I was recently lucky enough to be given the opportunity to write an article for the Independent in their ‘Voices’ column as a result of my Sunday Times Harold Hobson Student Drama Critic Award I received at NSDF. My piece looked at drama in schools and how our new government would affect the arts in education. This is where my passions lie so this was a wonderful article to be able to write, if a little sad because of the statistics and bleak future for arts.
Have a read of it here and please share it around as much as possible!
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
Having complained about the A-Level syllabus, I do have to credit it for introducing me to some of my favourite literature. Ted Hughes’ Crow poems are crazy and surreal and completely up my street. He was an asshole but he was a talented one and he had some very interesting ideas about the poetic form and how it translates feeling. His essay ‘Words and Experience’ is thought-provoking and a little bit mind-blowing. He questions how we can possibly attempt, as artists, to recreate an emotional experience exactly. He suggested we could write a whole book about the way in which someone walks away from you and still never capture that split second experience. I don’t know about you but that is something that I’ve never been able to articulate before and I love and hate Hughes for doing it.
Hopper, de Chirico, and Ernst are all artist who currently have my attention. I’ve always loved Dali but there is something about the immense silence which these guys can evoke which is so incredibly awe-inspiring. The colour, the atmosphere – everything about their work speaks to me and I love it. I could stare at it for hours on end and never be bored. Hopper is probably one of my most favourite artists – he evokes a sense of place, time and emotion that is so exact everytime, and so satisfyingly aesthetic.
Some pictures that are getting me excited for summer 🙂
People inspire me all the time, every day but the last two weeks have brought a truck full of new friends and experiences. That isn’t to say the old ones aren’t still inspiring me though – in fact I’d like to start with someone who’s been inspiring me for years. Well, actually my whole life. When someone is away a lot, like my dad is, you come to really appreciate their presence and cherish what they have to say and he does make it easy by saying some pretty cool stuff. I don’t think I’d really be doing any of the things I am today without him and that’s great. Also, he’s pushed me to do new stuff and meet new people, which leads me on to last week. I traveled up to the blistering north to NSDF (National Student Drama Festival) not really expecting much, but I came away with some of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I met some of the most wonderful and considerate people – shout out to the guys who hung out in the Noffice – who have completely reinvigorated my love for theatre and the arts and sparked some wave of passion in me that I was convinced was being crushed by A-Level syllabuses.