The Stigma in Devising Theatre

Originally written for Noises Off

There is a pressure to be ‘edgy’ with devised theatre which results in a need to inject intensely dark, psychotic themes at the end. This pressure causes a stigma amongst some theatregoers, who assume that student devised theatre might as well be a place to throw in all the ideas you’ve ever had into one big cauldron of crazy. You make people laugh with some cheesy puns, introduce some super-speedy character development and then drastically turn the tables to reveal the stew infested with stereotypically insane connotations.

Fete juxtaposed a quintessentially British summer day with the inside of a mentally unstable man’s mind; classic A-Level devising. This world is all too familiar to the sixth formers sitting in that audience – just last year I created a GCSE devised piece which gave me unadulterated freedom to completely let rip. We created a children’s-party-turned-porno-turned-cult piece which was unbelievably fun to play with and exploit, but it wasn’t some of the best theatre in the country by any stretch of the imagination. Fete was a piece which blew people’s minds at this festival and was lapped up by a lot of distinguished theatre people such as yourselves, but from a student’s perspective it wasn’t anything drastically different from what we usually see and experience every year.

As they discussed, there was a problem in having to adhere to a mark scheme, but that wasn’t an excuse for some definite sloppiness. And it was in this discussion that I noticed the surprisingly shallow level to which these performers had delved into their work; they explained that they were exploring any and all mental illnesses and were not consciously thinking about the different ways an audience would read their play. It was at that moment that the all too familiar echo of devising theatre with a dark twist for the sake of aesthetic dawned on me. Inherently, this kind of performance is where that stigma surrounding students’ devising stems from.

There is no question that Fete had its merits, but never have I experienced something as immersive, hyper and enjoyable as The Nutcracker. From the detail in (UVA) set designs to the intensely engaging actors who fully embodied each character they played, The Nutcracker cast an unforgettable spell on its entranced audience. So overwhelming was this piece of immersive theatre that I forgot for the evening that it wasn’t Christmas and I felt transported into the intricate dreamscape of Billy. Every figment of imagination personified in the tree, cowboy, robot and ballerina beamed with life and a total joy which was infectious.

The Nutcracker is a wonderful and beautiful exception to the aforementioned rule. ‘Original’ and ‘unique’ are not credit high enough to applaud the skill that went into the structure and logistics of such a piece.  When comparingFete and The Nutcracker one is struck by their similarity in attempting to introduce the audience into a different world – the extent to which The Nutcracker reached into the livelihood of the story has been unmatched so far at NSDF. I wanted to see a company do something new and exceptional and crazy – that’s what The Nutcracker delivered. Fete, on the other hand, left something to be desired and it perpetuated the stigma attached to devising which labels it as amateur.

Read more of my theatre critique here

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