Today’s Contents 3 Reviews: Tatty Tales
Physically drilled shallow fun
"Some big old silly faces and voices..."
Special pop-up workshop THE SEVEN DEALY SINS OF THEATRE CRITCISM
"Twitching lunatics in brightly coloured clothes..."
6 Reviews: The Twelve Dancing Princesses Slick feminist void Gender Trouble
Grimms up north
Twelve Princesses Hen Party The O Factor
13 Bog off, Berkoff
14 More Bigger Radicalism Now
Pedants Corner Overheard at NSDF
With Robert Hewison The veteran Sunday Times theatre critic and professor of cultural history, Robert Hewison, reveals the secrets of the trade. Monday 25th May 2PM Music Room, Spa Centre
Student Drama Societies’ Selection Processes Michael Corbidge Interview Technician Impossible! And more reviews, comments and discussion
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2 Noises OFF 23rd March 2013
Reviews: Tatty Tales Physically drilled shallow fun Phil King
naturalism that left the audience straining to hear. If this is a big bold story I need to hear it and the performers need to properly milk every moment with variation.
Often brassy and almost always physically exact Tatty Tales, produced by Arts Educational, were one of the groups responsible for taking on the rattling of the bitter wind and opening this year's NSDF. However, it lacked the depth or surprise to be any more than simple fun and offered no true respite against the gale. Through a series of rapid vignettes telling of gruesome events in the life of an island community the energetic and genuinely engaged cast attempted to interact with their audience in the thrust space laid out in the Ocean Room. This warmth and openness, evidenced in part by wide-eyed grins and pointed toes, is not matched by a warmth of storytelling. The form of physically commenting on each and every moment (whereby "he was a butcher" equals a mimed "chop, chop, chop") became wearying. Although every mark was hit the lack of invention eventually stultified into an unsatisfying and obvious climax. When the production did attempt to move into the naturalistic, to try and engage us emotionally, the actors dropped into a still and quiet filmic
The presentation of a plastic severed tongue, a lengthy throaty cackle and a body in a box failed to live up to the farcical opportunities these episodes provide because they were shown to us rather than shared with us. Another reason that the show backed off the brilliant places it might have gone to was because this show did not work in the thrust. The form does require such a stage to encourage audience interaction but the performance didn't utilise the interaction the space offered and at times just got it wrong. A heart pulled out of a body was not hidden from either the left or right and if they don't care about those seats why should people in those seats care about the show? What I do care about is the story. Often fairytales have political depth and teach communities about themselves and how to live. A tale about becoming a man by dropping the forced vocal strains of a seven-year-old and calling someone a bitch in deep tones because they farted teaches me little more than that the creators think audience will laugh at farting and laugh at a man calling a woman a bitch. "You're going into this too deeply" I hear, but the stories I loved growing up had a moral code that gave a moral compass, which makes them transcend the base and simplistic. This was a little over half an hour of physically drilled shallow fun that didn't even take that fun as far as it could have gone.
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Reviews: Tatty Tales "Some big old silly faces and voices..." Peter O'Brien
It's important to let you know sort of what state of mind your reviewer was in before he watched the play. If you just want to see the alien battle and don't fancy seeing the Avengers assemble, skip to paragraph four. It was only the first event of the Festival, but already I was stripping off layers with sweat bubbling from every hole, dizzy vision, and some freaky actor gurning and making raspberries in my face. I felt like I'd snorted some serious drama, but the bewilderation was actually from hurtling down the ramp to the Spa Centre getting junked by an unreasonable amount of wind which pretty much tore my dick off. I crashed the doors and made a pretty funky Windows-95-Maze-Screensaver-like path through the Centre, upstairs, downstairs, ceiling, floor, getting skunked by quite a few conniving doors which I swear were open before I smacked them in the face. When I got to the theatre it was deathly silent, and the jokers at the door were grinning at me like I had some big 'feel free to use the mouth of this late, disrupting cretin as a urinal' sign inked on my forehead. The play hadn't even started yet, the actors were just standing about doing silly stuff and for some reason the audience was startled into complete silence. It was weird. THIS IS PARAGRAPH FOUR. Ok then, if you wanna see some seriously greasy stories set up as clowny variety type fun, then watch this stuff. There were some big old laughs from more than a few fellows in the audience, as the narrator and his colourful, captivating crotch took us through a few tales which were kinda interesting, but which were told very entertainingly. Quite frequently, we started to really get in to a story before - bam - subversion time. I'm talking emotional undermining, anticlimax and a bubble-bathos. You could tell these guys
4 Noises OFF 23rd March 2013
were getting off on their po-mo storytelling devices, but that was cool with us because the pace was rapid and worked sweetshop as a cute little series of slightly morbid vignettes. The actors were kablam as far as energy was concerned, but I avoid the term 'energy' when describing actors' performances, as I reckon it's usually a massive cockout. I mean in both senses - the reviewer's copping out because they're just struggling to find an effective description of the acting, and they've got their floppy out and just swinging it around because they're like, 'check out these buzzwords that I'm squirting at your face because I'm such an Industry person'. But what I mean is the lads and lades in Titty Tales were popping at you with their all their faces and bodies, full-steam going for it, which is just more of a workout than sitting down talking and pretending your really exerting yourself in some 'cerebral' naturalistic role. Let's appreciate actors who work hard to please us. Sure, there were moments when the 'energy dropped' (i.e. they slowed down a bit), but this was only because they were getting used to the new performance space - and maybe there was a slight lack of musical and illumination support - I bet by the end of the week they'll be timewarp. I didn't really give bumfluff about any of the characters, but I don't think that's what they were going for; I reckon they just wanted to give us pure entertainment with some big old silly faces and voices, and a squidge of irreverence. And they filled my can with that. A mention should go to the costume. They paired the classic student drama white painted faces and black eyebrows with some lovely floral patterns, which was great for the cheeky mood for which they were going. Did it please me? Yes.
"Twitching lunatics in brightly coloured clothes..." Emily Dixon
The one thing that can be said about this piece, on which I think all audience members will agree, is that it was very, very strange. There were bizarre, macabre storylines, grotesque characters and extremely disturbing facial expressions. Coming out of the auditorium, I heard more than several people calling it a work of genius and one of the best things they had ever seen, and others whose reactions were quite different. To me, certainly, it had astonishingly good moments but the clue to the piece's weakness is in the title: it was, in places, tatty. That's not to say that there weren't bits where I laughed out loud or cringed as appropriate. Parts of it were very effective, but sometimes I was painfully aware that I was a student at a drama festival watching some strange people make strange noises, and I think that it's crucial for a play like this that that never be allowed to happen. It's possible that this is related to the fact that the play felt slightly contorted at times. I can't be sure, but I reckon that this is an end-on piece which has been twisted into thrust and isn't entirely comfortable there. So the performers can't really be blamed for that. On the subject of the performers, the individuals' voices and physical movements were impressive, particularly as we entered the auditorium and were immediately faced with four twitching lunatics in brightly coloured clothes that seem to belong in an insane asylum or some sort of Berkovian playgroup. The sheer precision of the movement, particularly in the hands, and particularly by the (forgive me for not knowing names) tall curly blonde haired man, was amazing. This quality of movement was never lost and was one of Tatty Tales' most delightful aspects.
I'm trying to work out, then, what it was that meant that the magic of the concept got lost in some places. Surely it must be more than the staging configuration, so I have to wonder about the stories themselves. Some felt grotesque just for the sake of it and the final story, in which the storyteller was ripped to pieces by the (well executed) physical theatre hands, felt a little redundant. The concept of the piece, then, was based on a very good idea but was ultimately flawed. The performers, particularly in the physical work, were a delight to watch and enabled the experience most of the time to grow from rather tatty to what I think it was intended to be: disturbingly and completely insane. I've done my absolute best here not to end up ranting about my great and passionate hatred of all things Berkovian. It's not the company's fault that the established and respected practitioner they have chosen is a man I deeply wish to drown in a bucket, so I've done my best to keep that out of my writing about the play. Fingers crossed I've managed to work around my intense hatred of this fungus of a practitioner and judge the play properly (though I stand by my drowning in a bucket idea). (Really never thought I'd end a review with the suggestion that somebody be drowned in a bucket. Doesn't life take you strange places...?)
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Reviews: The Twelve Dancing Princesses Slick feminist void Jake Orr
Twelve sisters fly away in the night to dance themselves silly. Their father, perplexed at their disappearances each night seeks help from a prince, who, in return for uncovering the truth, wishes to take the sisters and marry them to his elven brothers. The sisters' fates are sealed and upon their return they're separated to marry the brothers. This isn't the end of the tale though, only the beginning, as each sister plots revenge against her husband. Rat poison snuffs one, whilst another is devoured hungrily, one by one they fall victim to the sister's plotting. Strongbox Theatre's The Twelve Dancing Princesses is a slickly directed piece to open the National Student Drama Festival (at least for those on the red route). It isn't perfect, but it does offer sixty minutes of polished performances. There are however niggling questions which I can't shake having seen Cassey Elizabeth North and Joshua Patel's production. The split stage with the 'broken heart band' who accompany the piece, whilst having a nice reveal at the end, seems distant from the main acting space used by the ensemble. The soft rhyming words of North's narration evoke a sassy quality, but this doesn't translate to the playful and physical presence of the rest of the piece. Then there's a question of comedy. The Twelve Dancing Princesses tries at times to offer laughs where they fall upon silence: it's directing with purpose, but perhaps misjudged. Lastly, the story, and thus at times the piece, feels repetitive. The sisters are out to revenge their husbands, and this we understand within the first fifteen minutes. We then see each sister's revenge. One by one, by one, by one... By the fourth sister it's formulaic. Thankfully North and Patel are at least conscious of this and do try to differentiate each narrative, but there's no denying the repetitive nature of the piece.
6 Noises OFF 23rd March 2013
Putting these niggling questions to one side, and there is an abundance of fine acting at work; playful and energised. The ensemble of six female performers are equal to the demands of a story that has a character-count far in excess of their numbers, including many male characters. This is the strongest aspect to the production, a dedicated ensemble who give everything in their physical portrayals.
â€œFiery performers hell-bent on delivering their performances At times it feels a little girly, but this is juxtaposed with the piece's feminist slant. The direction of the ensemble is slick, as they slide through scenes and characters with speed and precision, never falling prey to the energy-drops so often seen in student work. Perhaps then it could be said that the work might feel too slick. The ensemble never dull. They're fiery performers hell-bent on delivering their performances. So The Twelve Dancing Princesses is... well, what is it? A snappy, devised piece inspired by Jeanette Winterson's Sexing The Cherry, with energised performers and a dollop of feminist power to match. It doesn't delve deep into the themes, instead skidding across them repeatedly, but it does prove to be entertaining, and that, at least, is something worth writing about. I only wish it did more, slickness or not, theatre needs a purpose and a story to drive it. The Twelve Dancing Princesses is missing a purpose.
Hannah Greenstreet If The Twelve Dancing Princesses has a guiding metaphor, it is the music box. The production kindled into life through music, which emanated from beneath the dustsheets that made up the simple but effective set. Our narrator, a woman in a red dress, furs, and a great stage presence, unveiled the three-piece band as if by magic, inducting us into the story world of the play; a cocktail of the weird, the wonderful and the disturbing. Like a music box, the production was also well crafted. The stories of the twelve sisters were interwoven through slick choreography and original bluesy music, climaxing in a clever plot twist. As well as the craft, the playfulness of the performance was also striking. The six actors peopled their stories by becoming a host of different characters, although at times it seemed like they were trying too hard to act childish or weird. Generally, however, their ensemble work and versatility was commendable. However, I do have some issues with the piece. The format itself was a little constricting: it committed the actors to tell twelve tales, when twelve seemed a little too many. The musical links between tales and the thread of the twelfth tale, sung rather than spoken, did, however, admit some welcome variety. I also found the lack of nuance, which was, I think, a conscious playing choice, problematic at times. A play that is so immersed in the fairy tale will naturally be quite black and white. However, it was an unhelpful oversimplification for the all female cast to play all the husbands as grotesques, with almost all the women undergoing the same progression from oppression to empowerment.
Indeed, the non-committal feminism of the piece is problematic, full stop. The programme declares that The Twelve Dancing Princesses was inspired by Jeanette Winterson's novel Sexing the Cherry and the play attempts to continue this feminist rewriting of Grimm's tale, following the princesses beyond their forced marriage to the princes to marital strife and violent solutions. Yet, in the world as according to the play, the only things that women want are sex, murder, or a strange kind of sisterhood. One of the princesses, declares, 'What is a woman's purpose if not to satisfy her husband?' This grating assertion was not sufficiently unsettled by the rest of the piece, although there was a pleasingly grim/Grimm twist by which another princess, having inexplicably turned into a pig, finally gained satisfaction by eating her husband. The Twelve Dancing Princesses is a good piece of theatre. But it also raises some issues, which it still needs to work through more fully to make it more satisfying and to allow it to open itself up beyond its box.
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Reviews: The Twelve Dancing Princesses Grimms up north Dan Hutton
I'm saying it now to stop the torrent of angry comments: there are going to be some spoilers in this review. And they are, I think, important to a discussion of how The Twelve Dancing Princesses works as a piece of theatre. So stop reading now if you haven't seen it yet. You have been warned. The piece opens with a joke. On stage is what seems to be a room in the middle of a re-dec (think that moment in Changing Rooms after the painting has been started but before the accessorising has happened). A woman dressed in a fur boa and a red dress sits on a platform, glancing at us. The lights go down and we hear the first few sounds of a piece of music. The woman gets up, moves to one of the canvas-covered structures and pulls it off. A man sits underneath, playing the double bass. Another musician on a bass guitar is then discovered, followed by a drummer and six women, our 'princesses', who emerge from beneath cloths on the lower half of the stage. This state of revelation and surprise kind of forms the basic tone of Twelve Dancing Princesses, which is at its strongest when offering a playful feminist narrative but which too often slips into whimsy and repetition. The story of Twelve Dancing Princesses is inspired by Jeanette Winterson's novel Sexing the Cherry, which is itself based on a Brothers Grimm story called Twelve Dancing Princesses. The narrative is basically a fairytale version of Chicago's "Cell Block Tango" but without the sassiness and with double the number of women. Though there's a framing story about shimmying sovereigns and their ballet shoes, the bulk of the piece sees the six members of the cast recounting the various ways in which they disposed of their violent, menacing, cruel husbands.
8 Noises OFF 23rd March 2013
What results is a series of scenes which each uses a different motif or central idea to tell its tale. In one, a series of portraits is created with empty frames, while others use underscoring to heighten menace or comedy. My main difficulty with the show, however, stems from the fact that, after a few of these scenes, we essentially know what's coming next. No matter how smart or funny the cast are with their chosen method of storytelling, the basic rubric they're working with is difficult to sustain for the whole hour, and there aren't enough moments of brilliance after the initial reveal to keep us wholly involved.
â€œThere arenâ€™t enough moments of brilliance after the initial reveal to keep us wholly involvedâ€? Ok, so back to that idea of surprise and intrigue. These twists in each tale and in the structuring of the piece itself manage, I think, to say something quite subtle about the kind of feminism which is being represented here. For the most part, each mini-story feels like it's going the way of a bleak patriarchal fairytale ending, with a subordinate princess and a domineering male, before being turned on its head at the last moment as the woman relating her struggle takes control of her own destiny and frees herself, an idea also explored through the use of a Conch-shell-like apron, which allows the princess to speak and can then be discarded at the end of the story. The impact of this inevitably lessens as the sixty minutes continues, but the other surprises planted in the production continue this theme of sudden revelation and personal revolutions. Unfortunately, however, too many of these moments are
shoehorned in so that the impact of surprise is nullified, making it difficult not to roll our eyes with each subsequent joke. The performance style problematises this somewhat, for directors Cassey Elizabeth North and Joshua Patel (who also perform in the band) opt for the grotesque as their methodology. The reason behind this is fairly clear - it reminds the audience of the story's roots in magic realism and creates a cartoon-y kind of feel - but it feels fairly tame compared to the content of the piece. What we get, then, is a kind of Grotesque-lite, which doesn't go far enough to make a real point and struggles to find the right tone without creating a little awkwardness, meaning that several jokes completely fail to land. The six princesses all recount their tales perfectly comprehensively, but too often the performance's overwhelmingly polished and slick routines strip away the humanity which is present in these tales, so that they become slightly mechanised recitations rather than heartfelt stories. When coupled with the heightened performance style, we have to ask questions about the kind of woman who is being represented here; though their actions clearly have anti-sexist connotations, the grotesque-but-slick performances throw up all sorts of other questions . I found it hard to hate Twelve Dancing Princesses. It is well executed and has enough charm to sit back and enjoy. But beyond the feminist connotations of Winterson's original, the ideas behind the piece are jumbled and at times contradictory. Perhaps it's difficult to rise to brilliance after such a smart and subtle opening, but it also feels like some of the decisions made later simply don't work. And though the execution is strong, I get the feeling that I've seen it all somewhere before. Latest news & reviews at noff.nsdf.org.uk
Reviews: The Twelve Dancing Princesses Twelve Princesses Hen Party Rosie Curtis
For the first night of my NSDF, there was a hen party in the room next door. The Twelve Dancing Princesses was surprisingly similar. Both had music, for example. In both cases, it shuffled between slightly different styles with varying degrees of sense and effectiveness. The gaggle of girls at the hen party far outdid our Twelve Princesses in terms of volume, but the production showcased a far higher level of vocal skill as it shifted from jazz to folk singing. The princesses were all dressed the same, in simple lace dresses, showing their group identity much in the same way the hen do had teased their hair into plaits and ponytails, put on their oldest pleated mini skirts and kneehigh socks to dance the night away like slutty schoolgirls. Both schoolgirls and princesses are dressed to emphasise their innocence, but each is hiding something more sinister. In the case of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, this was an ever-growing number of murders and a blatant disregard of the development of feminism. For the hen party, this was presumably a plan to winch lads and vomit in the corridor of a Travelodge, which, alas, is also not the best image for womankind.
Like a hen party, the cast of The Twelve Dancing Princesses all, on the surface, seem to be enjoying themselves. But underneath there is stress and worry and a need to both blend into the crowd and stand out; a kind of forced fun. However, while the hen party seemed content to abuse the hotel room and then go for a dance and leave me be, the fun of The Princesses seemed to be happening at me, forcing me to witness their enjoyment whether I wanted to join in or not. And there was giggling. So much loud, shrill giggling. The Twelve Dancing Princesses is aggressively twee where the hen party was mostly just aggressive, but they were otherwise not remarkably different. Both feature costume, loud music and make desperate attempts to kick Feminism in the teeth. In each case it is also obvious how things will end: the big reveal at the end of The Twelve Dancing Princesses being about as surprising as the smell of piss at an old people's home, and the sight of a sick stained carpet the morning after a hen party concludes is equally as predictable.
The O Factor
George Meredith At one time or another, each and every one of the twelve dancing princesses seemed on the verge of some tremendous orgasm. They gasped and twisted, with shuddering facial contortions as they revelled in their tales. They were certainly enjoying themselves. I was too, I guess - on the verge, anyway. I felt close to feeling something. But at the end it was less of a wild 'yes! Yes! YES!' more of an 'ahh thanks' before rolling over to my side of the bed. The story is taken from Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry, a reworking of a classic Grimm's fairy tale. Twelve sisters, punished for their late-night dances in the sky, are forced to marry twelve loathsome brothers, and each is dissatisfied with their married life. Over the course of the play they escape in various comic ways. It was fun, don't get me wrong. They had clearly read the theatrical karma sutra; there were sensual thrills and they teased us something lovely. Our sultry narrator undressed the set, revealing the cast with alluring glances - and oh, hello, live musicians. Yum. There was a palpable swelling and tingling at the thrum of the double bass. The music, which crossed several styles, was placed to good effect, underscoring and punctuating, and it merged with the action in great set pieces; the sisters moving in unison, whispering rhythmically and echoing the action of the main tale. It was sensually pleasing and the punchy correlation between action and noise was impressive. The actresses moved around the set with confidence and each moment was vividly framed in one the girls held empty picture frames to their faces to represent the art of a sister, in another they became a scaled-down sheepcovered hill. But they never achieved climax. Actually, they might have done a few times, but not me. A disappointing semi.
The narrative structure doesn't help. The twelve stories are crammed into the hour and this imposes a frustrating stop-start rhythm; each moment is fleetingly enjoyable and then swooped away, never to be picked up on again. Furthermore, as slickly presented as it was, it was lacking a consistency of thought to unite the piece. The ensemble was so involved in the comic comeuppances of their husbands that their motivations were only lightly touched on. The magical solace of the sisters' company was never pushed enough, and as such it felt like a series of comic sketches, a weak Smack the Pony, rather than an on-going narrative to really care about. The final reveal, the fate of the twelfth sister, felt underwhelming rather than the 'devastating' effect described by the Strongbox website. The characterisations were distinct, dabbling with the fairy tale convention of stereotype and grotesque. Each had a definite character trait which was manipulated to fit the particular domestic situation the princess whose naivety is stripped away by sexual brutality was played with exaggerated baby-voiced tones, and the psychopath with unhinged fervour. The husbands were also represented by one of the sisters and this furthered their monstrous quality, much gurning and groaning. The result was a vague sense of feminist comment, but it was all so crudely presented that the message was undermined. The princesses were just a bit annoying, and the men inconsequential reduced in places to mere Father's Day card humour: a burp gag. None of that really got me going and I left unsatisfied. But maybe I shouldn't expect so much. Can't theatre just be vaguely pleasant and pass the time? Perhaps we should chill out and not be so orgasm focussed. Like Sting. Latest news & reviews at noff.nsdf.org.uk
â€œEven operating within my sixth form level of practitioner understanding I donâ€™t see the point of Berkoff at all."
12 Noises OFF 23rd March 2013
Bog off, Berkoff Emily Dixon
I'm very much hoping that in my last review I was successful in being measured and balanced in everything I said. I tried very hard to make sure I didn't say anything that I would regret and to obey the first rule I remember being taught in my first year of primary school: think before you speak. Having done that, I was itching for the opportunity to write something entirely opinionbased, biased and entirely impossible to prove. And here it is! The last piece I reviewed was a Berkovian piece called Tatty Tales, and all the time I was writing it my fingers were cramped with frustration caused by not allowing myself a paragraph about my thoughts on Berkovian theatre in general. I really don't think I'll ever be able to enjoy a Berkovian piece, and his apparent importance in theatrical history is a mystery to me. I was taught to think of him as one of the five greatest theatrical masters (along with Stanislavsky, Brecht, Artaud and Brook), at least according to my GCSE and A-Level courses. I'm told that the purpose is to exaggerate real life into something ugly and grotesque, and to make the audience uncomfortable because of what they recognise in the performances. I admit I'm not (yet) a great authority on what is and isn't worthwhile in theatre, but even operating within my sixth form level of practitioner understanding I don't see the point of Berkoff at all. Stanislavsky reflects real life, Artaud appeals to the audience's emotional and visceral instincts and Brecht can make the audience determined to change things. So where does Berkoff come in? The clowning aspects of the style can be effective for a few minutes, but after a quarter of an hour I'm just waiting for it to end, and
clowning as good as this can take place within a better Brechtian piece which has other aspects as well. Interpretation of characters as archetypes is a valid interpretation (though one I could never believe in, write or direct) but with so little to empathise with or understand, there's nothing for the audience to look at once they've appreciated that the make-up is interesting and the faces are strange. I hold that it isn't possible for a piece to reach an audience at all unless there is something there to believe in. Stanislavsky creates naturalistic human beings for audience members to empathise with. Brecht has a meaning and a message that an audience can react to. Artaud having the audience within the spectacle ('in the centre of the vortex', as I have written in every drama essay for the past several years) means that their existing conceptions, beliefs and sensibilities are transplanted into the performance and manipulated. I've never seen a piece of Berkoff where I had any sort of response other than to wish that I was elsewhere. I often feel completely stupid thinking this, because so many people seem to have managed an understanding of his purpose and place in drama, but I've read about him, read pieces of his book I Am Hamlet and seen clips of what are meant to be good pieces of Berkovian theatre on YouTube, and it seems that everything there is to be seen leaves me cold. I'm still waiting for the epiphany when I come to understand what all of this is about. So if anyone knows of any amazing and inspiring Berkoff to see, I hope I'll find it one day and I'll gain the ability to appreciate it. Until then, I only wish that theatre that seems to me to be pointless nonsense would stop oppressing me from every side.
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More Bigger Radicalism Now Dan Hutton
I don't quite know why, but I've always had an image in my head of student theatre being a wacky world full of strange happenings and perpetual innovation. This could, I imagine, be down to the first few shows I saw at my first NSDF which were, as far as I can remember, truly unique (RashDash's first forays into the wide world with Never Enough and Curious Directive's Return to the Silence). It could also be down to the multiple university shows and companies cited in journals and textbooks which give an image of young people doing as much as they can to shift thinking in theatre. Most likely, however, the reason for this viewpoint is down to the pervasive opinion about student drama, which colours the sector as one of radicalism and pioneering thought.
“I get the feeling that many people don’t give a toss about trying to do something even remotely different” Yet this doesn't seem to be the case. Though there's always likely to be something which is pretty ground-breaking in some way at every NSDF and in every season mounted by university companies, this is by no means the norm. Indeed, I get the feeling that many people don't give a toss about trying to do something even remotely different. From my experience, many people just want to do 'good plays well' and don't consider ways in which theatrical, cultural and political boundaries can be crossed. To all but a few, university becomes merely another step on the ladder to a career in the arts. Marianne Elliott's thoughts from a recent interview feel particularly pertinent:
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Why bother putting everything into [a show] if you are not producing something that is really worth doing? Something that pushes you and pushes everyone else involved? If it is just another run-of-the-mill show, then what is the point? To my mind, this isn't a question which we, as young theatre makers, ask enough of ourselves. Though some of the "great" plays ask big, challenging questions, this on its own is not enough. Elliott has a knack of choosing good texts to direct, but always attempts to do something more; you'd be hard pushed to call any of her last few productions (Curious Incident, Port, War Horse) run-of-the-mill (for the National at least). So why don't more of us take this approach? Part of me suspects that a cynicism has clouded our collective judgement. We hear constant nagging about high unemployment and general lack of money, so that we're conditioned into doing productions which look good on a CV and give us the so-called "tools" with which to tackle "the industry". It also worries me that we don't, as a collective community, see or read about enough theatre; we all, myself included, too frequently stay closeted within our own little communities and refuse to challenge ourselves with new ideas and forms so that all we know is the few productions we can see every year and the handful of texts we read at school. It's not impossible to experience more styles and ideas so that we may articulate some kind of radicalism outside of our own context. In a theatrical economy lubricated with the discourse of the free markets, we should be doing all we can to challenge notions of profitability and theatre for theatre's sake so that we can be freed to create something which
â€œIt becomes the job of student theatre to find new models of workingâ€? asks more of its audiences, not just in terms of content but also formally. At a time when a handful of house styles dominate our main stages in Britain and the successful plays are made predominantly, as Simon Stephens suggests, "to entertain [and] to uplift" it becomes the job of student theatre to find new models of working to create some kind of voice of dissent so that in the future we can continue to reinvent and radicalise, borrowing from other theatrical cultures other than our own text-centric one, thus lessening the possibility of theatre running into the same kind of trouble it is currently experiencing. Though there are basic costs which student theatre has to cover, the fact that most student societies are underwritten and have financial cushions to fall back on should mean they're in a position to do more things differently. Basically, I'm being purely selfish here by asking for more people to make the things I want to see, but I don't think it's too much to ask for there to be a university-originated production which does as much as Three Kingdoms did last year. Is it?
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Today in the Noffice..... Andrew Haydon Jake Orr Richard Dennis Chris Perkin Ben Lander Will Brown Timo Ward Hannah Greenstreet Dan Hutton George Meredith Ailsa McDougall Emily Dixon Ralph Thoresby School Phil King andrew rogers Will Trilbee Carlisle Freddie Porter Peter Oâ€™Brien Rosie Curtis Paul Hughes
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