[...some photos from Travesty at Studio 180...]

[Travesty], my sleeper-cell-attack-from-within-on-patriarchy,  received her first outing at [Studio 180] and Pilot at Warwick Arts Centre last week. Here are some photos from Studio 180.


Travesty at Studio 180


Travesty at studio 180

Travesty at studio 180

Travesty at studio 180

It kicked off some really interesting conversations with some really interesting people. More soon I hope…

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[...on seriousness...]

Comedy is not the opposite of seriousness.

This ought to be obvious, but to many it isn’t.

This is Bob Monkhouse on Parkinson when he was terminally ill.

His joke is funny, but it’s a lot more than that. Some might dismiss it as just a coping mechanism, a way of dulling pain, avoiding it, glossing over it. They would be wrong. As Monkhouse says, he cannot control the cancer, but he can control the way he looks at it, but he’s also doing more than this. Look at the reactions of Peter Kay and Lulu. He’s brought something difficult, painful, incomprehensible into the room. And from Peter Kay’s uncomfortable smile, you can see that by joking he hasn’t made it better. If anything, he’s made it harder.

If we bring a sad thing into the room, sadly, our sadness completes it, and things which are completed need no further thought. They are the thing that they tell us they are. They will never be anything more. We leave knowing what we already knew.

Perhaps we have felt something – and perhaps, for some, that is in itself enough. But when we are talking about pain – the desire to share in it (or rather, to accept the illusion that we are sharing it) is little more than an easy voyeurism. Which is not to say that theatre cannot or should not be painful. It can and should be. Comedy doesn’t deny pain, but it does play with it. It realizes that pain is at once delicate and robust. That serious-minded respect for pain is empty and meaningless, in reality no respect at all. And that conversely playfulness is a sincere and profound form of respect.

A theatre that tells us that it is serious before it deals seriously with serious things is, in fact, no more serious than the Prime Minister’s furrowed brow and deeply concerned eyes as he tells us that “every lost job is a tragedy” while he signs the order to cut the jobs of public sector workers. It is seriousness for those who need things to appear serious without doing the actually hard work that seriousness requires.

In Lars Von Trier’s lowest-of-fi comedy The Boss of It All, the director occasionally interupts his film to reassure us that what we are seeing is, after all, only a comedy, so we definitely shouldn’t think too much about it. It has no bearing on life. What a relief this is, he tells us. Of course, we distrust him.

A theatre (or a critic) which signifies its own seriousness should never be trusted. Signifiers are slippery, and meaning – as much as many would like to nail it down, categorize and ossify it – is a beautiful, dangerous, living thing – flowing, changing, deceiving. Triply so in the theatre which is a beautiful, dangerous, living thing itself. Comedy tells us this, and it is a serious point.

Comedy is not the opposite of seriousness.


ps – By the way, for the next couple of days there’s a little more of that Monkhouse interview and a lot more other beautiful stuff in this documentary. I heartily recommend it.

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[...on applause...]

Yesterday I managed to find some time to watch the Olympic Time Trial on the big screen just opposite the Traverse. There were perhaps 100 people watching there – more as Bradley Wiggins sped nearer and nearer to the gold. Road cycling is a profoundly psychogeographical sport – when it enters cities it transforms urban space and experience, and suggests strange and beautiful possibilities about how we might live and move together. I grew up not far from Kingston, Twickenham and Hampton Court, and I’ve cycled countless times on many of those roads that the greatest cyclists in the world tore through.  Which is to say I’ve been cut-up on them, passed too close on them, been deliberately or thoughtlessly intimidated and endangered on them. I found it deeply moving to see those roads emptied of cars while huge crowds lined the route and roared the cyclists on.

In part this is because the immensely more powerful pedal strokes of Cancellara, Wiggins, Martin, Froome and so many others echo and amplify my own and so I feel that I can share something with them in some tiny way – just as I did when I rode Alpe d’Huez or the Galibier, famous climbs so often featured in the Tour de France – and in part because the streets were turned into a cauldron of applause, cheering and celebration of the remarkable athleticism and beauty there is to be found in road cycling. No doubt some of the people who cheered that race on were the same people who may in the past have been shaving past cyclists at great speed – and I like to hope that the applause they all shared in has somehow marked both those streets and them, that it might echo through them and, in some way, change attitudes and behaviour, that these beautiful, brief gestures might have lasting consequences.

watching the cycling…

Meanwhile in Edinburgh, as Wiggins and Froome came through the time checks and it gradually became clear that Wiggins in particular was on an unbeatable ride, a sort of quiet, awed and polite applause would break out, like you might expect at a cricket match on a village green. When Wiggins crossed the line that broke into a gentle cheer. As I say, I would have liked to have been able to be there in person where the applause is of a different sort. In a time trial – the riders set off at intervals and ride alone against the clock, so if you experience it live, you hear the riders approach before you see them, a wave of noise swells down the street and then engulfs you before chasing the rider on into the distance. The effect is particularly powerful when it’s a local favourite or someone on an incredible ride. At the 2007 Tour de France Prologue time trial in London you heard Wiggins, Millar (British contenders) and Cancellara (who won and was flying) far, far in advance of their arrival, and the noise and cheers lingered longer, even though they were riding faster. But in Edinburgh, the cyclists weren’t actually there to cheer on, and yet still we clapped and cheered at the screen. Because of course the applause isn’t just for the cyclists, it’s for us as well…

When I was younger and I thought I was a more radical than I was, I used to think we should do away with curtain calls in the theatre – they seemed forced, indulgent, and shallow, and perhaps in many theatres at many times they are. But, deep down, and I’m sure many others who work in theatre are the same, I love the sound of applause. Whether it’s for my work (ok, especially if it’s for my own work) or I’m part of an audience applauding the work of others, it’s such a rich, textured and powerful sound – i feel it in my gut, even as it resonates in my head and my heart. Even in the most traditional and staid of theatrical forms or contexts, the audience are given the opportunity to participate in a profound and beautiful way, and audiences are capable of speaking the language of applause with delicate nuance and supreme force if they choose to.

Last year I was at the FA cup match between Spurs and Bolton Wanderers at which Fabrice Muamba collapsed. It happened about 20 metres from my seat, which is just one row back from the pitch. It was horrible. It was clear immediately that something was terribly wrong, and bit by bit things seemed to get worse as first he fitted, then more and more medics came over. At first, one of the Bolton players out on the wing near us didn’t realise what was happening and was having a good-natured argument with one of the spurs fans who was explaining to him that Gareth Bale’s squad number was much better than his, but then Nigel Reo-Coker came over in tears and we were left without any doubt that things were bad. Then the defibrillator came out again and again and it seemed increasingly clear that 32,000 of us were watching someone die while we desperately willed them to live. The whole crowd was silent, except for sporadic chants of his name which welled up from the Bolton fans and then spread through the ground before falling away, and, on several occasions, a desperate, wounded, animal, roaring and clapping, as though, like the audience in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, our applause might bring him back to life. That sound I will never forget. It was the most profound expression of hope and desperation I can imagine. Sometime it would break out as the medics prepared to use the defibrillator, as though it might somehow add to the charge that was meant to jolt his heart back into motion. But of course, it couldn’t. We all knew that and we did it anyway.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we speak with our applause. We do not simply say well done to those we clap at – we speak to each other about our shared pleasure, our shared hope, our shared experience of living together. And I believe that, though applause is so often contained and fenced off within a formal structure, it still lingers in the places it has happened and in the minds of those that share it long past when we think we’re finished with it. And that as it lingers so it might have consequence. And one of the many beautiful things that theatre does is create space for it.

We preview today, and open [tomorrow]. I love the show we’ve made and I’m tremendously privileged to be working with such talented, open, brave people. So, I guess, in part, I’m here in the hope of applause – for the people I’m working with and for others. I hope you hear lots of it.

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Mess preview, Warwick Arts Centre, photo: Alicja Rogalska

So tomorrow we open (well, preview) Mess at the Traverse Theatre, which is breathtakingly exciting. I’m up here ’til the 11th, and I’ll try to find a bit of time to write about it all…

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