Image by Chelsea Theatre

Since 2006 The Chelsea Theatre have sought out original and interesting performances and given them the stage in their annual SACRED season. They do not discriminate on message or medium, looking both domestically and abroad to provide experimental and challenging theatre. The 2014 lineup exhibits an exciting array of artists in impressive variety. From Stacy Makishi’s Hitchcock/Bjork/Moby Dick hybrid VesperTime, to award-winning theatre designer Mamoru Iriguchi’s 4D Cinema, to William Mackerel’s film Deux Chevoux drawing our attention to our relationships with the environment and our automated society. There are plenty of new and provocative experiences to be had. I spoke to Francis Alexander, Artistic Director of Chelsea Theatre Royal and creator of SACRED, about the season’s history and this year’s performances.

“We were just looking for a new and different way of doing things and SACRED was the response. It’s called SACRED because it’s a reflection on the establishment that is British Theatre. There’s a way of doing things and there’s a way of presenting things – there’s not only a hierarchy but a structure that is very much alive and well. It’s changed a lot since 2006 but it started as a reaction to that hierarchy and that structure. The word sacred is completely ironic. It’s called SACRED because it’s not all sacred. Although maybe it is. That relationship between the performer and the audience when it works is something very beautiful and can deliver real change.”

This combination comes in many unusual packages underlining SACRED’s desire to provide an unorthodox theatrical experience for their audiences. “People like Sh!t Theatre with their Total Theatre Award, have been surprising people with their sense of skill, agility, musicality and absolute political nous. They use the politics of international pharmaceutical companies who, in their terms, abuse young job seekers with the offer of a ‘job’ testing in drug trials. Is that really a job? What does that say about how the market for people incorporates more abuse than it’s had previously? We contrast them by putting them on a double bill with anti-drag artist David Hoyle, who’s doing a new piece on mental illness called I, Victim. There’s a whole host of different approaches”. These artists not only challenge the established forms and hierarchy in British theatre but also thematically challenge larger political and social ideas. “Right at the extreme edge is William Mackerel, who is presenting a movie about the work he made in Kensington and Chelsea this year. He strapped two massive shire horses to a Deux Chevaux car that was toed around the Borough and came to Chelsea Theatre. He’s looking at what this says about our global and petrol-based economy, what we expect from the mechanised world and how we relate (or not) to the natural world. We also have people like Stacy Makishi who is terrific in so many extraordinary ways. Her work (VesperTime) will be beautifully structured, full of bizarre coincidences and will give you the opportunity to forgive someone in a way you have never forgiven anyone before. I saw the work in progress and had tears in my eyes. It’s been supported the National Theatre studio – which is one of the changes we’ve seen since 2006 that we are working with artists who are supported by institutions like The National.”

This year there is less emphasis on creating strict thematic structures within SACRED and focuses on supplying fresh and surprising work. “It’s now more of a series of snapshots of what artists are making, which we love and want to put across to other people. There’s the kookiest, production by an artist called Caroline Smith who is doing a piece about a human becoming a bird. It’s the weirdest piece of work with extraordinary values by Marty Langthorne. We’ve put that on the same night as Mamoru Iriguchi’s 4D Cinema, and they are so different. He’s an amazing performance maker and has huge experience as a designer as well, with experience with extraordinary West End shows and dance theatre as well. He’s now moving into performance on his own and is bringing all those skills with him – lighting, sound and technology. Early on what we might of said about SACRED is that there was a strong curatorial framework for it, we used to have themes and strands of work that would define it. Those themes and strands really no longer exist, they are just a collection of wonderful pieces of work from a huge diverse array of people who are making theatre in a contemporary way today. All these artists bring vigor and rigor to what they do with their energy, their intelligence and wit – they’re united by extraordinary hummer – all these artists say what they say with panache.”

There is certainly an argument to be made that British theatre lacks a platform for modern international performances. There’s a tendency to adapt Ibsen or Chekhov (regularly producing very good work), but risk contemporary trends being ignored and drifting on separately to our national zeitgeist. SACRED provides a remedy.

To see more go to SACRED at Chelsea Theatre