neilson's intention - to leave us wanting, perhaps I'm being greedy, or perhaps the script only scraped the surface of what has the potential to be even more dark and even more harrowing than it already is.
ormal needs to show us a world that is wrong and intimidating. It's how Justus Wehner feels as the play draws on; it's the starting point of Peter Kurten's distorted worldview. The script suggests this is how Germany felt entering the 1930s. All aspects of the production need to create a harmonious world of moral topsy-turvy in which we credit the chillingly eloquent arguments of Peter Kurten's brutality. And they don't. For a play that should have everything in its favour, it is let down by a howling void at its centre. The set design is excellent. Aside from a slightly unwieldy, overweight looking swan, it is definitely in sympathy with Neilson's script. Everything is skewed, from Wehner's desk to one of the banisters on the staircase. Details are distorted and
out of true, creating an unsympathetic and upsettling environment. The design on the flats shows details so close up it is difficult even to identify what they are details of. Under the microscope the ordinary has become intimidating. Unfortunately, that is where any genius attached to this production stops. While I cannot fault any of the direction or acting technically, I cannot praise it. Normal commits a worse crime than being merely bad. It takes Neilson's disturbing, horrifying script and makes it dull. Paddy Loughman's performance as Wehner has been called scenery chewing, and this is true. But is this what the script demands? The internal logic of the play rests on The Dusseldorf Ripper being a man his defense counsel would listen to for even an instant, but Loughman does not create that character. Nick Kay's reaction to this is to underplay, but that renders the production entirely flat.
Special mention must be of the climactic piece of action, a violent attack on a woman - Holly Mclay, perhaps the best thing about this piece, her acting preserves some measure of ambiguity - it is the funniest thing witnessed at NSDF09 since Aeneas Faversham Forever. Made using a laughably plastic hammer, this stagy attack took up so much time, and involved so many unlikely revivals of the victim that the only possible reaction was one of slightly embarassed laughter. Not having read the script, I don't know the extent to which Neilson gives stage directions, but even if he recorded precisely what the audience saw, its failure is the fault of the director for not bravely choosing his own path. If anything runs through this piece, it is a lack of brave choices, an absence of flair or style. If any of the cast had tried to match Loughman's levels it might at least have transformed into an entertaining if ill-concieved schlock horror, but in its current state it can stand only as a failed attempt at a psychological thriller.
his play is brutal, in word and action. The language is hard and flinty, struck through with profanity and yet at times almost poetic. That might seem an odd thing to say but the bluntness of the dialogue, so often used to threaten, posture or intimidate is doubly affecting when it is used to say anything tender or beautiful. The world Herons shows us is one without hope. Only one character has any kind of hope of his life changing at all. The rest have made their peace with their world and do the best in it they can, with violence, by turning off and fishing or by seeking temporary escape with drink and drugs. In this bleak world, any element of humour shines like the sun, and there are a number of genuine funny moments throughout the play which are tactically placed so the audience can let out some accumulated tension. One line in particular, a question in response to brutal and appalling taunting, is absolutely heroic in writing and performance. Herons inevitably invites comparison with Edward Bond's Saved. Anyone familiar with the play cannot help but see Herons as in some way, Saved: the Next Generation. But if anything Herons is bleaker. The initial tragic event is kept off-stage, and we deal with fringe players in this drama, who are themselves dealing with violence
and absence of meaning in their lives. Whereas in Saved you might hope the baby is not stoned, that the characters will step back from this horrifying action, in Herons the innocent has already died, and those who killed her are not available to us. We cannot hope to understand their motives, we deal only with their friends and relatives. There is no meaning to be seen in the actions of so many of the characters and the want of it is almost palpable. Billy's obsessive collection of details in his notebook, from the number of people who pass him each day to the text of graffiti speaks of someone searching desperately for reason in world that has rejected that possibility.
Billy is excellently played by Simon Longman. He could easily be a lazy stereotype â€“ the sensitive boy in the harsh unfriendly world, but Longman shows Billy is more than capable of holding his own with the other inhabitants, at least on the field of words. His anger sometimes drives to great heights of verbal dexterity, and the actor shows off these flourishes in the script adroitly. He's an ordinary boy trying not to be damaged by a hostile world. The extent to which he has failed to do this only becomes clear in the final part of the play, when the stakes change and focus shifts to Billy and only Billy. We are left to question whether Billy finds his sense of meaning, and what it costs him if he does. So much hope is shown as false in the course of the play, mostly Billy's that his Dad will take him away from his current life, that one cannot help but doubt anything positive that occurs. If it didn't manage to end on a simple and touching note, Herons would be intolerably bleak, and it's final image is indeed simple and touching. It leaves open the possibility that something may be salvaged on an individual level even as society goes under.
ame art seems too simple to be 'art' at all. Keeping things simple, however, can create great success. In 1974, the Tate caused widespread controversy by purchasing Carl Andre's 'Equivalent VIII'. The piece consisted merely of 120 standard bricks, stacked in a rectangular shape on the ground. No paint, no sculptural detail, just raw artistic thought. In 2009, Herons follows suit. They have some bricks of their own. Admittedly, Falling Leaves's production only has 25 bricks on their stage, piled sporadically along the back wall, but the similarities between their performance and Andre's exhibit extend beyond mere masonary. Both pieces use simplicity to vastly increase their impact. Unlike the majority of NSDF09 performances so far, Herons staged an excellent script with undiluted honesty. They did not vie for attention with strobe lights or soundscapes, nor did they distract attention with glamourous visual sets; they simply showcased 25 bricks, 7 characters and an engrossing 90 minute text. That's not to say that Herons appeared dull. In fact, by avoiding the temptations of exciting embellishment, Herons's core flourishes. Mark Weinman's 'Charlie', for example, could easily have been played up for laughs, but was instead kept restrained, maintaining focus on his truely important roles and moments. Similarly, lighting could have distracted from the play's core, but instead lit everything under a plain straw wash. Sometimes, by stripping away the trimmings, the resulting impact of the artistic core is vastly increased.Andre's simple pile of bricks sparked a debate which has been ongoing for 25 years. The simplicity of his piece generated its success. Choosing to leave aside unnecessary additions can prove extremely difficult, but taking this risk can pay dividends. At NSDF09, Herons has provided the first example of simple, honest drama, free from clutter. In their case, this risk paid off.
alling Leaves’s production of Simon Stephen's “dark portrayal of modern teenage life”, although seemingly a typical and clichéd look at the troubles of today’s adolescents, was surprisingly deep, original and mature. Although it started less than favourably, a simplistic scene that reminded the audience more of a GCSE piece on knife crime (and we’ve all seen our fair share of those), the incredibly realistic and powerful characterisation, especially from Mark Weinman and Edward Franklin, made for a far more powerful performance. After a number of similar scenes, which elaborated on the relationships and characters within the play, the audience was suddenly confronted with an uncomfortable and shocking moment: a 15 year old raping a boy, one year his junior, with a beer bottle. This not only jerked the audience from the comfortable stupor they had slipped into but really made them empathise with the play’s protagonist. However, such a visceral act was met with mixed opinions and a few have debated whether it ruined the play or contributed its interesting and unique take on the lives of young people. Such a scene can only be meant to produce a controversial reaction; however it also brought the audience away from the play’s fictional plot and to the very real horrors that can actually happen. One highlight of the play was most clearly the role of the father, portrayed with true conviction by Mark Weinman. He not only gave lightness and humour to the part, with his perfect comic timing, but brought an endearing sadness to the character and to the overall situation. This play was, although long-winded, very thought provoking and well acted. The characters created were incredibly believable and made for a clever and controlled performance which linked scenes together with smooth accuracy and successfully left the audience pondering their own views on the subject.
erformance of the festival for me so far this year is from Mark Weinman in “Herons.” Detailed and completely convincing, I was blown away by the total embodiment of character. I can’t imagine Charlie Russell being played any differently. The tone of voice was specific, volume and pause completely perfect. I was mesmerised and totally believed in the moments he had on stage. His work with the text was
exceptional; each spoken word seemed to be a new thought. Movement and mannerism was natural, relaxed, and effortless. The relationship with his son was beautifully portrayed by both Weinman and Longman. The distance between the two throughout the play was heart wrenching and equally so in the final moment of the piece. Weinman's hand left in pocket making the image ever more unique to the two.
t’s a natural indicator of the NSDF audience that on entering the McCarthy auditorium and seeing four hooded characters surrounding a figure hunched in a spotlight you can hear the group sigh of ‘Oh tits, here comes another cackhanded student social commentary…’ echoing out. But Herons is a play that knows its target audience and knows exactly how to use that audience’s expectations against itself. Like a theatre ninja.
(Ashley Gerlach). Worthy of special mention though are Edward Franklin and Mark Weinman. Franklin, already impressive in No Wonder, confirms all the praise he’s received with a ‘villain’ character who’s humour, anger, violence, and absolute insecurity makes his stage time feel unsettlingly precious; while Weinman’s deliberate performance and total insight are palpable from the instant he comes on stage.
So we’re presented with a story that centres around Billy (Simon Longman), a teenager that feels completely out of sync with his surroundings, who is being threatened by pier Scott Cooper (Edward Franklin). From this simple premise the play expands and develops in ways that are at once predictable and surprising. I hesitate to go into any more detail of the plot in case it ruins what is a beautifully pitched and paced piece, suffice to say that it reveals its details not as a cheap mystery might, but instead by letting the characters naturally uncover themselves through their dialogue and interactions.
Fittingly it is central character Billy who is the biggest enigma of Herons. Initially overshadowed by the other actors, as Longman’s performance grows in confidence so too does his character in presence. At first glance he is a protagonist who is nothing more than a way for a middle-class audience to judge those filthy ASBOs, but the journey he takes, his repressions, decisions and his conclusions end up making us question our notions of victimisation and social justice.
The performances are universally impressive. Every actor possesses an uncanny ability to inhabit their character, from the seldom seen grimy wino mother Michelle Russell (Elie Rose) to gang lackies Darren Madden (Laurence Fox) and Aaron Riley
Everything in Herons is layered: its settings, its script and its characters. It is a credit to the entire cast and crew that they have drawn out all these elements with assurance, dedication and professionalism. What in other hands would have been a standard portrayal of urban troubles and teenage angst becomes a unique vision of lies, status and retribution.
hatâ€™s the point? To question the superfluousness of this piece is perhaps not quite as vapid as one might think. The obscurely lit passage that ushers the audience into the seemingly ageless psyche of Edward Franklinâ€™s 'Luke' appears to enrich the performance in no way, except perhaps in its ability to provide a rather uninspired audience member with an accurate representation of the play itself. We follow this dark passage, occasionally stumbling across a light that fails to extensively fill its role, but nonetheless casts a little light and intrigue on the situation, and having reached the end we canâ€™t help but feel that there must have been a faster way of getting there. An initial reaction to this performance is one of exasperation as a lack of adequate diction is only exacerbated by the monotonous hum of an air conditioner. However this background noise is perhaps not completely misplaced in the context of the piece as it reflects the pace at which we witness the causes and effects of Luke's father falling into a coma, as a result of what appear to be interrupted sexual escapades. A rather wearisome emerging audience is not an adequate reflection of a script that allowed Edward Franklin to imaginatively create an endearing character, complete with well-established and thoughtful mannerisms and characterisation. The confusion
surrounding Luke's age is not necessarily an issue as the amalgamation of profundity and immaturity allow for such thought provoking statements as "dreams aren't real but they kinda come from what's real". The insightful voice of a child who is able to comprehend the concept of 'too much love' further beguiles this audience. What is an issue however is the presence of the chorus, who act as a constant, and literal, method of upstaging. This issue lies predominantly in the fact that however slick the chorus are, they inevitably fragment and detract, and thus negate the point of a chorus, which ultimately is to make the performance more vivid. For example a particularly engrossing and moving monologue of Franklin's climaxed with an incessant tidying and shuffling of what can only be described as 'all too visible stage hands'. The two predominant purposes of this chorus are to provide a sense of a story telling technique through flashback, which only further distorts the main actors vocally, and to make the piece visually pleasing, which it is not. It is therefore with the chorus that the superfluousness of this performance lies, as a thought provoking script and a conviction in Edward Franklin's performance combine to evoke the desired emotions, that are however rudely stricken from us by the chorus.
Play that stands far apart. An art ban? A dastardly plan! Fact. A small lady stands, says 'A'. Style melee; detested. The pen expended pell-mell strews mess. Gist is trippy; ; tight; kitsch; silly. Fin. Mocks soppy folly of post-tory totty. Worth door toll? Not so! Regardless of your opinion of the finished piece, you must respect the author of Vowel Play. Or at any rate, write a mile in his shows before you do. The first four (like Joe Richards, I'm missing U) paragraphs of this review prove that to make sense of out such a restricted lingual palette takes at least massive, obsessional, commitment on a scale that, as you can tell, totally eludes me. What is left though, once this novelty has worn off? Four women talking into microphones on an otherwise empty stage. There is nothing to complain about in any of these performances and the actors deserve every accolade for bringing their vocabulary restricted characters to life. The unnaturally constructed lines actually sound credible and that the characters interactions work at all is a great credit to them. The characters themselves, as written, though, are less satisfactory. They are stereotypes of women, talking about stereotypes of men and all are, for the most part, lazy. It is a shame that the inventiveness of the form should be let down by more pedestrian content, and it makes it appear that the author was more interested in playing linguistic games and experimenting with restriction than in creating rounded and absorbing theatre. There is nothing especially wrong with the concept, but it seems unfair of the author and director to have staged what amounted to performance art, while convincing the cast they were in a dramatic play.
'm split, do I leave Vowel Play disappointed and complaining about the half hour forever lost, or do I applaud a group of young performers for succeeding in creating a devilishly complex piece. See? Split. The ensemble lost kudos instantly, by excluding the 5th most important vowel in the ENTIRE ALPHABET. Sure there are only about 14 words in the dictionary that contain only U's in the vowel department. But even a character sat at the back blurting out the occasional random (yet relevant) word would have kept me happy. I understand the difficulty of the piece, I really do. But the epic scale of the text demands something as epic to do it justice. We were equally, however, given something that resembled Loose Women - The Stage Show - for some reason in the form of a radio play. Anyway, bitching over. I'm gonna say nice things now. Leaving the auditorium I foolishly blurted out "I could probably write something like that if given only one vowel". I now feel I should give it a go. Ahem. A and crap... that's hard... damn damn arrgh all a man has... Yeah maybe these girls deseve all the credit they get!! Hats off to them U up... us... July... gusty... dusty... busty erm maybe not.
uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
odayâ€™s mission was to submerge the Stephen Joseph in water. A simple task for any Bond villain with the equipment to modify atmospheric pressure with nuclear warheads, but perhaps a tall order for even the most capable of technicians? No! Because we had a record 3 entries today:
Catherine, Cat and Tom (below) opted for out-and-out vandalism using the school trick of blocking the sinks in the toilets of the SJT with paper towels, turning on all the taps and waiting for it to flood. Amazing how the lure of a prize of a paltry amount of chocolate will drive people to trash one of the nationâ€™s theatrical landmarks.
Left:Tom's intervention to stop the hooliganistic madness. Girls, eh!
Dave had the innovation of bottling the SJT (an ideal merchandising opportunity for Sir Alan Ayck we reckon) The winners today were Emma Gregory (working in Ocean Room today and second time winner) and Eleanor Blower (the DVSM of Potter) who created a detailed scale model from card, straws and gaffer and submerged it in a dressing room sink. Look at the accuracy. Give these people a job on the railways! (The model railways.)
Stop waiting and photograph your entire crew with Godot. Proof of your creation (photo or the castle itself) should be brought into the NOFFice by now later than 1am on Tuesday.
y relationship with the lighting desk today became somewhat stormy. Earlier this week I was given the opportunity to op RashDash's Never Enough which in itself threw up some painful performance envy, but worse than this - a technical eff-up of the highest degree occurred. Although it can't really be credited to anyone in particular, I took responsibility. And I took it hard. Which is why I sit here in the NOFFice somewhat inebriated in an attempt to drown my sorrows. At one point today I thought I would never be taken seriously as a lighting enthusiast again, but my faith has been thoroughly restored by the good people of the NSDF tech crew, who have this evening asked me if I would like to teach people to use the desk in the Holbeck... me... the actor who, until a few days ago, didn't even know that this particular make of desk existed. So here's to well-placed, brieflyconsidered- misplaced-but-laterconfirmed-enthusiasm. And here's to quality time with the Screwfix catalogue, for which I have made a Christmas-style wish list of all things fingerless glovey and variously-sizedratchet-spanner-related.
#1 Tool-Freak. Wears braces to stop his trousers falling down. Utility vest contains spanners and Marmite, and a condom past its sell-by date #2 Name Begins With The Letter M. Joins a long list of short blond techies who don't like football. Will jack in a perfectly good degree to go and sound engineer Slipknot. #3 Scary Tech Girl. Doesn't take any shit from geek-boys. Does up scaff clamps with her teeth. Has more tools than Flints and a gold plated podger. #4 Regretful Crew Person. Joined crew on the advice of their drama teacher but now has blisters, ruined clothes and a slipped disc and has lost their sense of humour. Is now suing Nic Watson under the Trades Description Act.
fter the closing scene of Elephant’s Graveyard, only a mere 37 minutes after in fact, our wonderful crew had erased all trace of the venue. This fabulous feat which should have take over 2 hours was achieved at great speed by the unthanked multitude which descended upon the venue, due to their hard work and dedication (who were quickly rewarded with Haribo!) The sports hall manager’s face was amazing; he couldn’t believe the seating had all disappeared and all the lanterns and rigging had been removed so quickly but all this behind the scenes work is needed to keep the shows running throughout the festival. Look forward to another fabulous show in a totally changed venue (now with 3 seating rakes) very soon...
"Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!" No; not the witty sound-bite captured by the eager Phil Mann, loitering outside an NSDF09 production, but the words of Samuel Beckett (of his own play). Indeed, many of the shows running this year, and the concerned critical reaction stemming therefrom does resemble the death of the era of 'The Well Made Play': a reaction I experienced first-hand at the feedback session of No Wonder and (the unfairly scorned) Vowel Play. Festgoers suggested that the two productions needed to be more dynamic, or that they lacked narrative, or that they failed to see "the point". This seemed to be the general feeling on the festival's offerings so far. To be frank, I wondered whether theatre had lost its way and was failing to entertain the normal theatre-goer. But in my mind's eye there are two core audiences who visit the theatre: those that have studied the play, and those that have not. This is not to say that one audience is better than the other - quite the reverse - simply that there are two different intentions driving the theatregoing public. The latter are patrons of spectacle: to be caught up in narrative and image; to share in a unique group experience of being a theatregoer. The former are patrons of the esoteric, to see a concept or idea in physical form. A good writer and director sets out to cater for the desires of both. The danger comes in the audience who want both elements to be the same; to
experience the sides of the binary as one. This is not to say that one cannot admire both; just that this involves simultaneously being both types of observer. The shows so far are tending to avoid the expensive clarity of Well Made Plays, which one can relax and enjoy, becoming lost in a carefully crafted narrative and fictional world. Instead the drive seems to be for Jackanory monologues or the more abstract techniques of a brave experimental new writer, requiring a deep engagement on behalf of the audience; more than just a passive observer, but part of the mystery and action of undiluted theatre. Which brings me eventually around to the shows I saw yesterday: the American parable of humanity and, erm, Elephant-ality, Elephant's Graveyard, and the thoroughly dynamic piece of physical theatre/dance, Never Enough. I was impressed by the richness and depth of Elephant's Graveyard, the team from Warwick had obviously spent a great deal of time considering its presentation, feel and how to develop the world in which it plays out. I should say up front that I had certain misgivings over the script and one or two minor technical issues; both of which could hardly be said to have been the fault of the team. There were characters that leapt out with remarkable performances by Rio West, Kwaku Mills-Bampoe and Samuel Sedgman. A definite credit should be
made to Tanya Wells and Ben Osborn for their subtle yet intelligent use of music. I felt as if I could really begin to engage with the themes and ideas underlying the play; a credit to the direction and the touching work of the cast. As a student of literature, not physical theatre or dance, I'm not equipped to dissect the inner workings of Never Enough. However, I firmly believe that there was meaning behind each carefully choreographed gesture, the delightfully disturbing mix of the symbolic and naturalistic in both dialogue and movement. I understand that there are shows in the world that cannot be comprehended (because they are pieces of thoughtless dross) but with productions such as these I believe the fault is mine, not theirs. I left with a feeling that I ought to know more about physical theatre; the same feeling engendered when the forbidden secrets of advanced particle physics were suggested to me or upon discovering a hitherto hidden genre of music. I deeply admire the professional slickness, humour and imagination that made the spectacle that it was. If there were faults; I didn't notice. With both shows I hope that the feedback is more friendly. In summary: I went out to the theatre with good company, beheld a spectacle of aesthetic pleasure and resolved to discover more. Isn't that enough? In the end, it's only theatre.
get the impression that a lot of what makes NSDF such a dramatic-dream is concentration. Now, I use this word both in the apple-juice-not-fromconcentrate and the pay-attention-inmy-geography-class kinds of way. You might easily watch thirteen student shows in a year. You may spend, added together, eight periods of 24 hours with fellow thesps. You may even buy nine drinks born of admiration for people who are essentially your peers but whose stage-exploits have left you in reverential and none-too-healthy awe. What is not likely is that you will do it all in a week; that you will spend every waking moment, and many sleeping (I had a strange dream last night about performing an ambitious but ill-prepared opera on a huge double bed, I think derived in part from the fact that I am sleeping , illegally, with what seems like a dozen other people, on the floor of a four-person, guest-house room; please refrain from telling my Landlord, Mr B. Witty – seriously) in theatres, talking about theatre, writing about theatre, wondering about futures in theatre. And that level of concentration – of mind, in proximity and in time – produces one thing in the head of the inevitably educated NSDF goer: questions. And the question which is burning in my head after seeing University of Hull’s Never Enough, is why do students steer clear of the physical when it can be so good? So good. I am not claiming that previous shows have not included the physical. Paddy Loughman’s terrifying mechanisation as an opener for Normal, or the creation of space and routine by the company of Elephant’s Graveyard were beautifully executed, but all of the productions were dominated by monologue, delivered to the audience, delivered in a spotlight or from a chair
which tied the actors’ bodies to the space that their arms could encompass. In some ways, such stillness is part of distancing our artistic selves from our school-production past, where unnecessary movement and shuffling are rife. There is an attractiveness, and visible accomplishment in remaining motionless, in portraying a character, in communicating a story, with limited movement. But the NSDFC I spoke of (the NSDF Concentration – it stretches to acronyms too: LO, VSM, ROFL) allows me to put these excellent and excellently still productions in instantaneous contrast with a phenomenally controlled and moving (in both senses) piece of theatre. Never Enough started like many others: actors on stage as the audience file in, opening moments filled with silence, stillness, facing out. Seeing them seated on stools and finishing each other sentences was a bit like walking into a rerun of Vowel Play. And then they dance. At times it is beautiful and tender, at times violent. Sometimes it advances the plot, sometimes it delves into a single thought in the manner of an operatic aria (though not one sung from my large and comfortable bed, those don’t delve into anything, those are horriblehorriblehorrible). I have never, never ever ever, seen a student piece which could really be called Physical Theatre, a genre Always To Be Capitalised. The preponderance for stillness has already been explored, but there must be something more. Students can move, as any Saturday night at <insert cheesy music night at Student Union of choice> will testify. The inhibiting factor is, undoubtedly,
embarrassment. Now, these thespy students are the kind of people who choose to sing Disney songs at the top of their musically-aware voices in the street, who will blow kisses and arrange lunches across a crowded bar (with the stereotyped ‘dahling’ sitting silently on their tongue, desperate to get out, trained to stay inside), who will, ultimately, stand in front of hundreds of people and pretend to be someone else. It takes a lot to embarrass these people, but bad Physical Theatre is shameful beyond all things. It is cringey in an aptly physical and theatrical way. You shrink in your chair, your hands involuntarily cover your face and your lips creep away from your teeth: love may be stronger than death, but embarrassment could give love a run for its admittedly strong money. The terror of making something which is cack is deeply, deeply rooted. For all we boast of our ability to ‘experiment’, for all we triumph the noncommericiality of our creative impulses, we are hampered by fear. It is the same fear that stops our friends and relatives from considering performing as an occupation or hobby. These friends will look at us quizzically after a performance, wondering externally ‘how we managed to remember all those lines’ and internally why the hell-o-hell we do it to ourselves at all. They think we have special skills, we think movers and dancers, have special skills. And they do. They have training and talent and skills. But we can learn them, or some of them, just as we learn to pretend better. And so the next question that this week of concentration brings to mind is clear: what else do we, we daring and fearless performers, what else do we avoid out of plain embarrassment? What else are we missing?
eturn to the Silence did not start well. Lined up in the corridor, we were sternly reminded that 'this performance uses unconventional seating'. That we 'should sit where we were placed'. That we 'should leave coats and bags outside', we might find them awkward or uncomfortable to keep hold of. The seating was, after all, unconventional. If it needs this much explaining it's not unconventional, it's just rules. I actually know where I am with unconventional seating. Having attended Faust and The Masque of the Red Death, both from the fearsome collective mind of Punchdrunk, I am perfectly happy with seating so unconventional it consists of nothing more than a mask and an invitation to find my own way. This sort of freedom
is unusual and leads to an utterly unique theatre experience. You can wander more or less at will through the large environments Punchdrunk creates. Unless you stay tightly glued to someone's side, no two people will have quite the same evening. And that's assuming none of the performers come out of the shadows to paint your picture, flirt with you or tell you about his dead mother. At the Edinburgh Fringe this year I saw several shows from Belt Up [Nothing to See/Hear]. Any informed Fringegoer in 2008 learned quickly about Belt Up's approach to unconventional seating. In Women of Troy, the first we knew about the house opening was when two soldiers burst out of the doors, ordered our phones off and started blindfolding our women. In The
Park Keeper, I was dragged into the Red Room by the hand and introduced personally to the guests at a very decadent party. The highlight of my entire Fringe came at gone midnight in their production of Macbeth. The cast and audience were marching across Hunter Square, bombing across Edinburgh led by cross dressing, death faced witches. And I suddenly realised the significance of it - I turned to the person next to me and shouted 'Oh God! We're Burnham Wood!'. They turned out to be a complete stranger, as my friends were several ranks ahead, but that doesn't matter. The point I'm dancing artfully around here is that the chief joy of all these things is that I was left to discover them for myself. It is a brave move to cast an audience into the unknown - to
Your palms are sweaty; your heartbeat is racing; you don't know if you're quite ready yet. An overwhelming amount of peer pressure builds up until you finally crack. You've heard your friends rave about it, you know they've all done it; they've even got the pictures to prove it... We're not perverts, we're on about NSDF. Our NSDF virginity was taken at the 2008 festival when Metamorphosis took us by storm. We indulged in everything from John Wright's workshops to late night sessions... at NOFF. This year we have returned with high expectations. Last year Warwick left a bad taste in our mouths with Skriker, but this year
drag them out of their red plush seats and put them somewhere new. It's an astonishingly brave move, but the rewards can be great. If you're going to make a brave move like that though, stand by it. The repeated, insistent warnings we were given before the performance started only undermined any sense of dislocation the much-vaunted unconventional seating may have created. Doing something out of the ordinary is a demonstration of trust in your audience. Trust that when you stretch out your hand, they'll take it. Not everyone will, but those that do will stand by you forever afterwards, because you expected them to be brave and they were. There will be, of course, members of any audience who are not brave in this way. If there
they've reinstated our faith with Return To Silence. We have brought our dramatic proteges to taste the salty air of the festival and they seem to like it. A favourite among our group is Normal, which has captured the intensity, passion and raw talent that we have come to expect from the selected pieces. We don'miss Alan Cox... (No offence, he just always had to be the one in control). The discussions this year are student orientated, informative, inspiring... climactic... Martin Crimp pretty much sums up our feelings for NSDF: "Her golden hair cascades, as it were, over the edge of the bed. She grips the bed frame. Her knuckles whiten. There are tears in her eyes..."
weren't there would be no risk involved. In trying to compromise to keep those people happy, though, you weaken the magic for those members of the audience who are willing to take up your challenge. This is the National Student Drama Festival. By definition, every audience here is more interesting, adventurous and (frankly) intelligent than a random cross section of the ordinary theatre-going public. Talking down to these magnificent people who are willing take a leap in the dark on your say-so removes the element of risk that makes it all worthwhile, and leaves them feeling patronised. And that's not a good way to start a play. I understand that the excessive warnings at the beginning of Return to the Silence could be a practicality
forced on the company by the need to follow health and safety guidelines, and if it is, I feel for them. While I appreciate that they and the NSDF as a whole would be held responsible if someone were injured or distressed during the performance, if the only way to warn to people is so loud, unsubtle and insistent, then any production that dares to venture outside convention is crippled before it even starts. Besides 'liable to cause injury and distress' sounds like brilliant theatre to me!
sy Suttie is a delightful comedian who sings songs and who acts and writes for radio and TV. She was nominated for a British comedy award as best female newcomer for her role in Peep Show. She will be compering and performing at tonight's comedy night. N.O: Tell us about your glories in student theatre Isy: When I was doing A-level Theatre Studies, we did our devised piece for the exam about an evacuee during the war. I was playing her invisible imaginary friend and I decided my character wouldn't speak, just hop around playing the recorder and looking glum. The night before the exam, it was discovered we had to speak in order to attain a grade, so I had to half-improvise a monologue at the start and the end of the show. That was seat-of-the-pants stuff! N.O: So how did you get into comedy? Isy: I was at Guildford School of Acting and I had always written songs, then I went in for a songwriting competition I had written a duet with my friend Nick where he fell in love with his kettle and I played the kettle. Although it wasn't really sophisticated stuff, people laughed and I loved the feeling so much. When I left drama school I was doing bits of acting but I always carried on with the songs, and eventually plucked up the courage to do them in a stand-up club rather than a straight music or cabaret night in 2002. N.O: Germaine Greer recently said in the Guardian that women aren't as funny as men because they're not as competitive or willing to look ridiculous. What do you think? Isy: This debate will continue forever because people love to discuss it, but to be honest it's not really something I think about a lot. I have a mixture of male and female friends who are comics, and it never occurs to me to judge them on the basis of their gender. It's more interesting for me to think about something original and exciting and to try and take risks. I like to do what I think is funny, and if
someone else judges me because of my gender, that's sad but it's not something I can control. N.O: Who do you think is the best kept secret of British Comedy at the moment? Isy: John Gordillo - he's an amazing stand up and one of the best acts I've ever seen live. He makes you feel like you're in his living room and he's chatting to you. I thoroughly recommend watching him. N.O: What is the best theatre piece you've seen recently? Isy: August: Osage County at the National. N.O: Tell us about being in Peep Show? How does all the point-of-view camera stuff work?
Isy: It was a really enjoyable experience. All the cast and crew are lovely and very welcoming. They used to attach the cameras to their heads I think, but now there's a cameraman and the actor you're in the scene with stands very close to the cameraman to feed you the lines. One of the weirdest things was "kissing" the camera in the scene in the nightclub toilets when my character kisses Mark. I had to line my lips up with a piece of gaffer tape on the bottom of the camera. N.O: What's next for you after NSDF? Isy: I'm writing a sitcom pilot for the BBC called Me and My Mum about a shy singer-songwriter and her domineering mum and I'm doing the next series of Laurence and Gus: Hearts and Minds on Radio 4, which is a sketch show with music. Thanks Isy. We look forward to seeing you tonight in the Grand Hall at 22.15.
S: How important was your time as a student in the formation of your writing career? DE: Very important. In my first year at Exeter, my year group wrote a Marxist version of Wind in the Willows so I had a go right away. I also wanted to write something I could put on with my mates and that was my first play Serving it Up which was done eventually at the Bush in London in 1996. What about you, fella? SS: Fundamental. I'd never been to the theatre to see a serious play before I went to University. I studied History at York. I was raised on a diet of television and film drama. I developed an adolescent obsession with the films of Martin Scorsese and David Lynch and the TV of Alan Bleasdale and Dennis Potter. At York all the most attractive girls wanted to be actresses. I went to godawful productions of The Real Inspector Hound and Ghosts in a misguided and ultimately fruitless attempt to meet these girls but, while watching them became enthralled by the possibility of
telling stories of that power and closing the doors on a live audience and keeping them in the room. I haven't really altered my approach to theatre since. I went back to my old University last week and realised that my basic theatre aesthetic has been an attempt to recreate the spirit of the York University Drama Barn. I wrote my first plays there. I directed my first plays there. I'm basically still doing now what I did then. How has it been to return to the world of student drama? DE: Always good to get the use of the word fundamental or c*** in early. Fantastic to come to the NSDF. I thought the production of HERONS remarkable. Very honestly acted and staged. Huge emotional power and courage. Very inspiring. I don't know if I still am driven by the same stuff as I was when I was a student. I'm much less cross at 35. What do you do when you begin work on a play? SS: Normally procrastinate. Spend a long time looking at Man Utd websites. Eat too many biscuits. Clean the house. I'm a big muller. I mull on an idea. I tend to start with a hunch. Sometimes the hunch might be an image or a character, a snatch of dialogue or a political or social idea. And then will follow a lengthy period of worrying away at that initial hunch. Why have I been drawn to it/ Why do I want to write about it? I read a lot of plays. I watch a lot of films. I visit galleries and look at visual art. I listen to music that I think may be in some way relevant. From this may develop character or story. I tend to leave the writing of dialogue until the last possible minute. This is very different to how I used to write as a student when the dialogue would come early. How has your approach changed since graduating? DE: I think much more about form. The how to tell a story as well as what is the story? I want the form of the play to be as expressive as possible and I think that is much important than when I was starting out. Does form matter to you? SS: The more I write, the more I seem to be concerned with the form of the thing. With the shape of it. With
communicating idea through structure and image. I adored HERONS tonight but mainly for the work that the actors did. They played with real nuance and truth. I was cross with myself because I thought I gave them too many words. And didn't realise at the time of writing that form, shape, structure and image communicates far more than utterance. What do you wish you knew at 22 that you know now? DE: Of course not. You live, you write, you learn. You just have to write, get a play on, get drunk and hang out at the theatre and then do it all again and see what happens. That Shakespeare fella wasn't silly. Cakes and ale. Cakes and ale. Simon Stephens and David Eldridge are published by Methuen Drama. methuendrama.com
hat's the most important, most noticeable thing about Dartington's Vowel Play? Presumably, the fact that each character has access to only one vowel. That's the point in the title, and that's what the piece gets marketed on. Fair enough, the vowel decision is pretty significant; a defining feature of Dartington's entry. This is what makes it a unique piece of theatre - though not a unique piece of writing, as Christian Bok's novel has inspired Joe Richards. For me, it's the most interesting part of the show from a literary perspective. That's a writerly trick (a show-off exercise, if you like) that allows Richards to highlight his stories in a way that raises them above the level of The Vagina Monologues - although we've still got women sitting in front of microphones talking about sex, we can listen far more closely than we might to typical speech, because we know there's a vocal trick at work. If it's a gimmick, it's a gimmick that works and has a purpose behind it. But for some people, that gimmick is too much. Rachael Clerke (Beth/O) told me that: "Every review you read and everyone you talk to, the vowel thing is kind of why they like it, 'cos that's mad, and it actually works. But that's why people like it, and also why they don't like it - because they're like, "Why are you doing that?'" It's either too much of a novelty for novelty's sake or it's one that loses novelty value too rapidly. Good job Vowel Play is only half an hour; that's a good length for this exploration of four women's lives, any longer and it would outstay its welcome. But Vowel Play isn't all about the vowels. Or the lack of them. What the lack of vowels points to is a lack of something bigger - there are restrictions holding back not only their speech but also the lives of these women. Jaz Woodcock-Stewart (Jess/I) put it as: "If you wanted to draw a parallel with the story and the writing, you could say that the restriction we've got - literally, not being able to say certain vowels - is like a restriction in our lives, our men, etc."
But it's not as simple as all that. Yes, there are similarities with The Vagina Monologues, but Vowel Play is far from the "big feminist Vagina Monologues with a gimmick" that Billie Beckley (Kim/A) says Holly Kendrick feared it would be. It's also not entirely fair to complain that Vowel Play perpetuates a male stereotype of poor sexual performance, as that's not what it's about. Director Katharina Walsh says, "Joe started making sentences, but he didn't set out to make a play about four women talking their sex lives. It evolved naturally." The lack of vowels points out that the women suffer from a lack in their lives, and that isn't just the men - it's just lacking an undefined 'something' that afflicts every single one of us. Okay, we can usually manage to pronounce the vowels in all our words, but we've all got things we're not happy about and that we feel restrict us. Billie explained to me that "We've all physically turned into these characters, because of the restriction of our language." Certainly, Carey Mackenzie's character, Hannah/E, rarely refers to herself, talking about "she" and "her" and "Elly" instead - she becomes more empathetic because of her inability to refer to herself as "I". She's also interesting in that her lesbian relationship steers Vowel Play away from being a production attacking male sexual prowess.
ow did you first become involved with univowels?
I first heard of the idea of univowels on the Today programme on Radio 4 in November. There was a news report about Christian Bok's experimental novel EUNOIA. It had just been published in the UK. What approach did you use in writing the play? I decided to write a play where each character employs one vowel. What I found particularly interesting was how each vowel seemed to have a very distinctive property that quickly informed the nature of the character a) because of the various sounds of the vowel - the placing of the I sound in the nose and b) because of the peculiar conditions of langauge structure around particular univowel words. The A character can't use the definite article, but does have the very useful AND. The I character can of course say 'I' which is very helpful for talking about yourself. Equally, the 'ing' ending frees up a lot of verbal traffic. The O character is particularly restrained. No definite or indefinite; no 'he' or 'she'; no 'and', no 'I' to speak of. She never talks about herself. The E character has all the advantages. She reflects endlessly on herself and her relationship with her depressive Greek partner. What did you learn from this way of writing? I suppose the major thing I have found or rediscovered is how restriction and constraint are in practice extremely freeing because they move me away from my own innate restrictions of taste or agenda or habitual strategy to be in a position to take charge of my limitation and be prepared to embrace surprising material that might emerge. In the end I don't want this play to be seen as an experiment for its own sake but that hopefully, the method of construction might create a moving piece of work.
n case you have not seen any of my columns so far, I believe I am reporting from the National Slovenian Post-Drama Festival here in Ljubliana. I believe this because it is fricking true, boys! I am Andrzwej Haidonsk, and I love post-drama so much I named my dog after it. Here, boy! Fetch this stick, Post-Drama! Not really. I named him Gjeckel, which is Slovenian for 'Meat Cart'. Today we have had two shows which have taken my theatre pig and shaken it until it has sicked up emotion on my shoes! It has been fucking extreme over here! First up was the show called Elephant's Graveyard. Imagine that! Going to the place where all the dead elephants are! It is a situation full of stuff that you could make an exciting, dramatic and tense play about! And therefore bravos must go to Mr Igor Kopf, the directitateur of this
Joe, how do you respond to JB:allegations of gender stereotyping and saddling your actors with needlessly sexually explicit writing? JR: Well as time goes by I find I love language more and moreJB: That's not quite answering my question JoeJR: I want to challenge myself. JB: Yes, it must have been pretty difficult to write. Where did you get the idea to write a play about four women talking graphically about having sex? JR: Oh, these things just occur to you... JB: Do you not think it might be just a little bit porny? Not even a little? JR: No. It's exactly the sort of things young women would talk about... when they are speaking into microphones in an unspecific location and situation that may or may not be before an audience. JB: How did you make the characters different? JR: I have five vowel books. JB: And that helped you find their characters? JR: Yes. They are all very different you
piece. He ignored all of that! Two men sit in a room. One reads a newspaper. This takes a fucking long time. He then finishes the newspaper. The other man picks up the newspaper. He reads it also. This also takes a fucking long time. The second man finishes the newspaper and then puts it on the floor. The two men sit in silence, for a fucking long time. Then the first man leans into the front row of audience. Very quietly, he says the word "Tzap" fourteen times in the ear of audience member.
Then we had a play called Never Enough. In this a grotesquely fat man, who I recognised as working behind the honey counter in Zozik's Shop, was given some raisins. "Mmm, I love raisins!" he says, "I can never have enough!" and the audience are invited onto the stage to post raisins into his mouth, which is getting fuller and fuller of raisins, but still he chews his massive jaws, chomp chomp chomp, and eventually his body goes into sugar shock and he is now unconscious, but still they pour raisins into his mouth, until he is buried underneath a large mound of raisins. Where did they even get that amount of raisins? Don't they know about global recession? People are going hungry! Not the man from the honey counter. He has had enough.
"Tzap tzap tzap tzap tzap tzap." Like that, but doubled in number. And then with two more on top. What does "tzap" mean? I do not know. Is it English? It isn't Slovenian. I'm not even Let me return tomorrow to make you sure Mr Igor Kopf knows what this better with more post-drama thrill pills means! And that is the essence of post- from Doctor Haidonsk! I like you! I do! drama.
see. I for instance, I says "I" a lot. And other words. With I in. See? JB: Yes. I see now. Many people have been asking where "U" is?
C JR: I left it out deliberately. It was my funny joke on the audience. JB: Was it just too difficult to write? JR: No I did it on purpose. JB: Why? JR: I have a "U" book. JB: Joe... JR: I love language. JB: Yes... JR: I will make it an hour! I SHALL! At this point Joe Richards laughed maniacally and flew out the window. He has not been seen since.
hris Thorpe is a geeze
Quite tall and the bee's knees Chewing and chatting, he definately does please Standing for those contemporary devised themes. A piece of paper Folded in three Eight little boxes All bits of history... The end of the hour No need to scour We're all fulfilled No Pro Plus pills. He's also the man, in so many ways He's the man who can handle a heated debate He's the man with the words and the hat and the beard He's the man that everyone so willingly cheers.
n the office tonight, with the things they can never have enough of...
Andrew Haydon - postdramatic theatre Tom Wateracre - Pimp my Ride Chris Hayden - Alan Lane Richard Dennis - Nicotine, Caffeine and Alcohol Phil Mann - Egg on bread Claire Trevien - Depeche Mode Henry Ellis - Marmite Sarah Dean - Knitting Richard T Watson - Chocolate ice cream and raisins Jennie Agg - Good books (That or vodka) Cat Hobart - Quad Spanners Matty Beck - Truss Hammers Martyn Andrew - Metradeck legs Duncan Yellalees - Tupple! Claire Freake - Porn Peter from zero 88 - Animal Sex Lauren Bettyes - Bourbons Mark Jenkins - Cock! Richard Hurst - Not applicable Neale "cute as a button" Dutton Buttons Colin "Muhahhaha" Paxton - He, He! Isolde Godfrey - Mary Osbourn Mary Osbourn - Isolde Godfrey Tom Coxon - Fresh Air Dominic Blake - Laughter Helen Lindley - Scarborough to the top trams Lettie Ball - Living like there's no
tomorrow Robin Richardson - Seaside fun Louisa Claughton - Boost Bars Fran Buckley - Doritos and a bit of Michael McIntyre Tom Watters - Sports Alex Latts - Novel Ideas for credits in Noises Off Alex Mead - Truss Dave Larking - Tools Val Lewis - No comment Helen Kenworthy - LX & Jenny Willey Zoe Hughes - LX & Jenny Willey Rachel Clerke - Benches with memorial plaques Carey MacKenzie - Michael Jackson Adam Milford - My Mother-in-law's pork vindaloo Dave Moffat - Truss + Beer = techie Chloe Crenigan - Bacon Frazzles and pear cider Gracie Coupland - Friendship and Love Katharina Walsh - Spam (the meat product) Will Sawney - Tap Water. (That stuff's brill) Connor Hammill - People, hundreds of new and shiny people to meet. John Winterburn - Bacon & fried egg sandwich Lucy Hind - Alan Lane Dave Toole - Alan Lane Matt Hassall - Pie Olivia Vinall - Swedes Heather Gott - Parasols and hatboxes
Vita Hewison - Ian Reddington John Brittain - Sexual Brutality Jack Penfold Baker - Haloumi Ian Shuttleworth - A life Matt Thomlinson - KFC. Why is there no KFC here? Ishbel McFarlane - Puppet Horn Peter Stormont - Crew Abigail Richardson - Sugar Laura Woodrow - tech work Catherine Hainsworth - Alan Lane Lorna Westmancoat - Alan Lane Hannah Smith - Alan Lane Bella Phillips - Lane, Alan Ashley Booth - Blankets Keri Penford Baker - Haribo Keiran Balfe - NSDF/NOFF/Nostalgia Jude - Screws James - Sleep Charlotte Constantine - Shoes Antony Poveda - Heroin Luke Binns - Gold Bars (the chocolate bars) Eleanor Blower - Technician Impossible challenges Emma Gregory - Creative Arts Sam Stutter - Gaffer tape and biros Jen Willey - Truss and Zoe Hughes Chris Price - Ratchet straps to secure the loads in the techie van Jasmine Woodcock-Stewart - Spicy tomato flavoured Snaps Billie Beckley - Tall Masculine Herons & big ears Carly Mills - Ice Cream
T H A N K S !
nly day three and the Noffice was full to bursting point at copy deadline with various crew members, LOs and festgoers all sampling the heady pre-production atmosphere in the Vitadome. Comedy lagers were awarded, songs were sung and chants of "Techie, techie, techie" were indulgently endured. It was also lovely, not to mention pretty amazing, that two of British theatre' brightest talents, Simon Stephens and David Eldridge, could be found in the Noffice interviewing each other for the magazine, along with the head of Methuen's theatre section, Mark Dudgeon. Staying well beyond copy deadline and earning the undying gratitude of Noff Editorial were a growing number of
alarmingly talented and bright young things:
yet longer, gamely laying out pages beyond the point of exhaustion.
Carly Mills not only wrote with unstinting dedication, but stayed around printing proof copy, proofreading and helping out. Isolde Godfrey and Mary Osborn similarly threw themselves into the proofreading until stupid O'clock while enthusing about Robert Hewison's criticism workshop. Alex Watts wrote, proofed and stuck around until an even more ungodly hour than the above.
But the Noffice's new heroine is No Wonder's Jennie Agg. She's still here as I write this at half five, laying out pages having already meticulously proofread for hours. Most upsettingly, she's showing absolutely no signs of flagging and still looks as fresh as a daisy.
Jasmine Woodcock-Stewart, Billie Beckley and Rachael Clerke ( Vowel Play's I, A and O respectively ) hung out, wrote articles and generally improved the already lovely atmosphere. Will Sawney stayed on
And lastly, but by absolutely no means leastly, Henry Ellis, who, despite the cruel and arbitrary spiking of his heroic review of episode 998 of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, stayed to lay pages out and carry on with good humour in spite of this unwonted slight.