Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Maids @ Dundee Rep

In the last fifteen minutes of Dundee Rep's production of Genet's The Maids, there is an abrupt coup de théâtre. It is as if the self-conscious theatricality that Genet imbued into the script - which had been largely ignored by director Eve Jamieson - had been saved up for this finale, in which the painted backdrop falls to reveal a plain brick wall, a character walks back on stage in a white coat (suggestive of medical authority) and removes the battling protagonists into perspex boxes. In itself, it powerfully represents the arrival of old age to the maids, who have been enjoying their erotic games of murder and submission but suddenly find themselves geriatric and shoved aside.

It's deeply unsatisfying, not least because there had been no suggestion, up to that point, that the sumptuous scenography and boisterous role-playing represented a fragile veneer of theatrical fantasy: by suddenly throwing in a bold declaration that theatre is not merely a mirror of real life, The Maids makes a point that seems trite against the fluctuating power relationships and political complaints that Jamieson and the cast have been making explicit. The pathos and the melodrama - when a speech is amplified over one character's glorious posturing - are hardly earned and undermine the psychological horror that the production reveals in Genet's script. 

Yet for most of the show, Jamieson's interpretation does not dwell on the alienation that Genet intended the audience to feel. Alongside his exploration of racism, Les Nègres (which is unlikely to be produced today because it opens up some problematic issues of representation), The Maids insists on provoking the audience to recognise the theatricality of performance. The maids themselves were written for male actors in female drag - without ever referencing the cross-dressing in the script - and the revolving role-plays switches master and submissive with a ferocious glee. While all-female casting for The Maids is commonplace, and in Dundee Rep's case, a welcome opportunity to see three remarkable actors tackle meaty parts, by rejecting Genet's intentions, the production is permitted a more naturalistic dramaturgy.

If the sexual perversity of the characters remains evident - the maids allude to states of ecstasy and clearly feel a thrill at the thought of usurping their mistress, dominating each other, being dominated and even, finally, caressed by the executioner when they imagine punishment for their deeds - Jamieson emphasises the political subtext. 

The oppression of the maids becomes allegorical, a description of the relationship between the working and aristocratic class: Emily Winter's mistress vacillates between self-absorption and a preening fascination with the maids' goodwill, while the maids fantasize about a funeral in which
the their mistress is forced to mingle with the working classes. The set - an opulent bedroom, festooned with flowers - captures the financial disparities, the power of home decoration to enforce social control and the stultifying presence of authority ingrained into the architecture. 

Genet's preoccupation with the erotic manifestation of class oppression lends Jamieson's interpretation a clear-sighted analysis of the mechanism by which the maids ensure their own defeat. While they plot in vain against their tormentor - attempting murder, informing against her lover - they recognise their complicity in the maintenance of power relations, even enjoying acts of debasement simultaneously as threats against the mistress and themselves. They might bicker about each others' failures to enact their plans, but they indulge them, distracted by the chase for sexual release and unable to imagine a revolution that has not had its terns dictated by crime magazines. Their paranoia after the failure - one maid, Clare, moans that 'the objects' conspired to reveal their plans - only heightens their excitement, and the collapse of the scheme degenerates into more role-playing and wilder fantasy.

Dundee Rep's dramaturgy, which replaces Genet's shifting gender identities with a focus on the characters, their political status and their limitations, offers a naturalistic reading of the script. Its strength - made more evident by the solid performances - however, does not allow for the kind of finale that attempts to reclaim Genet's alienated theatricality. Alongside a moment when an open cupboard reveals Ikea shelving behind the elegant boudoir, this sudden attempt to challenge the audience's perception only introduces a further theme, increases the sympathy for the now inarticulate maids - their lines and movement are guided by the returning mistress who becomes their medical carer. The awkward break exposes the tension between Jamieson's direction and the integrity of the script. 

Nursery Dramaturgy: Angie Dight @ Glasgow

A unique night-time experience exploring the dark themes behind our beloved childhood stories, Nursery Crymes takes to the streets of Glasgow this November.

Audiences are encouraged to wrap up warm for a promenade performance through a specially-created Mother Goose's forest...and out the other side, winding round the streets of the city centre (and in and out of the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall) as they encounter installations, performances, sound works, projections, film and some twisted versions of well-known fairytale characters.

Scotland's renowned outdoor performance company Mischief La-Bas, aided and abetted by artists of all disciplines, explores the sinister side of nursery rhymes – the ideas of authority, morality and social indoctrination underpinning these simple stories for children. If the message is sung so sweetly, do we even notice the crime? Do we ever learn to question these early life lessons?

What was the inspiration for this performance?

It’s inspired by Nursery Rhymes, which were my first introductions to art, beauty and poetry when I was a child, what intrigues now is the darkness and history behind them. It also makes me question the impact such rhymes and stories have on the morality, indoctrination and established beliefs of the young. 
The name ‘Nursery Crymes’ came from the late Ian Smith – a perfect invitation to play with these dark themes and question innocence and guilt in both historic and contemporary society.
I love promenade performance, the mixing up of different art forms, breaking down the fourth wall and the blurring of realities which is at the root of all Mischief La-Bas’ work, as well as some humorous irreverence and audience interaction.
Nursery Crymes will incorporate all these elements.
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely, we are real people discussing real ideas, it is a very accessible way of learning new things, provoking questions, making us think, a platform for exploring both good and bad, in my opinion it doesn’t need to give answers but rather give us food for thought or inspire us to want to know more.

How did you become interested in making performance?

As the eldest child of four I made up the games, we wore cardigans on our heads as long hair, were married to the Monkees (Mickey Dolenz my choice ) our games involved living in different realities, everything was something else, my bike was the horse ‘silver moonlight’ and we went to different lands. I nearly always made my sister closest in age to me the boy. I read a lot of books when I was young and always lived in a bit of a dream
World – some might say I’ve never changed.
Performance might be an alternative reality but the experiences are still real.
Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

There are many, we have invited Artists from various disciplines to make work that relates to dark themes from childhood rhymes or stories.  

Themes might be neglect, misogyny, religious persecution, torture eg, all these and more are found in many of these innocent childhood rhymes.
We are making work that is site-specific in that it responds to and incorporates the environment, in this case the alleyways between Osborne St and Argyle street and around and inside the Panopticon.

We are using the fabric of the buildings and lanes as well as creating our own installations.
As a promenade performance the audience will be ‘guided’ through the ‘show’ by different characters and performers, characters who should all resonate in some way with our past and possibly present experiences.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
We generally make smaller audience interactions that tour or turn up somewhere unexpected, but occasionally we make larger scale work as well as work that incorporates the work of other Artists, alongside installations and our own Mischief La-Bas performers such as Nursery Crymes is.

Past shows that have worked similarly have been ‘Bull’ ’97-’98 ‘Painful Creatures’ 2003-4 and ‘Peeping at Bosch’ 2009 . As ex- circus folk, a big, multi-discipline, weird thing that incorporates all sorts is my dream gig. It’s super exciting, maybe the best game ever.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I really hope they will come away with many different experiences, but that they
will enjoy it and have a great night. I would like them to leave with questions that they find the answers to themselves the next day when they wake up, or even that night when they thaw out. I would love it to be an all encompassing experience for them, that they suspend belief and play along with us.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

It’s a timed experience, so small (ish) groups should be able to fully enjoy the experience. Different aspects of the performance will give or demand different input from the audience, areas are structured quite differently from each other to facilitate varying experiences, the performance will constantly change and does not have a linear narrative.

The Artists and artworks involved all have very different approaches. We are encouraging the audience to look at or appreciate the environment in unusual ways by showing it in a different context to the way it is usually seen.
We are playing in the streets and we invite the audience to join us to do the same. We will be offering a free warm tipple in the Panopticon Britannia, as well as bringing people into this amazing Glasgow hidden gem. We are also offering a social opportunity to continue the evening in the warm in Avantgarde’s function room and bar. It would be great if people hung about and didn’t feel the need to rush off somewhere else.
I hope there will be plenty for people to enjoy.

Nursery Crymes will be a very large-scale performance, happening only on 24th and 25th November, with capacity for an audience of around 400 over two nights, in staggered groups. Artist/designer Bill Breckenridge is creating an immersive on-street set for certain parts of the experience, which will also include cross-disciplinary work from performance and visual artists including Liz Aggiss, Dav Bernard of 85A, Glas(s) Performance, Junction 25, Radiator Arts and Fiona Robertson.

Friday, 20 October 2017


I am not sure I know what all the words mean, really.

Gender Equality in Comic Books

In which I discover Semiotics

Bigging up Brecht

Brecht commands such an influence over the theatre of the late twentieth century that any production that features a member of the cast addressing the audience is called Brechtian. Whether this can helpfully be applied to a principal boy slapping their thigh and announcing 'oh no it isn't!' in a pantomime is debatable, but the reduction of Brecht's complex and evolving theory into a single word reveals both the power that his work exerts, and the laziness of contemporary criticism (and its lack of grounding in academic theory, perhaps).

It's possible that the importance of Brecht is another hangover of historiography's habit of ascribing the movements of a past to a singular white male: Brecht might be a Marxist, but even left-wing history tends to simplify matters down to the dynamism of individuals. Brecht's biography suggests that his participation in the great upheavals of the early twentieth century - escaping from Nazi Germany, giving hilarious testimony at the Committee for Unamerican Activities, returning to post-war Germany and getting a whole company from the East German state - influenced a particular set of theories that have become known as 'Brechtian' - which have then been simplified into any breaking of the 'fourth wall'. But this denies both the hard work of the many dramaturgs who worked at his Berliner Ensemble, and the artists, like Boal, who developed his ideas. And, of course, the vaudeville tradition that was chatting away to audiences long before Brecht recognised that this could change the relationship between the stage and the auditorium.

 The importance of Brecht's ideas can be traced back to his decision, in the 1930s, that he believed in Marxism and that theatre was a valuable weapon in the revolution. This faith in the possibly of theatre to effect social conditions is the foundation of his systems, and contributes to his most important strategies. Above all, he rejected the ideal of tragedy, as described by Aristotle, because its performance suggested a certain fatalism. The events being shown on stage - take Oedipus Rex as an example - follow their inevitable path. The National Theatre's production of Hedda Gabbler concludes with the protagonist realising that she is trapped, kills herself. 

The problem for Brecht's Marxist beliefs lies in this fatalism. It suggests that social change is impossible. Rejecting the tragic mode, Brecht advocates for an epic theatre. Often through a process of adaptation - his version of Shakespeare's Coriolanus being the easiest example - he sought to demonstrate both the power of the working classes to change events, and the fiction that the status quo is immutable. The alienation effect, which operates both as a strategy and a theory of dramaturgy, sought to challenge determinism and suggest that another world is possible.

The breaking of the fourth wall is merely one of Brecht's tricks to encourage the audience to become more active observers. The revelation of how the on-stage illusion is created is another one: instead of a photo-realistic backdrop, he's use a moon on a stick: lighting rigs can be exposed, props would serve for scenery and characters - well, characters did not exist as consistent entities, amenable to psycho-analytical interpretation. They were replaced by examples of the class conditions that created them, and frequently act inconsistently to make a political point or move the plot along.

If this doesn't sound like fun, Brecht's plays don't always keep to his doctrinaire line. Mother Courage, restaged by Glasgow's Birds of Paradise, was driven by Alison Peeble's portrayal of the protagonist. While Brecht's intention was to show how Mother Courage was unable to learn from her experiences because of her petty capitalist desire to make profit from the war, Peebles lent her a dignity and ferocity and celebrated her ability to survive and protect her family. 

By encouraging the audience to question the characters and events, however, Brecht wanted to engage theatre in the battle for socialism. Directly addressing the audience is only one of the tactics he used

Manifesto Five: Queer Performance

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Stealth Dramaturgy: Paul Wady @ Edfringe 2017

Stealth Aspies

5 autistic people tell it like it is. 

A cast show entirely of people diagnosed on the autistic spectrum.

Bar 50, venue 151, 1pm between 11-19th

Paul Wady of the original Guerilla Aspies solo show (3-10 then 20-27th @1pm this fringe) has brought together a cast of five fellow autistics.  Last year I put out a survey on Twitter (@StealthAspies) to find out about when people received an autism diagnosis 
later in life, or were forced to remain in the neurodiverse closet.

The resulting 22 responses (so far) will be performed together with poems and autobiographical pieces written by the cast. 

Nothing like this has been performed anywhere ever that we know of.  This is not pity porn, nor the sad tales of people who want to be neurotypical. It will be entirely devised by the cast.

These are the life experiences of a kind and a tribe that has empathy for its own members. 

(Different people depending on different days)

Alain English
Sarah Saeed
Hannah Yahya
Jason Why
Paul Wady
Janine Booth (and son).

100% ASPIE.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I wanted to innovate a way of converting audiences en mass to my nature, which is autistic.  
I had been using Powerpoint to train professionals in what it was like to be an autistic adult, and decided to adapt it as a show narrative vehicle.  it's worked out very well although it usually crashes half way through - which I have a whole routine around.  

I did not have anyone to base my work on because no one has done anything like this before.  My friend Cian Binchy had the same problem when he created his show about being autistic at the same time.  We seem to be unique.  I would prefer if there were a lot of such shows.  

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
Yes, since my show is audience interactive all through.  It's a great medium providing you have lots of time and not a confining slot.  I have to watch my piece as I love to talk to people and if I find any other autistics in the audience, I try to do it with them.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I joined the Everyman Youth Theatre back in 1982.  I went on to a 3 month tour with a theatre group in 1983 and an entire year in a YTS scheme for theatre, the Rathbone Community Theatre Unit, Liverpool.  

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
Attempting to be myself in front of and with an audience, when I am only diagnosed these past 13 years.  I am still discovering my true nature int he face of a lifetime of hiding and masking.  It's quite a unique experience to share it.  The narrative is something I am still developing each time I do it.  

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Well since I go around training professionals in autism with another PowerPoint presentation, yes.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?

What it is to be an autistic adult.  To be part of a tribe and a kind of humanity that is forever stigmatised as diseased, disabled and inferior.

For us, they never stopped calling gays perverts...  It's the same for us.  

Guerilla Aspies  -  book out now on Ebay, Amazon & Kindle

NOW INTERNATIONAL BOOK SALES ON EBAY. The Guerilla Aspies show picture blog.

Tradition and German Modern Drama

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

All Hail the New Historicists!

Aphra Behn: thoughts on gender and criticism

Old Dramaturgy: Jess Thorpe @ Platform

Do you remember when we used to go camping? And when you helped me make an ATM out of cardboard for my school project? Do you remember when you bought a big plane from town and showed me how to build it? Do you realise what a big impact you have had on who I am?

OLD BOY is a brand new show about the unique bond between grandfathers and grandsons.
It features the real relationships of men and boys of various ages from Glasgow in an attempt to explore the love that is shared between men in families and the legacy passed down through generations in Scotland.

Platform, The Bridge, 1000 Westerhouse Road, Glasgow, G34 9JW

What was the inspiration for this performance?

OLD BOY is piece of theatre exploring male relationships across generations and ideas of legacy and connection in Scottish men.
It’s an idea we’ve had for ages. Right back since after we first made Hand Me Down in 2010 and worked with a family of women from Port Glasgow around similar themes. This show allowed us a deep process of engagement with women about the love they had for each other and the things they felt were passed down through their family ties. 

It was all about the things they felt they they learned from their mothers, their grandmothers and the hopes they had for their daughters. It was about the things that they meant to each other.

For the time we worked on Hand Me Down (and still today) we were moved and inspired by these women and what working with them made us think and questions about love and connection in families.

And so we wanted to make another piece. This time about men. About the bonds that are shared and the complexity of love and legacy in male family relationships. We wanted to share this and see this and celebrate this and understand this.

I have a 3 year old son and the process of watching him and my dad build a relationship has been fascinating for me. It has led me to question the things that need to be taken forward and the things that are better left behind. Of the nature of what it means to be a man. To be in in a family. To love other people. To keep making sense of complicated things.

So now we are finally making OLD BOY. It’s piece we first scratched with Luminate and Platform in Easterhouse in 2015 and are now working on the full production of which will be presented as part of the Luminate Festival in October 2017.

The piece is made up of a sequence of three duets performed by:
A 2 year old boy and his grandfather
A 11 year old boy and his grandfather
A 21 year old man and his grandfather

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

For me as a maker and as someone who goes to see theatre I believe Performance is still a crucial platform with which we reflect on the world in which we live. It's a form which asks us to be in a room which each other and actively think and feel about the thoughts and ideas of others. 

I think it is more than just a public discussion of ideas but a way of sharing something of what it means to be human. To make a connection that helps to remind us that in lots of ways - we are in it together. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have been interested in  making performance for as long as I can remember. Since I was 6 and I started first casting my 4 year old brother in plays I had written for my Mum and her friends to watch. I like to think I have gotten a little better at some parts of the creative process since then but my reason for making is still the same. I love people and telling stories. I love sharing these stories with others and having conversations as a result. That's it really.

In 2000 I went to the RCS (then RSAMD) to study Contemporary Theatre Practice and I joined a community in Glasgow that made sense to me and felt exciting and progressive. It was there met my collaborator Tashi Gore and we formed Glas(s) Performance. Everything since then has been a practice made out of our shared love of people and stories.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

We always work within a devising process where we collaborate with the performers involved to explore the personal stories and moments that will help us unlock the universal themes of the work.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

So much of the work we make as Glas(s) Performance is about love and about what we mean to each other as human beings. This means that we often have to tread the careful path of not simply creating a chocolate box image of how things are. We have to try find ways to explore the complexity and the challenge of relationships – to examine the context that led to things being the way they are – to try and touch on the joy and the pain of things in equal but careful measure in our larger attempt to look at what is most human in all of us.

OLD BOY is no different. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

A sense of connection to those men and boys on stage and an appreciation of their stories and the ideas and experiences they are sharing. 

To recognise something of their own lives and the relationships and social histories that have/do impact them.

To reflect on the nature of male familial love and legacy and the larger ideas of masculinity and what is passed down between generations of men from the west of Scotland.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We thought about who goes to the theatre and who doesn't and why. We tried to make connections with new people and have a new set of conversations we hadn't had before. 

We have been quite active in making relationships with older communities in Easterhouse and providing access points for people from across the community to be able to come and see the show. That feels important to us.

Manifesto Four: Political Theatre

Haunted Dramaturgy: Andrew Campbell @ Ayr

It’s the end of the world. The dead roam the streets. The last survivors barricade themselves in Ayr Town Hall.

What follows is a terrifying spiral into the worst parts of humanity. Who will survive and what will be left of them?

Ravenous brings audiences face to face with one of Scotland’s most notorious villains in a blood-soaked and visceral new-take on the traditional Haunted House. The audience will be led through an interactive horror experience that promises to startle, disturb and disgust.

On Saturday and Tuesday evening we are offering an extended run where you will be lead to a second venue for a horrifying take on the traditional Escape Room.

NOTE: Over 16s only - discretion is advised.

Venue: Ayr Town Hall Prison Cells

Friday 27th October: 17:00 - 22:00
Saturday 28th October: 11:00 - 22:00
Sunday 29th October: 13:00 - 21:00
Tuesday 31st October: 17:00 - 22:00
Wednesday 1st November: 17:00 - 21:00
(shows start on the hour, every hour)

What was the inspiration for this performance?

For the past five years we have been running Haunted House attractions in Ayr using the same historic building: an abandoned underground prison beneath Ayr Town Hall. Each year we try to change the style and the format. Rather then relying on simple jump-scares we will look to cinematic or literary traditions to try to create something that uses familiar imagery and then twist them to create something that is unsettling and not just startling.  

This year with the death of both George A Romero and Tobe Hooper we tried to synergise their styles to create something that references both but is also unique in of itself; so merging the political satire of Romero with camp-grotesquery of Hooper. 

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely. It can lead to face-t0-face interactions that the artist could not have predicted; outside of the performance space itself the ideas are carried by the audience and into the public sphere. A dear friend of mine recently told me that after seeing Betty Grumble she discussed the performance with a taxi driver on the way home which lead to both openly discussing concepts of eco-sexuality and burlesque. An interaction that would not have happened were it not for the show.  

How did you become interested in making performance?

As a child I had a speech impediment which made it difficult for me to communicate and affected how I perceived my own self-worth. While speech-therapy helped a great deal, it was when my parents signed me up to drama-classes that my life really changed. 

It encouraged me to not only control my breath, better my enunciation and so on but it also taught me that I had a voice worth hearing. That my ideas and overactive imagination where perhaps not the barriers I thought they were. It sounds hyperbolic and sentimentalised to say but performance literally gave me a voice. 

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

My focus with our Haunted Houses is to create a world. The show runs over a minimum of four days with a show every hour on the hour. So for me it is important that the cast not just jump out of cupboards and shout "boo" but understand what their creature is, how its anatomy works, how it fits into the world of the narrative.  

We spend a lot of time asking questions about the logic of our horror. If the performers believe in what they are doing then so will the audience. We need to break down that thought in their head that says "I know this is an actor in a mask". We block the basics of movements and allocate "safe words" which are used to inform the performer that it is now safe to leap out, scream in someone's face or pour that bucket of blood. 

But it is the performers that are interacting with the audience (and usually in extremely close proximity) so it is important for them to understand their role beyond the actions. They are not a jump-scare; they are a fully fledged creature/character.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I would say so. I wear my influences and obsessions on my sleeves. As productions are not my sole means of making a living I have the privilege of being particular about what productions I wish to be involved in. Rather predictably my preoccupations are all the things that my religious upbringing deemed taboo. 

Horror movies, sex, drugs, the sinful. Like most of my work the Haunted House pushes interactivity as a means of bypassing our apathy towards these subjects. We have gotten use to cinematic portrayals of violence and horror. But being locked in a room, in the dark, while it happens in front of you, it makes it real again. Brings back that element of danger. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

The obvious answer would be fear but for me there is a nostalgic quality to it all. For a least a few brief moments I want people to forget that they are no monsters in the closet and to revel in that speculative space between the real and the not-real.  There is also a comfort in the sense that the horror is contained within a space or a character. There is something nice in the feeling of stepping into the real world and feeling relief rather then weariness. But I guess I am revealing to much about myself there. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Something that comes up a lot is creating a sense of immediacy. We are  asking an audience to suspend their disbelief  so we try not to create any barriers. Set the show now, don't get too referential or meta. Keep the pace up. For every logic-bending narrative jump create something that is so shocking, confrontational or disturbing that they can't help but get involved on an emotional level. 

We also want a break-neck pace. Don't allow the audience to become comfortable in their surroundings. And if they must keep still, plunge them into darkness. Decorate the walls with so many grotesque nick-nacks that they become confused rather then settled. 

But above all else safety. It is an illusion of being unsafe but we never allow ourselves to go too far. Everyone is armed with a safety word which will trigger the pre-mature ending of the show. Audiences are always escorted by at least two characters. The trick is hiding these safety measures; embedding them in the plot so deep down that it never crosses their minds. 

Manifesto Three: Let's Get Physical!