Nassim

Nassim @ The Bush

15/9/17

Each night, a new performer takes the stage for Nassim. This time it is Denise Gough, and the Bush is packed. There is a giddy feeling in the air and the audience bubbles with the idea that we will be sharing an intimate space with such a renowned actress. Already it seems on some level that tonight is not as much about Nassim Soleimanpour (our playwright) as it maybe should be. That’s not anyone’s fault, of course, it’s just a feeling I get. There’s a big group of women in front of me. They are dressed very well and all hold glasses of wine. They giggle and chat even as the lights go down. Already I’m annoyed that they aren’t so invested in this. I’m annoyed that they’re probably here for her, more than they are for him.*

Denise walks on stage to applause and an introduction and she seems nervous. Even from the outset, there are small quips and asides to the audience. She’s quick to jump on her own failings and wants us to like her. (This is emphasised when much later on, it’s revealed that the last picture on her phone is a glowing review from her last show. She jokes that even she gets insecure. I kind of feel for her in that moment and I understand her and her performance a little better)

*This all an assumption, of course. They might have been Soleimanpour’s biggest fans. I suppose my point is that it set a certain tone. For me, at least.

***

The premise of Nassim is a familiar one. The actor is unprepared and is given a script they have never seen before in an envelope on stage. Soleimnapour tricks us, but he also tricks the actor. The envelope contains one page, informing us all that the script is in fact in the hands of the playwright, who sits backstage. Denise is stuck between reading from the screen behind her and performing to us. Again, she is probably a little more vulnerable than she would like.

At various points throughout the show, the audience are one step ahead of Denise. We see the screen before she does and we spot her mistakes quicker. The script is playful, but her nervous and quick-witted persona disrupts what is ultimately a play about longing. I think this disruption is purposeful from Soleimnapour. He knows his actor will be on edge, and plays with their comfort zones, pushing them in and out of security.

***

Nassim was a deeply sad play, from what I gathered. But the audience laughed a lot.

Denise admits vulnerabilities and it is in those moments she is the most like us and without performance. Away from the stage, her nervousness subsides slightly. She opens a little more.

When she runs backstage to find him, he shares tea with her. It is a moment we aren’t allowed access to. I liked that. We see them through a screen and don’t see his face. She is less performative and I am more receptive.

How do we allow theatre to be those small moments of privacy?

How do we allow that small moment of sensitivity to be felt?

***

It was difficult to pin down a tone. I think it probably changed from night to night.

During the show I thought of Deborah Frances-White; a comedian. I thought of Tim Crouch; a writer and performer. I thought of Meera Syal, a wonderful Asian actor. How might her performance of Nassim, or White Rabbit Red Rabbit as she did at the Bush, have differed from that of the aforementioned white performers? Might it have been exactly the same?

***

I think there’s something about stories and translation and a telling. I can’t quite grasp it. There’s a lost feeling, a feeling of displacement.

There is the story through the actor, then through the physical script, then through the screen, then through the playwright, both in English and in Farsi.

I’m reminded of Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree; a story told through a number of parallel voices.

***

Maybe the audience should have been shut out slightly more? As an English speaking audience member, I and many others in this country are afforded the luxury of knowing what we are seeing and understanding what we are being told. Sometimes it might do us some good to be dropped in the deep end (see Gecko’s The Dreamer).

I have had my English words handed to me, and it is a luxury that they can be easily consumed by the majority that will watch them, and that this country allows us to perform them.

Perhaps this is missing the point and it’s more about translation and communication. Maybe we should share in our commonalities rather than shut each other out.

I can’t stop coming back to the thought that sharing is a gift.

***

I have one friend from Iran and I have known him for close to 8 years now. We’ve grown apart recently. I didn’t know that he spoke fluently in Persian as well as English until last year. It was a huge part of his life and his identity and I never saw it or knew it. I thought of him during the show.

I hope he’s doing okay.

***

So, we circle back to Denise, to the white women in the audience in front of me, giggling, and we circle back to Nassim standing on stage speaking to his mother in Farsi. She is omnipresent and also just really fucking far away. Denise cries, and she lets go of us and the performance. Soleimnapour chuckles a little as if he knows something we don’t. The women in front of me give a standing ovation. Maybe they were more receptive than I gave them credit for.

***

Nassim always knows something we don’t, and that is one of the best things about the show. Thank you for sharing.

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comfort and debauchery

END OF THE ROAD 2017

This past weekend I did something completely unrelated to theatre. I went to a music festival. After Edinburgh, this was a gift and a sanctuary of hedonism and tents. It wasn’t perfect, nothing is, but it was a rest for my weary heart. It reminded me why I love music, especially live music, and why I love the people who watch it. No one is really there to be cynical, because what’s the point? You’d just go see another gig. It reminded me why I love writing about music. It’s a mixture of joy, escapism, spectacle, and romance.

I have made this post fun and interactive! There’s a playlist to go alongside your reading. It features some of my favourite artists from the weekend, and I’ll talk about all of them on the post, so you can get a feel for what and who I saw.

It’s embedded and everything. So fancy.

Before I start, I will also be mentioning someone called Tilly during this post (which as you might’ve already guessed, is going to be quite long). She is one of my most lefty right-on pals. As well as being caring, incredibly intelligent, and totally funny (in the least arrogant way possible), she is also just great fun and lets me dance my silly little heart out. I love her a lot and so should you. It was also her birthday over the weekend, so that’s fun too. Here is a little picture for reference:

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Tilly and I arrive with high spirits and also actual spirits, hidden in our bag. Turns out they didn’t need to be hidden as this was the most relaxed festival I have ever attended. We were allowed to bring whatever we wanted from the campsite onto the festival grounds. This meant no buying expensive beers and overpriced shots and especially no binge drinking shitty wine at 3pm, which is SUCH a rarity in any festival now. The stages are small, adorned with green leaves and wooden signs. Everything looks like it was made by a woman draped in scarves, probably in her back garden. I went to another festival in America earlier this year, and the screens beside the stage were as wide and as high as the stage itself (which was massive). Here there are no screens at all and yet really good sight lines. End of the Road is tucked away in Larmer Tree Gardens, just outside of Salisbury. It’s known as music’s best-kept secret. It could be a country fair, with its cruelty-free alpaca jumper stall and ‘Vegan Junk Food’ line stretching far beyond any other beside it. The crowd is divided into families/older fest goers, and young things like us. Think lots of boys with nose piercing and dungarees, lots of girls with pink hair and cardigans. Everyone was beautiful. The first two days are perfect. The temperature is hot, but not so hot that I wanted to sweat my entire skin off. Tilly and I switch between floating dresses and high waisted trousers, but always accompanied by glitter.

First day, first gig. We had a little bit of inside information and had heard that Mac Demarco, the Canadian born indie rock star, would be secretly interviewed for a podcast on the Comedy stage at 1pm on Friday. We arrived there at 12, to find the longest queue in the world waiting for us. Clearly not that secret. No matter though, Tilly and I are intrepid women so we ran down to the front of a huge grassy slope to a sit in front of a very small stage. Mac did indeed arrive at 1, and was incredibly charming. His demeanour was soft and he almost recoiled from the crowd at times. He played ‘This Old Dog’, off his new record, and ‘Still Together’, an older song from 2, his second album. His stripped back acoustic guitar matched his retreating personality. He was apologetic of some bum notes, laughing with us at the long, high wails of ‘Still Together’. Afterwards, we met him and obviously both froze, because what do you say to the coolest guy ever?

We leave a little flustered but just totally happy. End of the Road was kind to us in the early hours of that first day. Later, we see Parquet Courts and Real Estate in a double bill on the main stage. Both indie folk bands have a weird appeal that made us stay. Real Estate are a band I’ve known about for a while, but have never really appreciated. ‘Talking Backwards’ is a song from my Vampire Weekend days and it was actually excellent live. Martin Courtney has a bashful smile that guides him through each song; lilting twangs bumble along into catchy choruses. They seem quietly happy to be there, grateful of our dancing and the sunset. Alex Bleeker, who looks like a cool and charasmatic dad, leads us in a unified farewell to the sun as it sets over the trees. These songs are like coronas; crisp and light. You don’t feel too heady afterwards.

If Real Estate are a light beer, Mac Demarco and his headlining set is the Jameson whiskey he swigs in between songs. Tilly says Jameson whisky is ‘top class’, and so is Mac’s set. He swaggers on stage with his band and he opens with ‘On a Level’ from his latest record, arguably a much more mature collection than his previous works. Somehow a crowd of sweaty teenagers find they can jump around to Steely Dan style guitar and crooning lyrics. It’s pretty great. His stage persona is like a different person to the shy guy we saw in the afternoon earlier that day. He is more drunk, more sweaty, more carefree. He covers ‘A Thousand Miles’ but only repeats the first line; Making my way downtown, over and over. It’s sarcastic, ironic, cynical. Everything End of the Road isn’t. But it works, and his genuine love for his craft is glimpsed in songs like ‘The Stars Keep on Calling My Name’ and ‘A Heart Like Hers’. There is a generosity in his performance, as he accepts a cigarette from a fan, as he talks about Kiki (his long time true love), as he praises EOTR for its kindness, as he crowd-surfs across the crowd and all the way to Pond. That takes a certain kind of trust and love and irony to let your fans do that. He loses a shoe along the way. It’s fairly brilliant, really.

We reach Pond. That is, me, Tilly, Mac, and the whole of his crowd reach Pond all at the same time. Still on a high from Mac’s set and after-set-surf we get quickly absorbed in Pond’s psychedelic durational indie-rock. A band that has titles like ‘Man, It Feels Like Space Again’ and ‘30000 Megatrons’ have got to be incredibly annoying, right? Well, they aren’t. They’re again pretty humbled and have the best light show of the whole festival. It’s funky and dirty under your nails, clouded by Tame Impala-ish riffs.

First up on Day Two is Moses Sumney. A recommendation from my dad and an excellent one at that. Sumney is iconic; dressed in reflective sunglasses and high waisted linen. He quips that he’s going to play more ‘sad, boring songs, sorry’. We don’t mind. His set is intricate and experimental. He sings a lot about death and recycling. It’s giving and also very private. We are allowed glimpses into his process and his humour, but it is soon masked by his loop pedal chords and piercing vocals. Tilly says he’s like Bon Iver, but way better. She’s right of course. He is way better, and he hasn’t even released his first album yet.

Then we head to Alvvays, a high school sweetheart Canadian band, and it’s pronounced ‘always’ by the way. We got it wrong, too. Their set is so cute. We dance along to lyrics about Canadian streets and prom queens and matrimonial harmony. I haven’t been able to get ‘Party Police’ out of my head. It’s the one on the playlist, so do be warned before you listen, that it will probably be stuck on a loop. Also, it’s where the title of the post comes from (sort of).

You don’t have to leave, you could just stay here with me
Forget all the party police, we can find comfort in debauchery

So I thought Friday couldn’t be topped. We met Mac DeMarco like HOW could that be topped?

Turns out it totally could be. We head back to the stage where we saw Moses Sumney and settle ourselves into the third row for Car Seat Headrest. Fronted by Will Toledo (who had released eleven(!) full length albums on band camp before being picked up by a record label) Car Seat Headrest are an oxymoronic cocktail. The lyrics drip with pretentious authenticity and the music is both incredibly inventive and soulful, as well just being angry noise a lot of the time. Over the past year, I have listened to their album most. It has stuck with me and I’m not really sure why? It’s just very good. The song ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ is my favourite and it was like a spiritual experience when I saw it live. Everyone around me loved that band as much as I did, and we let them know. We danced and pushed and shouted and laughed in the night.

Then we run to Father John Misty. Tilly hates him. She has hated him ever since I played his second record in our dorm at school in December of 2015. She was determined to see Ty Segall instead. But I drag to the first half an hour of Misty, promising she will at least be able to laugh at him. Once she sees how hard I scream when he comes out on stage, she decides we should stay. I lost my voice during this set. FJM is such an asshole. His stage personality oozes cynicism and the gloating misogyny that follows some of his lyrics make me want to hate him. But all rational thought leaves my brain when his songs start. I know every single word and it annoys everyone around me. Tilly loves this and joins in when she can (luckily she doesn’t have the same obsessive personality I do and everyone around us was a little bit less annoyed with her). He begins the set with tracks from his third album, ‘Pure Comedy’, where he tries to distil modern hopelessness with cackling irony. He wades so deep in sarcasm in those songs that it seems like he is stuck there, and can’t return to the humour and love of Fear Fun or maybe even I Love You, Honeybear. However, as much as these songs frustrate me, I still sing along. Then he finally gets onto songs like ‘Nancy From Now On’, and ‘Strange Encounter’. He thrusts his skinny body around the stage and throws his sweaty hair about. As ironic as Josh Tillman wants to be, his sets still give people unadulterated joy.

Third day. So. Much. Rain. Like, So Much.

We take shelter in the Tipi tent, it is warm and comfortable and has some lovely folk bands hiding away. We arrive to see the end of Allison Crutchfield and the Fizz, afterwards taking a nap on the woven flooring. It smells damp mostly, so that’s a little unpleasant but we get over it because we’re pretty damp too. Next up, Spook School. They are an incredible queer punky indie band. Tilly and I dance harder with every song. They sing about being non-binary, about abusive relationships, and about bisexuality. It’s clever, anarchic pop and we dance so hard. It’s so much fun.

We move outside, to see Perfume Genius, another incredible queer artist. Mike Hadreas is a sexy, leather trouser wearing, beautifully and unashamedly camp performer. His elegance and intensity is matched by the sharp skills of his band. We watch as he pulls himself in and out of shapes around the stage, contorting himself to fit different patterns and move outside of defined rhythms. His voice is beautiful and clear, cutting through the rain to the back of the crowded garden.

And that’s it really. It was a weekend of indulgence and pleasure and beer. There were only around 9000 people there. We saw all the same people at the same gigs, including two very young girls with very good music taste, who liked being on the barrier no matter the consequences. I find myself reaching back to certain moments. To the mornings of sausage and egg baps, to the shared laughs between artists and crowds, to humbled smiles from smaller artists given big stages, to the free plate of roast potatoes drowned in gravy. It was really fun to write this long and indulgent post about something I really love, even if no one reads it. Festivals feel like a place where I can let go of everything else, and just kind of enjoy having no real concept of time except to see the next set, and not eating real food for a couple of days, or sleeping in a real bed. It’s a pocket of nowhere and it’s taken down when we leave. It’s a small imagined community of sound and creation and I love it. I felt like this one wasn’t too capitalist either.

Thanks Tilly. Thanks End of the Road. Thanks Mac and Josh.

I’ll now go back to my blankets of hibernation.

X

Morale is High (Since We Gave Up Hope)

This latest innovation from Powder Keg is a fuck off, head banging, dark, celebratory gig/show/fortune telling/revolution. That’s a lot of words. You need them to try and encapsulate the joy and anger everyone in that room (I think) felt. We’re going to be okay. We aren’t okay yet, but we will be.

Ross has woken up in the future and he’s here to tell Jake, and us, everything. He’s got a futuristic silver sparkly jacket from Primark and he looks super cool. He tells us tomorrow’s headline (and he’s right about it – go on, look it up). He tells us about his local pub, about coming back home.

Ross and Jake are our guides for the evening, leading us through Manchester from today, to tomorrow, to 2020 where none of the things we want to have happened have actually happened but there’s a sense that’s they could, and maybe we’re alright. The frustration that comes with not being listened to, being interrupted, being given £50 for the train fare by Michael Gove after you wake up in his house when it’s actually £75, is articulated pretty well in PK’s show. There’s a tug between collective resistance and hopelessness (despite what the title might suggest). The protest in 2020 is going really well (says Jake), except it’s not (says Ross).

It’s really really hard to make a coherent, well formed, funny, sincere show about politics without making people shy away. Powder Keg manage to help us escape and bring us to action. They join us together in jeers and laughter, help us share in our anger at jobs disappearing, at benefit cuts, at gentrification.

See this show for many reasons, but also see it for the music: the super catchy, spangled banner, rock heavy anthems that you want to scream along to. On the last night I want to have a dance party on the stage, holding our middle fingers and placards to the elite, and hugging tightly as we scream and laugh our way into the apocalypse, or maybe just into a pub in the year 2020.

The Edited Lowlights of My Country

My Country: a work in progress

For Clara Potter Sweet and Rufus Norris

 

I went into My Country: a work in progress with two assumptions. Number one, that I would either love it or hate it. Number two, that it was the play itself which was the work in progress, not out country.

Both were wrong.

The opening is kind of trite, a little gimmicky (I want to give it the benefit of the doubt but this doesn’t bode well) – “Britannia” or “Britney” as she is (mis)named, comes on stage with the house lights still on from a door in the back of the theatre. A woman behind me says to her husband “Oh shush, it’s started already, pay attention”. The audience are lulled into silence and Carol Ann Duffy’s words begin to be spoken. And they are unmistakeably Carol Ann Duffy – I’m thrown back to my GCSE English class where we told that she is the Poet Laurette and so she is the Best Poet.

With the lights up on the audience it’s clear that this audience is very specific – the average is probably sixty and a large majority are white. Maybe this is Warwick, maybe it’s the show. (I think it’s probably the show)

The rest of the ensemble begin to enter with their various ‘theme tunes’ changed with a remote pointed at the lighting box. As they enter I notice that they are mostly all white, except for one Asian woman. I did already know this would be the case as I read Charlotte Maxwell’s fantastic review. She addresses this issue far better than I ever will.

The lights finally go down and the audience get a real idea of the set which was very basic. School desks which remind of History Boys and Matilda are pushed into the centre. The pushing of the desks is also basic, and looks unrehearsed. There was very little done with the set (at the end the upstage screen lights up orange and the actors wander about behind it), so the words and performances should have been able to carry it. It might have been better to see it in a small black box studio, where the half empty theatre I was sat in would have felt cramped, in a good way. The moving of the desks prefaced the rest of the movement, which lagged behind the fast moving verbatim script. Polly Bennet (People, Places & Things, Pomona, nut) is cited as the movement director and yet I saw none of her undeniable talent translated on stage.

The verbatim script was good and did what it said on the tin, but it didn’t make me feel much. I was kind of just told what I already knew. That this country is a weird mishmash of racist assholes and conservatism and tradition. The comment that was made on the verbatim, whatever it was, came across as clunky and overworked. It was trying to be objective and yet I don’t think a leave voter would have felt it was a show made for them. (Should we be making shows for them? Would they even come and see them?)

The atmosphere was strange. One audience member loudly says “Boris” when Penny Layden did her (arguably wonderful, arguably overdone) impression of Johnson. An audience member also laughed loudly at a white man speaking as a Saudi Arabian. Three people gave a standing ovation, and some jeered (cheered? not sure)

It wasn’t all bad, okay, I liked the singing. I liked the songs. Not the recordings – the live singing of the songs. The rousing chorus made me feel more than the poetry did. The Irish dancing was also good, although I could sense not particularly skilled.

Ultimately, it was meh. Kind of considered not posting this review, but I think I need to stop writing reviews and then never posting them. (Maybe?) I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. It was just a bit boring. And it could DEFINITELY have been a work in progress show (I would have given some good and worthy feedback). Standing outside the theatre, the two (probably) oldest members of the audience walked out, saying “Well that was disappointing” and I really couldn’t have agreed more which seems ironic in the context of Brexit. The show was just an edited collection of lowlights (and occasional highlights) of the British public.

FOOTNOTE: They talked about Donald Trump in a Brexit play. I mean. Really.

Scotland, doing a bad Trump impression: “Fake News”

Britannia: “I love [Scotland’s] independence” 

(And because it was the NATIONAL Theatre they had to talk about the state of the NATION and talk about everyone on a NATIONAL scale about a NATIONAL issue of the NATION – this diss is stolen from Clara PS…sorry)

 

strangeness and love

nuclear war

When I walk in I decide to watch the show in the chair that looks like the one in my grandmother’s first house, in the corner of the dining room. I think the show will be dystopian, political, divisive. I cross my legs. I uncross my legs. People are watching me as they walk in, I’m watching them. We watch each other in the performance, too. The show wasn’t what I thought, in fact was an acute examination of grief and loneliness in a world of isolation and love.

burn a coffee on a stranger. have sex. speak to someone on the tube, don’t speak to someone on the tube, have sex. orgasm, don’t orgasm. switch on the light. drink milk. hide. grieve. miss. fold the duvet cover. don’t speak to someone on the tube. leave the underground. sun. sun. bright. tangerine. tangerine tights. mess. bricks. teacup, teacup, break.

The world of the play is big. By this I think I mean the physical space in which we all sit feels wide, high, bloated. There are huge gaping pieces of empty floor and wall. Only two rows of chairs line the very edges of the space. Mismatched and in keeping with the lamp and dressing table, the chairs are bolted to the floor. The performers watch us. We can’t really see them but we can see enough of them to know that they are watching us.

At the start of the show Maureen Beattie downs milk in a glass. She downs a further glass of water. Simon Stephens watches on. I can’t tell what he’s thinking and later we learn he hated it until today. I loved it, the downing of the water, it was the first moment I realised I loved the show.

The world is dance the world is noise is the size of the room is the colour of the lights.

Colour. I remember colour. The stage is red and everything is red. Beattie points out the yellow. Suddenly I see everything on the stage that’s yellow. Back of headphones and cigarette butt and lamp.

We follow a woman on a day. It’s a day any day, it’s seven years after a death. I want this to have happened over 45 minutes. Maybe she hasn’t even left her house and when she comes home at the end she’s really just leaving her room and we’re on a loop.

Maybe not.

There’s a lamp light in the middle of the room. It’s a carpeted room. I love the huge fuck off speakers dragged along the cream carpet. A long wire connecting to the lamp reaches from the middle of the space into a far corner. I’m scared the dancers will trip but they definitely don’t trip because Imogen is good she’s really fucking good. The movement contained, formed, outlined the words. (Radical for the Court? Maybe. Maybe a new iteration of exacting psychological human thought). Black coats, no shoes. Body morphs, writhes, eats. We’re confronted with destruction, orgasm, chaos.

Another thing I loved was the tights over the heads. You don’t see it at first. That’s the best kind of visual image because it makes you work for it. The performers stuff an orange in their mouths (is there a mouth hole in the tights??). They gorge on orange zest citrus. Correction, tangerine in mouth. That’s important.

Later there are ripped up pieces of orange on the floor. Mess and crumble and peel. What is left after grief? Perhaps it is the cathartic exhaustion after crying in public. Heaving cries, not just little tears. The mess, and the orange tangerine peel.

It’s near the end and now the world is a heptagon of bricks. A plant thrown down in the centre of the small smaller tiny world. The world is her arms the world is dark.

What nuclear war was, or what it seemed to me to be, was a cacophony of visceral feeling and experience. Sounds pretentious, probably is. Every part of the movement and words deeply cuts us, forcing its way into our peripheries and stretching our necks to far corners of the space. The four dancers cover their face with tights and we also feel the suffocation. Physically and emotionally. Suppressed by a grief that is at once all-encompassing and elusive.

I have mixed feelings which I don’t think comes across here. Maybe I’ll write another review in a month, or a year.

Also as I publish this Simon Stephens sits 10 meters away in the Royal Court bar.

Later, I speak to him and I’m so nervous I snap my metal ring in half. He tells me to keep writing and I get very emotional and it’s one of those things I know I’ll remember.

One Person Talks About Violence

Big Guns. Posh. Grounded. 

Three shows in two weeks. All of them about violence.

It’s somewhere around 1594 and a groundling at the Globe has just been sick over their only good pair of clothes. They are watching Titus and Andronicus and a guy dressed as a girl has just walked in with their hands cut off and tongue pulled out. It’s 2015 and an elderly lady has just fainted in the third row back at the National Theatre watching Cleansed. Theatre really shocks people. And that’s just the graphic stuff. Stage violence has had a long-standing history and it doesn’t move in a straight line. You can read about it on Wikipedia. The point is, violence and particularly violence on stage gets to us, to audiences, in a way that films, books, the news, doesn’t. In the three productions I saw, none of them actually showed any violence, or at least the one stage fight I did see I am preferring to block from my memory for now (we’ll come to that later).

Big Guns at the Yard Theatre, directed by Dan Hutton and written by Nina Segal, has an awesome, rock and roll, in-yer-face, super aesthetic opening image. Two girls sit in a carved out ledge on a stage slanted upwards. They’re wearing 3D glasses. It’s red, everything is red. There’s popcorn, there’s a hot dog, they sip pepsi. The play begins and we are taken on a path through some jaunty but slightly repetitive dialogue. It’s kind of Crimp, it’s kind of Churchill but it’s not really either. The actors act it which is perhaps not the intention here. Of the director or the writer, in my opinion. There’s a lot of blackouts. Like, a lot. And torches which is clever and there’s a chilling moment where the lights are off and an actor is speaking in the blackout, but then a torch shines on her and we see she’s not speaking at all. It’s a little unsettling. More than anything this play talks about violence. It talks about guns, pornography, technology, blogs, and well, I’m not really sure what else. There is a man in the room and he’s got a gun. We know that, we are told that, but isn’t that kind of…obvious? As a metaphor, as a threat, as a central image? Suddenly the actors are crying (fake crying) and standing right in front of us and the lights are on us and I feel overwhelming not shocked. Not thrilled. Not excited. I don’t think I really feel challenged either. I feel quite negative, about the world, about my generation (something I don’t enjoy feeling), about men with guns. But I’m not fired up. The bullets aren’t loaded yet and the trigger isn’t even close to being pulled. I really wanted to love this show and I did like it, I just don’t think it worked for me. I didn’t feel violated. That’s how violence should make you feel. Like your skin shouldn’t be attached to your body. Like you can’t remember when your heart wasn’t beating faster than it normally does. I was waiting for something that didn’t happen, and not really in a good way.

Saying that, I do have to credit Big Guns for being better than the show I saw most recently. Laura Wade’s Posh at Pleasence Theatre in Islington (it’s more like Holloway). It’s marketed as an all-female cast, that’s the selling point, that’s why I booked a ticket because I thought it might do something new. Although this was my first time seeing Posh performed, I do know the play a little and I was interested to see how the show held up with women in the central roles. Not well, apparently. As discussed on my twitter with Nastazja (@NastazjaSomers) the acting was good (particularly impressed with Gabby Wong, thought she carried the whole show) but the direction was confused and basic, there was no real vision for the all-female cast, it just felt like a half-hearted publicity stunt.  The gender bend was also a bit half hearted – were they women playing men or women (and if so why weren’t any pronouns changed). I saw why the two originally female roles weren’t changed, because seeing women berating and harassing other women is ‘creepy’ as my mother put it. After the first act I decided that it would be unbearable to watch a male cast perform this play. The leering, the constant bigotry, the disgusting sexual degradation of the female characters. But actually, I think it would also have been incredibly difficult to watch this play performed by white men because then the words become violent in a very different way. The most powerful men in the country are reflected here. What does that say about us? But then you put women in their roles and it has the potential to be expertly subversive. Sadly, it was not, and didn’t seem to want to advance women at all, really. The direction itself was lazy and I’ve seen it a thousand times. Strobe and slow motion choreography, didactic recordings of the play’s message, a very badly directed fight scene, all made for a show where the words were violent, no doubt, but the show? Not at all. I was in no way affected by this piece of theatre. And I really should have been. Edward Bond didn’t tackle censorship laws for this – he expects better, we all expect better.

Then there comes a type of violent theatre that shakes you. Like really fucking shakes you. And you are left with an empty stomach and no fucking words except, well, except nothing actually. I was left without language really. It’s taken me this long (two weeks) to come to terms with it. To feel like I could write a small bit about it. Grounded at the Gate was performed by the inimitable Lucy Ellinson and directed by Chris Haydon. Lucy is a fighter pilot. She stands in a pixelated, four-walled box. We can see her but she’s blurred. The lines are blurred around her. It’s loud, like really loud, and the disco lights in the floor bounce around. Lucy takes a sip of pepsi. Wipes her mouth. We’re back in Las Vegas, in America, in an army base. She’s controlling a drone. She wipes someone out. She wipes a lot of people out. We don’t see it, but we feel it. We feel it so hard it takes everything I have not to run out. Not to scream to her that it’s wrong. But then, it’s also real. Fear, carnage, and ponies racked the seams of the grey tone reality the fighter pilot stood in. I was sweating. The violence in Grounded comes not only in the bombs, the planes, the wars; it comes in her emotional trauma, her life force being sucked out, in the solid grey walls that box her in at the final moment. We are told of the violence that she creates, we never see it. We imagine it and it’s worse. We feel the violence she feels, we experience it with her, but she’s behind a screen, so the empathy is always artificial.

So, three shows that explore the violence of language, of modern day Britain, of the elite, of weaponry, of theatre. Perhaps it is unfair to compare them and actually it probably is so I’m not comparing them. Please don’t see this as a comparison. It’s an observation of how we talk about violence, and whether certain types of violence affect us more, and why that is. So, my friend Clara loves to tell me about her essays and I love when she tells me about her essays and in one she researched how slow violence really doesn’t affect us like immediate violence. So, climate change is a slow violence, that we can ignore, so we do – we go unaffected. Bombs being dropped in a film is immediate violence, we feel something, even if it’s not much, we feel something at least. I think what theatre must do is take the slow violence, the brooding unnoticed violence and make it immediate. Ask, why can’t you see this as a threat? Why can’t you see me as a threat? Theatrical violence is at its best when it threatens you, when it threatens your apathy. When you leave the theatre guilty. Or afraid. Or responsible. Or, hopefully, fired up.

 

a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)

debbie tucker green’s decentralisation of power begins in her title. in her very authorship.

what must be grasped is that her writing is specific for black bodies in theatre. she writes that world because it is what she knows but also because it is a powerful political rebellion. yes this show could be performed by a white cast but really it shouldn’t be because that isn’t who it is written about or for.

tucker green remains an elusive figure in british theatre. her lack of interviews, scholarly investigation and profile often make her work seem impenetrable. in fact, it is much the opposite. the language is rhythmic and cuts off, perhaps not what we are used to in an age of television scripts and lingering shakespearian soliloquising, but it is more real than any drawn out monologue. this is how we speak. this is how she gives voice.

notably, there are written silences.

the silences are poetic just as the language is.

sometimes the silences say more. maybe they always say more.

tucker green’s work is so visceral, live, electric. it sparks and flicks. it bites. it bounces off the page into the mouths of the actors and out into the world. it is fire, it is passion, it is delicate. a profoundly follows three couples. inevitably intertwined, the structure of the stories is reminiscent of the three stoning mary narratives that neatly intersect at the final moment.

we sit on swivel chairs, separated into two sections and surrounded on three sides by a raised platform. the floor, walls, and seats, jutting out at perpendicular angles, are all the same blue-green tone. the whole set is a blank canvas, waiting to be patterned with the circles and runes drawn on throughout the evening by the six actors. i was entranced by merie hensel’s design. not only was the jerwood upstairs unrecognisable, the colour schemes worked beautifully. it was a live art installation cleverly masked as a theatre set. the chalk dust caked the actors’ hands, reminding us of the shadows that have followed them from previous scenes and from their lives before the scenes and the after, even if we don’t think about the after.

the acting is sharply placed. the ages of all the characters shift dramatically and some transform in front of us. we are confronted with a linear narrative that is presented through a structure that disrupts. the actors manage and control this eloquently, with grace and force. they are all standout performances. i am whisked away and yet we (the audience) are really all too present.

debbie is political without being overt. she changes the game while refusing to participate in it. she manages to be poetic without ever being wanky, something i am clearly yet to achieve.

 

[picture credit Stephen Cummiskey]