Cleansed/Deadpool

Cleansed/Deadpool

A few months ago I saw, in the space of a week, Katie Mitchell’s production of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed and the blockbuster movie Deadpool. The juxtaposition got me thinking. Of these two events, the live one was essentially a fourth wall play (we’ll come back that vexed issue) which uses extreme violence in way that offers a (deliberately) highly problematised take on catharsis. The prerecorded one also challenges us (or thinks it does) with the way it shows violence but is obsessed – paradoxically, I suppose – with breaking the fourth wall.

I have to get something off my chest, sorry. At one point in Deadpool, the eponymous hero addresses us directly, which leads into a story, in which he also addresses us directly. A fourth wall inside a fourth wall: that’s sixteen walls, he calculates. No it isn’t. Why would it be four squared? It’s clearly a concentric construction; four walls within four walls. Eight walls. Continue reading

BNC Arts Week: How It All Began

BNC Arts Week: How It All Began

Since this has now been published in Brazen Notes, a newsletter that goes out to all Brasenose College (BNC) alumni, I think it’s OK for me to share here. It includes contributions from three of my BNC contemporaries: Liz Owen, Mia Bennett and Rikesh Shah. So, here it is: how BNC’s now well-established Arts Week began…


 

It’s hard to believe, but Arts Week, in some form or other, has been going for twenty-one years. This realisation made some of us who were involved in its first incarnation look back at how it started.

I was part of a keen group of theatre-makers that first came up to BNC in 1993. When we arrived, however, there wasn’t much theatre happening in college. Brasenose Players rarely staged its own productions. In fact, the idea of the college being a home to drama would have seemed absurd to many; the stereotype was that it was all rugby and rowing. So, when we decided to set up an arts festival to take place in Trinity of our first year, the initial hurdle for us was to get our idea to be taken seriously. Continue reading

Dodgy Analogies, Dodgy Politics

Dodgy Analogies, Dodgy Politics

The arts give society a space to think. Without them we are a golem: a figure of clay, subject to its master’s command, and deprived of the imaginative space necessary to relate meaningful to others and function in society.

OK. That’s an analogy with which you may or may not agree. It’s fairly useful as away to explain an idea that I personally find interesting. On the one hand, it’s way too reductive to be truthful in any philosophically helpful sense. It’s only of very limited use in explaining our need for the arts. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Exhibitions

A Tale of Two Exhibitions

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

In 1979 my mum was running the art gallery at Harlow Playhouse, I was very small (but apparently not too small to be captivated by theatre models) and the UK won the Golden Triga at the Prague Quadrennial. Three and a half decades later I find myself organising a display of theatre design in the same town and meeting a new generation of young people. But we’ll have to wait until later in the year before we know about the Golden Triga.

A post-war new town, Harlow has a remarkable history of civic cultural activity; when it was founded it even had its own string quartet. Its single most notable aspect is the sculpture collection, and Harlow was recently given the official title of “Sculpture Town”. It’s even on the signs as you drive in. Harlow’s arts scene was greatly diminished in the late 80s and 90s, mainly because of rate-capping, and for a while it was without an art gallery. It also lost its iconic 1950s Town Hall, designed by the town’s master planner, Sir Frederic Gibberd. The replacement building is architecturally bland but does house a fantastic exhibition space. Continue reading

Green Panic!

Green Panic!

In case you missed it, some arts people on the interwebs (and presumably the real world too) are in high dudgeon, claiming it’s the end of the Green Party’s moral integrity forever and ever because, in a policy document on the website it says… well, let me copy and paste:
Continue reading

How to See a Voice: Designing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in BSL for Shakespeare’s Globe

How to See a Voice: Designing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in BSL for Shakespeare’s Globe

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

Designing for deaf audiences brings very specific, practical challenges but also opens up huge new possibilities. As Deafinitely Theatre’s artistic director, Paula Garfield explains,

Deafinitely Theatre’s style is to be visual and so for me what we bring is that visual storytelling and I don’t just mean British Sign Language. I want to see the story happen visually on the stage to make it clear for any audience. That is why the design is so important as it compliments that visual storytelling element.

This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream came about as a result of the success of Deafinitely’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost for the Globe to Globe season two years ago. Deafinitely’s inclusion in Globe to Globe clearly signposts British Sign Language not just as a tool for accessibility but as a language in its own right. And what’s particularly exciting to a designer is that BSL is a visual language. Globe to Globe and Deafinitely also share a vision of productions transcending their specific languages, whether BSL, Italian or Guajarati; our production was very specifically conceived as being for a mixed deaf/hearing audience.

Continue reading

A Bigger Splash: Painting after performance – a personal response

A Bigger Splash: Painting after performance – a personal response

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

Visiting A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance, currently at Tate Modern, is an odd experience for a theatre designer. The exhibition interrogates the relationship between performance and painting – and, in fact, other visual media – from a variety of angles, sometimes tenuously but almost always in a way that is engaging and thought-provoking. However, it does this entirely within the frame of reference of visual art. It is as if performance outside the art gallery either does not exist or is merely a cultural phenomenon to be knowingly referenced; not a major group of art-forms that have their own evolutions, their own traditions and their own avant-garde movements. Yet we, as theatre designers, are engaging with many of the same issues as the artists in the exhibition, and with no less professionalism and integrity.

Continue reading