Friday 30 January 2009

Stuff seen and played

Not so much. I'm mostly lost in 24 DVD seasons when I am not working. My last DVD compulsion, The West Wing, felt like eating dark chocolates, I'll just have one more... Whereas 24 is like an MSG-packed Chinese buffet, guzzling adrenalin-drenched narrative set-pieces, but I don't feel full yet...


Last week I went to Scratch Interact, a night of treats curated very properly by the lovely Glue Theatre in the in-between spaces of Southwark Playhouse.

Glue's opener delivered a box that wriggled out a man who then - having failed beautifully to gather attention from the pre-show crowd - managed to get presents and sweets from many.

Deborah Pearson's Break Up With Me invited you into a toilet cubicle with her to do just that, however you chose, delicately responsive to its own conceptual knots, beautifully poised.

'The Minuting Hill Carnival', a minute version of Notting Hill's, refereed by a representative of the Honourable Society of Faster Craftswomen, who before she sold me a nugget of jerk chicken on a cocktail stick, made a joyful band of us playing tiny instruments. Gorgeous how just as much glee came from playing it tiny, it was the play that counted. Lovely and messy.

Emer O'Connor
then delivered a piece of storytelling, at first staged and delivered to the back walls. Perfectly good performance but not at all responsive to us or the space, and her volume inevitably causing alarm to the theatre staff worried about the 'main show'. As soon as we moved in closer so she was actually performing to us in the space with her, it suddenly came alive. Which raises very interesting points for me about liveness and scalability.

Emily Smallwood
took a pair of us into the disabled toilet. One was sat down on a white towel and asked to listen through headphones to a recording of a story. The lights were then turned off. The other then shared an embrace with her in the corner. Then the lights back on, one was asked to record a story while the other listened, very close. This piece worried me and it's still with me. I loved her assurance in the disjuncture of these elements, the light and darkness, the very living intimacy of the exchanges and near brutality in heightened awareness of the other people in the room. Fantastic sensibility.

Sam and Chris from Glue then led a lively round-table discussion for the good number of us present. But there should be more of us. This night is quarterly and make sure you make (something for) the next one.


I found and played Gravitation by Jason Rohrer. Both he and his work are fascinating. There's a granularity and bumpiness I really like together with a breathtaking fluidity of concept and mechanic.

I really want to play Between. I need a live partner. If anyone wants to play it with me, drop me a line at theconeydoctor splat gmail and let's sort out a session.

Screaming nostalgia

Late on a Friday night, the foxes screaming outside, inside my head screaming receipts. I'm blogging everywhere else for distraction so I might as well do it here too.

In homage to the foxes, this sprang to mind.

Proper nostalgia. I saw them in '89, beautiful screaming. It stayed inside me to force its way out to open The Bound Man, which I directed in '97 first in college, my ticket to run away from academe into the theatre. When it hit BAC we reconfigured the opening with the help of two classes of 8-year-olds, asking them to imagine the forest of this dark fairy tale and then - yes - to imagine the tree that was them, and then to use the piles of art materials to make their tree however they liked in the middle of the forest in their imagination. Those 60-odd pictures becoming then an installation of a forest that the audience walked through to enter the space. And we recorded the kids singing Caribou in a round, after helping them through a text analysis of the lyrics so we all knew what we were singing. They nailed it.

They came to see the show in a special performance. It's true that all you need to do as a director then is watch them watching it, and mark very precisely the moments when you see them engage and disengage, heat and cool, that precision tells you when it's working and when it's not. But in the Q&A afterwards they mostly wanted to know how the stage punch worked, if it was a real gun, why that boy was wearing a dress.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Rehearsal photograph

from The Boston Globe

The Obamathon

I love Stoke Newington International Airport. Last night, a party which completed the celebration from the Election All-Nighter, with DJ's remixing the Big Man's speech, drink and revelry and little performances.

And so many people, I guess that we all recognise this is a moment where we want to remember where we were and who we were with. Or at least, we hope that we will want to remember.

Lovely to think about friends who were there in DC, especially those who worked on the campaign in small ways, how happy they are.

Beautiful big pictures here. Thanks to AP for the tweet.

Stuff seen and played and not

Mind Out - Station House Opera @ BAC
An aeon since I saw this. Andrew Haydon nailed it with 'Buster Keaton meets post-dramatic theatre'. It beautifully played out the possibilities of its device of one player voicing the thoughts of another player. Which could be read exactly as one giving instructions to another. But the brilliance of its slapstick was that you never necessarily knew which of the other four players was going to respond to an instruction, continually surprising.

Hansel & Gretel @ Northern Stage

A Christmas show directed by my friend Erica Whyman and written by another friend Stephen Sharkey. The set-up took a good while of the first half but amply paid off through the second. I loved the deftness in writing and performance with which the relationships of the fairy-tale family were made real. Sometimes I wanted it to be more graphic, to have more fun with itself, and to not be afraid of telling us the obvious. But beauteous still.

Akhe - Plug'n'Play @ Shunt
Contrary to a few, I thought this deceptively brilliant. On the surface, like Jackass versus Take Hart (RIP Tony) performed by Russian lunatics with gleeful abandon. But the sensitivity they had to each other and the event, coupled to the abandon that various elements were flung together and clambered up on and set light, the revel in deconstruction of the sacred, the pisstake of selling the artwork they made but deadly conviction to wring every pound out of us... and the electric buzz of a packed crowd at Shunt. Of course it is less dangerous than it looks, that's partly because there's great care taken to make sure that's so. And the understanding that we don't want real jeopardy, we want jeopardy that is as if it is real.

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour @ National

I've written about this for Kultureflash, which publishes recommendations rather than reviews. The stuff I missed out there for space reasons. Stoppard's text didn't always withstand its treatment, but I preferred the treatment anyway. Back in 2001 as a kind of laying to rest of his Walking Orchestra obsession, Tom Morris made Othello Music, with no text but a cast of three improvising actor-musicians: Othello on saxophone, Desdemona on flute, Iago on percussion. It was beautiful. And it's great to see him now finally get the full train set.

Not seen much really in the last 6 weeks, missed a lot of the Christmas shows I wanted to see (Cinderella @ Lyric, Devil Deep Blue @ BAC).

Nor played much either. Worth mentioning the just-announced Earth 2100 - which will be a very interesting compare and contrast with Superstruct. Similar premise, bigger budget, entirely casual making and viewing, missing the combinatorial play and its complexity... better or no, it'll be different.

Been stupidly busy with the scratch of A Small Town Anywhere and its aftermath.

Also rapid prototyping of and through organisational development: exciting stuff on the way.

And working on some other projects of other people that I should probably stay discreet about for now.

Tuesday 20 January 2009


Testing testing 1 2 3...

Been a while since I've had a chance to be here. I broke my finger with a rather hubristic slip down stone-cold sober steps straight after New Year, ending up in surgery under general 24 hours later. It's still fun to watch people wince as I explain how the knuckle spun round to 9 o'clock and the finger was one centimetre shorter than it should be. It's mended pretty quickly thanks to one of those sublime healthcare experiences that only the NHS can provide - from the Registrar's gruff one-liner 'ok, we're going to fix this' through to a follow-up clinic appointment where I was whizzed round four careful and caring doctors and nurses, out of cast into splint in less than 90 minutes... and it was free at point-of-access.

At Devoted & Disgruntled formed a new club with Julian Crouch, the Brotherhood of Big Bearded Men with Limb Injuries. J broke his fibula while dancing on a stage in Seattle. He had a cast put on, crutches supplied, cast taken off to put on a new contraption, crutches removed, all within 24 hours and the American healthcare system charged him big bucks for each of those steps.

Devoted & Disgruntled? It's theatre's open space expression of community, run with passionate gentleness by Phelim and others from Improbable. The annual gatherings have always been my favourites for the way it gives space to recharge and reconnect with what you're about, and the joyful noise of diverse concerns jostling for attention. In advance quite a few people I know who I'd thought should be there expressed a jadedness that it's too often wailing for an entitlement to make a living in theatre. Which is hardly fair given last year's domination by the big freeze from the Arts Council, or the year prior threatened axe to BAC (why no BAC staff present this time?)

Anyway. This was my favourite by a mile. It radiated a calm and resourcefulness. Most sessions about funding were about how to do without it. Plenty of interesting/new people. A brilliant campaign to take over disused branches of Woolie's and turn them into theatres (keeping the pick'n'mix). And Gary's note that we don't stop there but take down Tescos too. I convened a couple of sessions that were incredibly fruitful for me - one to make a piece of Imaginary (i.e. unmakable) Theatre that ended up with something that might actually get made, one about Fun, when things are fun and when they are more than just that.

In comparison with the open-space type events I've been involved with in TV and games and the in-between, the theatre ones are more fun and the people play nicer.

Right. Time to watch history. Happy new president, everyone.