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Tag Archive | "Chris Goode"

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Review: Head Hand Head, Battersea Arts Centre

Posted on 24 March 2014 by Devawn Wilkinson

Head Hand Head

Head Hand Head: the mantra and the motion of the obsessive compulsive. From thought to action, internal anxiety is manifested – part-safety, part-affliction. Laura Jane Dean’s solo show is, in its simplest terms, an effort to convey the reality of living with obsessive compulsive disorder to an audience. To call it a performance seems inaccurate, perhaps insensitive. Dean is not playing a character with OCD, nor is she offering any exaggerated or crowd-pleasing persona. She sits on her chair, fiddles with her dress, and tells a true story, one that is troubling as well as tender. Dean’s frequent and sincere smile – a smile of thanks, or even apology – which, like the music, breaks the text into distinct sections – is our reminder that this is real, that this is difficult, but also, that it is okay for us and her to be here.

There’s a kind of calm chaos to the narrative, unobtrusively told, a tapestry tracing childhood origins to current and ongoing difficulties. The deceptive simplicity of the story-telling is sometimes tangled by decisive statements of illogical and intricate misconnections. It’s telling that the title is more ‘head’ than ‘hand’; perhaps many of Dean’s compulsions seem harmless enough- touching light switches or handles, checking clothes and sockets, but they are the muted signifiers of an array of huge, potential terrors, traumas and tragedies that proliferate in her mind. Then there’s the exhausting physical and mental toll of the compulsion itself – checking, counting, checking counts and counting checks – in pursuit of a sense of safety that doesn’t ever seem to arrive. Yet Dean does not demand sympathy, nor even complete understanding. What Head Hand Head offers is not necessarily emotional insight but rather more of an incision – acts cut in half to have their centres examined. Dean offers us her experience to contemplate on our own terms. Here is the motion, Dean seems to say, and here is what it means to me.

Seeing her alone on stage, we also get a sense of her loneliness. Her interactions with others – parents, unnamed acquaintances – seem to consist of well-meaning but ultimately radical denials of her experience. Her father gifts her with a keyring pleading ‘don’t worry, be happy’,and she finds herself only yet more agonised, “unable to fulfill its simple request”. Of course, even the word ‘worry’ seems such a trivialisation. Dean does not just worry, because her persistent terror of impending death has the ability to render her almost unable to live.

But this is by no means a tale without hope. Perhaps here, with us, is the place where her fears can be spoken and therefore exist, not to be challenged, exercised or exorcised, but simply acknowledged and considered. In some way, we do hope this communion with us sends her fears, like nocturnal animals, skittering away from the light. The warmth of the brightly lit committee room feels like a genuinely safe space, and there is gentle humour to help along the difficult truths- to be direct with us about her struggle seems a victory rather than any conceding to defeat. “I don’t need to do it when I’m with you,” Dean tells an absent loved one, but maybe she does mean us as well. A gently compelling show with a genuinely admirable cast.  To call Laura Jane Dean brave only sounds patronising; we should feel grateful for her generous honesty.

Head Hand Head played at Battersea Arts Centre. 

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn is a London-based writer, performance poet and aspiring theatre-maker. As a reviewer, she has written for A Younger Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Exeunt Magazine.

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Book review: Passionate Amateurs: Theatre, Communism and Love

Posted on 09 January 2014 by Dan Hutton

passionate-amateurs-theatre-communism-love-nicholas-ridout-hardcover-cover-art

The subtitle of Nicholas Ridout’s Passionate Amateurs: Theatre, Communism and Love, and its central argument – “that theater in modern capitalism can help us think afresh about notions of work, time and freedom” – may betray an idea of the work as one of niche interest, useful only to the academic and the geek. But though Ridout’s study is intent on adding to the academic discourse surrounding labour and performance, it also holds wider resonance within present debates about pay and work in the theatrical landscape. By deconstructing notions of leisure, freedom, necessity and community, Passionate Amateurs interrogates liberal and centre-left theatrical ideologies, and in doing so reinvigorates a discussion which has become dormant within the structures of late capitalism.

This is a book about neither community theatre nor communist theatre, though as Ridout observes there are books with the same title to be written about both subjects. Instead, Passionate Amateurs is a quietly but defiantly political work which looks towards a better future, which asks more of theatre than we generally experience in contemporary culture. Where theatre is often seen – in Britain in 2013 – as part of a daily routine of work and leisure, Ridout looks towards cultural theorists and theatrical practitioners to articulate “the very faint possibility and the powerful hope that theatre might offer an image of the unconstrained community of fellow-feeling that might ground a utopian politics”.

Ridout begins, in ‘Theatre and Communism after Athens’, by introducing the figure of “the romantic anti-capitalist”. Rather than seeing romanticism as a traditionalist, nature-loving mindset, he suggests that the movement instead offers us a fervent critique of capitalism. By asking us to switch-on to this mindset, then, Ridout allows us to consider the ways by which “theatre as community” and “relational aesthetics” (whereby we may understand the ways in which we relate to other human around us) may come to be co-opted and subsumed within the capitalist structure. Rather than looking simply at the final product(ion) which, as with Laura Wade’s Posh and Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, can turn a radical gesture into a mainstream cash-cow with the simple act of a West End transfer, the book asks whether there is “anything to be found within the practice of theatre that might actualize some of its political potential” [my emphasis].

In the second chapter, Ridout uses the example of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya to lay out notions of the rhythms of time pertaining to leisure and work within industrial capitalism. Work, then, “is the labor of self-reproduction”, whereby we must become active – according to industry – in order to continue our own existence. Following this, in the twentieth century, we have the process of “professionalism” and “Taylorization”, which by seeking to improve economic efficiency by breaking it down into easily analyzed chunks seems to legitimate certain processes and creates a structure within itself. In turn, this process has infiltrated the theatrical ecology. Theatre, therefore, is just as much a part of late capitalist doctrine as any other ‘industry’.

Walter Benjamin’s ‘Program for a Proletarian Children’s Theatre’, which acts as a manifesto for the work of the passionate amateur, is the subject of Chapter Three. Here, Ridout suggests that Benjamin’s text challenges conventional wisdom regarding work and creates a scheme which is detached from the normal “working day” in a way which subverts conventional temporal structures. This is a theatre separate from the neoliberal normative, which detaches intrinsic value from labour and looks to the past in order that we may be allowed to stake a claim on the future. Its status as a “children’s” theatre is also important, as the way in which twentieth-century education has become analogous to a factory churning out knowledge and workers undermines any potential the idea of ‘learning’ may hold within it.

‘Of Work, Time and Revolution’ looks at Jean-Luc Godard’s film La Chinoise (1967) not, as a many have done, by considering its prescience regarding the ‘Spirit of ‘68’, but as an experiment in the theatricality found between work and action. The film, which focuses on a group of five university students discussing and acting upon their political beliefs, was made during a time when Godard was considering the way in which his processes may be seen as political within themselves, making “visible political possibilities not otherwise available to view”. Ridout’s argument is that the film offers the view “that there is political value in the formation of a revolutionary cell as an end in itself, rather than as a means towards revolution as such… If so, then this value must derive from something other than work”. Here, then, we return to the idea of the ‘passionate amateur’, who finds value beyond monetary reward and thus “must instead invent for herself new modes of living and working, either within or against the logics of capitalist production”. Here, and in following chapter, the book’s central argument really begins to crystallise, as the parallel themes of the work of theatre and the work of revolution begin to converge so that we may ask the question: do we achieve the final ‘product’ (of theatre and of revolution) through work, nonwork, or “not not work”? That is to say: do we labour for wages or for love?

The final chapter, ‘Solitude in Relation’, comes right up to the present day, using Chris Goode’s God/Head to understand theatre as a network of relations of exposure. In this work, Goode depicts and discusses the idea of solitude, which in the context of theatre’s “paradoxical place of revelation” where we are both alone and together throws up complexities surrounding community and individualism. Ridout then inserts himself, the “professional spectator”, into the argument, considering how the feeling of experiencing ‘authentic’ feelings like love and sensory perception “within the realm of necessity – as part of one’s professional activity” may disrupt the relationship between freedom and necessity.

It’d be untruthful to say that Ridout’s arguments are easy to follow for the casual reader, but, as with all good things in life, focus and engagement allows the meaning to rise to the surface. Complex academic ideas are more often than not introduced with useful examples, and Ridout’s coined terms – especially the titular one – are introduced and reintroduced with insight and useful examples. Without wanting to become guilty of indulging neoliberal-industrial rhetoric, this is (perhaps somewhat paradoxically) a necessary, valuable book which forces a re-examination and re-appropriation of existing labour systems, in British theatre and beyond.

The downside to all this is that Passionate Amateurs, as a highly-priced book with an academic tone, is unlikely to reach a very wide readership, meaning its arguments about work and theatre, which have the potential to shake up the way we currently make and watch theatre, will remain confined to smaller circles. As Daniel Bye pointed out in his recent blog on pay in the arts, “Theatres do not thrive in a market economy and so we need to find ways of behaving as though we are somewhere else. Of behaving as though we’re individuals talking to one another within a community, rather than as market nodes seeking to maximise our human capital”. It is this “somewhere else” that Ridout’s book asks us to consider, and by structuring the argument in a way that lays out the cards on the table before turning them over to reveal their image, he allows the reader to see the clear relationship between theatre, work and time. Crucially, it is a book which is unafraid to discuss and contemplate what ‘communism’ may look or feel like in the twenty-first century, which is no easy thing after the traumas of the past. As Ridout himself points out, “It is nearly always easier to speak of love than it is to talk about communism. The trick, here, is almost to do both, somewhat amateurishly.”

Dan Hutton

Dan Hutton

Dan recently graduated with a degree in English and Theatre Studies from the University of Warwick. He is a theatre-maker, freelance theatre critic and a company director of Barrel Organ Theatre.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Worst of Scottee

Posted on 18 August 2013 by Devawn Wilkinson

The Worst of Scottee

Star Rating:
(3/5 stars)

Scottee sits in a photo booth, a box within the box space where we sit patiently, waiting for him to look at us. He is looking at us, or at least, we can choose to believe so. In the booth – Big Brother Diary Room meets church confessional – he stares into the camera and a video screen on the exterior wall shows us a man more like a painted portrait, a Leigh Bowery-esque goth-glamorous cartoon. His face is unreadable, but perhaps that’s just the fault of  the glossy, globular dark glasses and black lipstick replacing all expressive features with three black holes – more like three oil wells, really, because black holes don’t have that particular sheen that reflects only the light, as if we don’t exist. Then he smiles. White teeth and a bright flash as the photo booth takes a snap, a big showy half-snarl that says “welcome to the Scottee show.”

Yet, when he faces us, peeking out from his own particular sort of red curtain with the exact look of mingled dread and hope you’d find on a child looking for his parents on the night of the school play, his mouth trembles. It’s uncertain whether he is about to laugh, cry or vomit. In fact, he sings the jazz standard ‘Cry Me a River’. And wow, does he cry. Black liquid rivers, in fact, as if he really is bleeding or melting, and even in his rich baritone, all the ferocity of the song disintegrates into desperation, his voice has a mournful quality that suggests crying rivers is routine procedure. Still, it’s only showmanship, right? A bit of gorgeous and gory melodrama. When he cries a sort of sobbing jazz scat, we laugh, of course and, like any disgruntled diva, he fires us a furious look, all adolescent affront.

What a sharp and jolting contrast, then, when the song ends and he retreats back into the booth. He pulls off his sunglasses without a touch of theatricality, plucks out the system of tubes from under his shirt, pulling apart that luxuriously lurid image he just gave us. When he tears out the liquid pouch that sourced his tears, he gives a wince of discomfort, a noise of pain – it’s like he’s manhandling his own heart. Perhaps that’s a telling simile, because Scottee or simply Scott as he becomes in this performance, offers us unflinching honesties and, most poignantly, not always with a sense of easy reconciliation with those truths. A naturally absorbing and refreshingly unaffected storyteller, he speaks to the camera (but he likes to check our reactions whenever he says something potentially controversial). He says “bless you” when someone in the audience sneezes. We appreciate, are awed by his candour, so we listen. From white lies to darkest secrets, stories spool out, punctuated by volatile bursts of song and dance.

So how do you rate someone’s heart? How do you put a value judgement on someone’s most exposing truth? Whatever, for me, was missing from the show – a sense of active urgency, I think, of any real demand upon me as a part of this experience – was no doubt something that Scottee and director Chris Goode chose to leave out. That’s the beauty and the difficulty of this show, it knows exactly what it is, what it wants to be, and it seems content with that. Its creators shouldn’t have to apologise for not ‘delivering’ the emotional cataclysm I anticipated, but for me, that what’s makes The Worst of Scottee recommended, but not necessary, viewing. Yes, Scottee takes off his make-up, but something’s still curtailed by the use of the camera. Whilst the final story he tells is an extraordinarily brave, undeniably touching admission, I still can’t quite connect. Even though he has come out to face us in these last moments, it’s almost too late. I must stress, there is no manipulative artifice here, in fact, in its brutal and unrelenting honesty, it is a trial to listen to; I almost wanted to say, “stop, you don’t have tell it, you don’t have to suffer it again for us!” Perhaps that’s the uncomfortable tension in our transaction with him – we end up seeing not the worst of Scottee, but the worst of other people that he has endured. He is a victim, undoubtedly, but we can only witness that trauma, mute and helpless as those who let him down. A show that stuns, yes (do go and see it) but one that doesn’t quite leave a bruise.

The Worst of Scottee is playing at Assembly George Square Box until 24 August. For more information and tickets, please see the Edinburgh Fringe Website.

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn is a London-based writer, performance poet and aspiring theatre-maker. As a reviewer, she has written for A Younger Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Exeunt Magazine.

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Filskit Blog: Preparing for Take Off

Posted on 08 November 2012 by Filskit Theatre

It is all getting a little tense at Filskit HQ. There have been late nights, hysterical ideas and the obligatory panic purchasing of projectors. At the point of writing it is only one week until we pack the set into the car, bundle ourselves in, and set off at 5am to travel to the Take Off Festival. Hosted by Hullaballoo Theatre Company, the Take Off Festival is one of the major festivals of children’s theatre. We’re excited to not only be seeing a host of brilliant shows for young people, but also presenting a scratch performance of The Feather Catcher.

We’ll be putting our newest baby on show to over 100 children’s theatre programmers, arts directors, devisors, writers and makers. As if that wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, the other person on the scratch bill is the rather well known and brilliant Chris Goode. As you can probably imagine, we are both deliriously excited and utterly terrified. It feels like our dream job interview, X Factor audition and driving test all rolled into one.

In our experience, scratch events can be a great way for an emerging company to dip a toe into the theatre world. What makes scratch events so exciting and accessible, especially for new companies, is the element of risk involved. Programmers of scratch events are fully aware of this risk -  the company may be unknown and the work not yet made, meaning quality control isn’t really an option. As an emerging company, though, someone taking a risk on your work can change everything.

When we began, we relied greatly on scratch events as an opportunity to put our work, our ideas and ourselves out into the world. Without a constant director, airing our work-in-progress gave us clear pointers on where to go with it. The problem that faces us now is that scratch events focused on theatre for young audiences are few and far between. Other scratch events can still be valuable, but in order for your work to develop into a high quality piece ready for your venues, you need the feedback from a relevant audience. This is why Take Off is different and why it is so important that we get it right.

So in the world of the scratch event, what – if anything – is right and what is wrong? It is true that all experience can be useful, even if it does result in comments like “Maybe that wasn’t funny”, or “Let’s never EVER do that again!” (both true stories). But how do you make the most of a scratch event? The most important thing is to be as prepared as possible. Much as this sounds like common sense, it’s easy to end up rushing for a scratch event, especially if it involves travelling to a far-flung corner of the UK. In preparing, it’s useful to think about why you’re attending the event. Do you want to promote your work? Well, show off your most polished sections. Are you trying out a new idea or concept? Then show the relevant bits, and go armed with questions to make sure the feedback you get is as useful as possible.

Whatever you hope to gain from sharing your work at such an early stage, be prepared to listen to what its audience have to say. This doesn’t mean following every piece of advice (otherwise we would be naked and punching through boxes for our latest work!). Rather, think about how the thoughts and responses of others can point to ways of improving, simplifying and expanding your work. This way, it’s allowed to develop from being your precious child to a fully fledged show ready to take on the world.

We will let you know how we get on at Take Off – if we make it to Durham OK!

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre are an all-female ensemble with a passion for micro-projection. The company, Sarah Gee, Katy Costigan and Victoria Dyson, have been making work together since 2008. As graduates of the European Theatre Arts course at Rose Bruford they were brought together by their shared love of projection and cake.

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