Friday, December 19, 2014

2014: theatre + art in europe

As your correspondent remains plonked - or to make the German joke on which the title of the blog is based, 'stück' - for the moment at his dependable desk in Berlin, trying to make sense of the year while hastily scrawling out some last-minute tidying up, he got to thinking. 'I should probably try to put some things on records about this mess of a year, and to bring everything together into some kind of literary and contextual point'.

Periods of reflection are not my thing, being closely linked with the narcissism of the age we live in. I prefer to make my response through the work - actively, and now, not before or after. This way, I might remain close with my objectives in theatre, which I attempt to articulate in writing and practice. These build together like a complex, multi-layered picture of that which might be called my perspective. It may not seem significant, but it's cherished because in some ways - as an artist comes to understand - it's all I ever really owned.

I traveled much more than I expected this year, engaging with culture and to various degrees reporting on festivals or other events in Baku, Terni, Edinburgh, London, Venice, Cardiff, and Exeter. That list could have been longer, but for some rejections based occasionally on pretty questionable grounds, mostly to do with my inability to effectively 'brand' myself, 'compete effectively' in the 'marketplace for art' or to employ a recognisable strategy that people could relate to. Whatever. I had the distinct pleasure of experiencing a lot of theatre in the UK this year, so much of the below is skewed by an unusually large UK influence, although counterbalanced by the continental melting pot of Berlin. I just want to quickly note that all of the places I have been - including Azerbaijan - were reached without flying. I have now not flown since early 2013, and only then because there was no other way to get from Pakistan to Iran vaguely safely at the time I needed to travel. Somewhat unexpectedly, this choice has been met with an unusual amount of fear and anxiety, at least from first-world counterparts. Make what you want of that.

When 'reviewing the reviews', my impression, broadly speaking, is that European Theatre is symbolically representing, in a very anxious way, the entrance of an age of dangerous new fascism being masked by a illusion of capital wealth built from the 90's onwards. Climate Change hangs over all of this, with much of the challenge for art and theatre located in its potential to engage the nihilism that story after story about melting icecaps, new scientific research indicating things moving much faster than previously thought, and failed talks throwing down the gauntlet to Western Culture. Much of my recent argument has been concerned with the effects of this on a humanitarian level, and looking over the year's writing, both my writing and practice isolate this as a key theme.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Nasty Peace

Within the elaborate, hyperbolic mythology of Berlin, there's the rabbit-warren of Kreuzberg - a microcosm of fabrication, a hall of mirrors. Take a wrong turn here and you're lost in perception, forever trapped between echoes, jumping at shadows, believing in things which can't be true, and building a future that feels unreal.

Zoom in, and within the city's surrounds, there's Kotbusser Tor - 'Kottie' - a place famous for anarchy, as a melting pot for the growing pains of 90's Berlin, where the blend of Turks, neo-Nazis and Police publicly negotiated their co-existence amongst Ossies and Wessies. Going through here, even casually, it's quite clearly filled with a very recent, very dramatic, history. Hell - even the circular topography looks amphi-theatrical.

Harnessing this complex political space holds both a challenge and obvious potential in the work Nasty Peace, a site-specific audio tour of Kotbusser Tor staged by the group Copy & Waste in collaboration with the English Theatre Berlin (which is located in a different part of Kreuzberg). The work is broadcast in three different languages (Turkish, English and German) where participants can access narratives of its history and mythology, and contemplate its - inevitably capital-dominated - future. The war over capital development in this traditionally anti-development location is the cause of much debate in Kotbusser Tor, in Kreuzberg, and in Berlin, and gives this Nasty Peace it's title, and it's key theme.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

End of Species published in The Vernacularist (NZ)

My other life, very much intertwined with my critical writing, is as a purveyor of Dramatic Monologues.

Recently I have been touring the work End of Species, a monologue about my attempt to travel overland without flying from Australia to Germany, and Charles Darwin's travel in the opposite direction aboard the HMS Beagle.

The monologue did a mini-tour in the UK, traveling to all corners of the mother country, and has now been published in except form in New Zealand publication called The Vernacularist, run by Arts Depot, Auckland, in a special edition themed 'The Environment'.

Available here (free)

End of Species, left out of the Contents page because its revelations are so explosive, is page 74-76

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"The rain will not erase it" - Interview with Mladen Alexiev (BG)

Mladen Alexiev (1980) is a theatre maker from Bulgaria. He partecipated to the Terni Festival 2014 ( with two different works called “Standing Body” and “A Poem”, giving the name “The rain will not erase it” to the entire Festival.

By Carla Capodimonti and Richard Pettifer
Available in Italian at 

Carla Capodimonti: I found your works about “walking” very interesting. In the history of art we can find a lot of examples and inspirations about walking: in 1921, Dada organized a series of guided tours to various trivial places in the city, in the 50’s, the Letterist International began the 'theory of drift' which turned into situations experiencing creative and playful behaviours and unitary urbanism. Constant reworked Situationist theory to develop the idea of a nomadic city (“New Babylon”) introducing the theme of nomadism into architecture. From mid-century, artists started to use walking in nature as art. In 1966 the magazine Artforum published the journey of Tony Smith on a highway under construction. In 1967, Richard Long produced “A Line Made by Walking”, a line drawn by trampling the grass of a lawn. Since 1995 the group Stalker conducted readings of the cities in different parts of Europe from the point of view of wandering, to investigate the urban areas and the contemporary transformations of a changing society.1

Did you find some kinds of inspirations from the history of art for your work called “A poem”? What is your definition for “walking poem”?

Mladen Alexiev: Actually, the starting point for the intervention “The rain will not erase it” is that I did in Amsterdam in the Autumn of 2013 and its follow up – the photographic project “A poem”, developed in collaboration with the Italian photographer Eleonora Anzini and presented in the frame of the last edition of Terni Festival - originate from quite opposite interests of mine. For quite some time my fascination has been not with the act of walking but, instead, with the act of standing. At one point in my practice I wanted to strip down everything I know about theatre-making. I was thinking – what is the minimum physical expression an individual can do without any special preparations, what is the minimum (political) statement a single body can make? And I have chosen a simple entry point – a body enters a space, its appearance is already a statement – inevitably.
It is not about the walking but rather for taking a stand. Literally. To hold yourself back. To make your body visible through imposed discipline. To leave it somewhere. To deny the body the right to move, to make an attempt to put it into halt. I am touched by the state of emergency that this simple act suggests.

So I am not interested in the history of art in the first place. At one point in the process, links and references naturally occur. But I find it quite suffocating to have it as a starting point. In the end, the history of art is a graveyard in which we find ourselves aspiring or ascribed to certain lineages, attempts and illusions. Our loves make it alive.

"A POEM” (Design and Text: Mladen Alexiev – Visual concept, photo & graphic design: Eleonora Anzini)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Report: 3rd International Baku Theatre Conference

The International Baku Theatre Conference is a biannual conference held in Azerbaijan's capital, where speakers confer to share knowledge, information and networks.

The conference brings together some strange bedfellows - delegates from the USA and UK mix with regional friendlies Georgia and Iran, a surprisingly large Indian representation, and of course the omnipresent Russia - with more than a quarter of total delegates, and far more than the host nation. Conversation focused (or at many times strayed from) the central theme, which this year was 'Theatre art in a system of multiculturalism and universal values' - a theme somewhat diluted by the conspicuous absence of one neighbour to the near south.

The outcome was a strange cocktail of public relations, government interest, networking and a disappointingly small proportion of critical enquiry. The air inside the Music Theatre Baku stayed taut with officialdom and affirmation, with volunteers from the local tourism school acknowledging the two-pronged focus of the conference (Azerbaijan's culture and tourism department are one and the same).

At best, the formalities of government combine oddly with art, and coupled with this, the conference battled against a theme that many in the West would now find passé - multiculturalism was a horse flogged to death in the 90's, as waves of immigration combines spectacularly with capital interest in many places, and has given way to either resentful tolerence, a nationalist xenophobia or full-blown fascism - depending on your point of view.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Baku Theatre Conference, Azerbaijan

On the 5th and 6th of November, I will be participating in Azerbaijan's biannual theatre conference in Baku. The theme of the conference is 'Theatre art in the system of multi-culturalism and universal values' - a theme which seems steered towards discussion of the things which connect us across cultures.

It's certainly an interesting opportunity at the moment for your naive Australian correspondant. The conference is attended by theatre-makers from Europe, the US and the UK, but many from Russia and the local area. I am the only Australian, and just one of two from Germany. Given Australia's recent hysterical response to global events, and its particular targeting of the religion of Islam, the conference is a genuine opportunity for me to gain some insight into how this plays out in a theatre forum - and hopefully to communicate some of that knowledge.

I will be presenting my paper, called 'Artist as Battering Ram and Collective Scepticism', based on my experiences making theatre traveling from Australia to Germany.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Notebook

Hmph. It seems Tim Etchells has already thoroughly critiqued Forced Entertainment's The Notebook here.

This is becoming a theme for me in FEs work - this defense against criticism, and by extension a kind of forced production of new pathways in critical thought. It's about as thorough a program note as you'll get, and, yep, covers virtually everything I was about to try and write. I suppose if you block off all other avenues, then all that remains is the creation of a new response. I'm yet to exactly make my mind up about whether this is really good or not... something about a correct theatrical intention being impenetrable to the words 'I liked it' or 'I didn't like it', and so instead demanding something else be said.

The Notebook is adapted, pretty strictly it would seem, from Ágota Kristóf's 1986 novel, translated into English with the same title. The story follows a pair of twin boys who one day are shipped off to live with their grandmother, and subsequently learn their survival during WW2 by teaching themselves. The ambiguous process of this learning and decision-making is presented without judgement in both novel and play, and the boys become desensitised to the horrors and pleasures of life. This desensitisation occurs the extent that they are able to respond to situations in ways at once empathetic and inhuman, training themselves into unwavering ethical machines.

The two actors on the stage (Richard Lowdon and Robin Archer) read the play from books, and it's split into stories which we later find out were written by the boys themselves as part of their 'Mind exercises' aimed at improving their chances of survival. The situations they witness include beastiality, killing their mother, whipping a visiting officer for sexual pleasure, blackmailing a priest, and so on. In each scenario, the decision of the boys is almost entirely, and very interestingly, justified by the context, to an extent that is hilarious, absurdly consequential, yet totally rational. Oh, you fucked a dog? Guess that didn't hurt anyone, and you're very poor. No problem. You don't want to give us these notebooks, which we absolutely need, for free or in exchange of eggs? Then we will just stare at you until you do. And when you ask us never to come back, we will tell you that, naturally, we will be obliged to come back - when we run out of paper.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

That Bad Word, That Brown Land

Sitting down again at my desk in Berlin after (yet another) wild movement across Europe, which took me from Italy to Scotland to London back to Italy and home again*, it strikes me that, having engaged in European theatre for the past 15 months now, I may be qualified to make some 'small but important' direct statements about the context in which I am currently operating, sometimes as - that bad word - 'critic'.

I resist these statements a lot. I know, for starters, how much contemporary life is about the performance of perspective, how capital is gained from I was here, or I own this idea. I resist for several reasons: I don't want to show off that I am in Europe, in perhaps its most fashionable city, that I have somehow, until now at least, managed to survive here. I know that Australians come here and take photos and say 'BERLIN, I AM IN YOU'. It is not my objective to gain power in this way, through simply being in a place, or generating a narrative through cultural assumptions. Life is just not that simple (or that successful).

But for those wondering: I have been living in Europe for the past 15 months and intend to continue doing so. I live in a small flat in Berlin, the rent is low, and it's as good a place as any to engage in struggles which, more and more, I see are important. We are moving into the time of perpetual crisis, as predicted by Orwell and others.

In this space, it is also becoming harder to write anything meaningful (and so I write less and less). Knowing, as I know, that the world is full of opinions, and seeing, as I see, that everywhere people behave in ways that support their various existences, I increasingly think the only space for change is that small gap which combines human drama and knowledge. This can be in the theatre, at a conference, or at a dinner table. This work is mainly done in person. So I generally don't write this kind of 'WHAT HAPPENED NEXT CHANGED MY LIFE' kind of structure favoured by freelance writers trying to get Facebook hits. Change - shock - is nearly always slower.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Terni Performance Festival Wrap-Up

About one third of the way through my time in Terni, I began to get the sense that I, a foreigner, a gringo from a culturally confused Leone film, had arrived at some kind of crossroads.

It's interesting, what's happening in Europe. There's certainly a wave of anti-EU sentiment, from Germany to Norway and certainly the UK, and this raises several questions about the utopian dreams that the political body once represented. This young, educated, mobile class - you know them - English speaking, experienced, working and moving between states, partnering across races and healing old wounds - may in fact never get the political agency they were promised. Likewise, the various fabrications upholding European cohesion lie exposed by a playful Russia - recently, for example, Hungary's decision to withhold gas supplies to Ukraine.

Not co-incidentally, Hungary has been following a largely traditional line with its cultural offerings of late. Likewise on a cultural level we see smaller festivals like Terni - whose 'satellite' feel in the programming is very much a product of such mobility, entering a fragile period of existential crisis born of an uncertain future. It's by no means the only festival going through this. Everywhere here, there's a crawling sense that these smaller, multi-disciplinary, multi-kulti festivals are no longer at the crest of the wave. As the cultural pull swings back towards tradition, one senses that they are, unfortunately, swimming against the tide.

I'll resist saying more about the context (although there is certainly more to be said - about xenophobia, about fascism, about the turning of blind eyes. About my home state, Australia, leading the way with all of this. Perhaps another day).

Photo: Michela Cinus

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Terni Performance Festival: Zilla!

Along with the mounting body of scientific data on climate change comes the implicit knowledge that the future contains more and more catastrophe. The way these catastrophes are narrated - mostly through media - is already corrupt, and with the pre-requisite that the first world dissociate itself from accountability for these events, it doesn't take a long stretch of the imagination to assume these narratives will become more and more pliable.

Just how we respond to these events is the focus of Zilla!, a part participatory work, part staged poem from writer Andy Field in collaboration with Ira Brand and Chritopher Brett Bailey. The play utilises a floating birds'-eye lens of cities in the world (for me reminiscent of Chris Thorpe's There has Possibly been an Incident, although the likeness is presumably accidental as it was first performed in 2011) zooming through different world cities as though from the perspective of Godzilla himself. One moment, we are in London with its Oxford street brands, the next in Berlin with its issues of gentrification, or perhaps in New Orleans.

By the time catastrophe strikes, we've got a sort of poetic portrait of the daily life of the global citizen. In a device I found fairly artificial, we are asked to put our Lego figures, personally selected from the floor at the beginning of the show, down on a map of the city that has been periodically sketched out by the actors. We do this only to see them callously stomped on by the two actors (Brand and Bailey) wearing giant fluffy animal slippers and to the tune of some pop song I can't remember (EDIT: We Gotta Get Out of this Place by The Animals), in a kind of mimicry of the fragile act of creation and the unfeeling swiftness of its destruction.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Terni Performance Festival: Hate Radio

Genocide can happen, it seems, remarkably quickly. Once you have your triggering event, the dominoes just fall. When race is used as a reason for hate and dehumanisation on a wide scale, all humanity seems to evaporate into so much pink mist.

Of course, the speed is a fiction. A given society can have its violent bed made long before the first shot is fired. The media's key causal relationship with horrific violence is clear and well-documented, which doesn't stop it being a breeding ground for new ethical vacuums, (yes, even in the West), or indeed, instances of genocide occurring.

Hate Radio, a production from the International Institute of Political Murder that has done the rounds in European festivals, documents explicitly this link between propaganda and genocide in one specific instance of recent history - the Rwandan genocide of 1994. This event saw race-based crimes against humanity that exhibit a shocking level of dehumanisation. Rape, murder, torture, and a particularly pathological fixation on, not just killing, but suffering are key narratives of that conflict. To fragile, western ears, it's a barrage of monstrousness that begs belief.

These stories are relayed to us by actors, appearing on screens and speaking through radio headsets allocated to each audience member, in the grueling first 15 minutes of Hate Radio. The dramaturgy here is carefully layered but does not spare us the violence of the stories, women offering themselves as sex slaves only to have their breasts cut off, children having limbs cut off, hiding in underground toilets for days, staying alive in the middle of a pile of massacred corpses. There appears no atrocity which could not occur in this space of madness.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Terni International Performing Arts Festival

On the 19th-23rd of September I will be corresponding from the Terni International Performing Arts Festival in Italy.

Details in English are scarce - so I'll have to leave a lot of my research until arrival.

Click here for the website (Italian)

At this rate I'll soon have more information about Italian theatre than I do about either German or Australian...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Edinburgh Fringe Wrap-up

If I felt more passionately about the Fringe, I would be happy to declare it as the worst place to make theatre.

Unfortunately, I feel so jaded and apathetic about the whole thing that it's difficult to muster the energy to attack it. It's such an overwhelming institution.

I'll limit myself to some simple expressions and observations.

It was disappointing to see how much the Fringe has not changed since 2006, when I was last here. Theatre certainly has. The hallmarks are still here - the little cliques, the networking, the audiences treating theatre as a supermarket, browsing around, ultimately making bad decisions based on the most trival justifications. It seemed like most audiences wanted to escape something which might be actual, real theatre.

I don't buy the argument that simply having so many people in the same place to watch theatre is enough to justify whatever. Rather, the screws appear to be being turned on artists more than ever. It was so terrifying to see young people there, joining the fray, as it were, handing out flyers, trying desperately to make their money back on their huge upfront investment, to pay back that loan they took from their parents, or that credit card debt.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Blind Hamlet

Regular readers will remember my beef with Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour's White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, a play whose popularity seemed based on its manipulation of the West's already misguided perception regarding Iran and a fairly flimsy gimmick.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit was spectacularly successful, playing globally and on some big theatres. So what was said in that play, particularly about Iran, was important. But - that damage is done.

Soleimanpour's follow-up Blind Hamlet, playing a full Edinburgh Fringe run, will probably not be as successful - but it's in many ways a better play. The audience arrive to a stage manager setting up a mic next to a tape-recorder, and Soleimanpour's voice wafts out, explaining that he's losing his sight.

The play proceeds from this spectatorship of a machine into a series of theatre games, ringmastered by Soleimanpour via the tape-recorder, that are loosley related to Hamlet, using the audience as participants (in a reference to WR,RR). The games centre around the ideas of death and vision. It's revealing of an occasionally insightful, occasionally callous, reading of Hamlet - but it's one that's never without contemplation.

Friday, August 22, 2014


My article about #flyerfreeday was published over at A Younger Theatre.

Will it take off? My pessimism about human nature says no. But I'm always ready to be surprised.

Stories about Love, Death, and a Rabbit

I've been interested lately in British politeness, especially within the context of Europe, as it seems to me the defining trait of the people on that group of islands. And it also seems to function a particular way, and with a particular (political) outcome. I'll confess that, at least for now, I'm not at all sure what that outcome is. A certain type of power, gained through excuse?

The irony is that within performance, this is something that's seldom examined. Much more popular in UK drama are the kinds of hard-hitting, abrupt violence, site-specific live art or experimental hybrid performance, or design-driven spectacle. 'Manners' is a term distinctly left for comedy.

I don't read Stories about Love, Death and a Rabbit as a comedy. It's funny, yes, if nothing else because of its familiarity, but there's certainly something else motivating the creation of this character. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Dame Edna-esque Ms Samantha Mann, alter-ego of performer Charles Adrian Gillott, was created. Was she a mockery of British politeness? A satire on a kind of upper-class cliche that now surely exists only in the imagination? Or was it, as I read it, working towards something darker and more biting, like a terrible, violent underbelly. After all, not every old woman throws in lines like 'I'd better lighten the mood or you'll all go and throw yourselves in front of a bus'.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


The most remarkable thing about Chris Thorpe's Confirmation is that I agreed with it almost entirely.

There is, indeed, a problem of confirmation bias. People do, indeed, seek things which confirm their pre-existing beliefs. There are, indeed, subjectivity difficulties involved in seeking out other, opposing perspectives, in attempting to see through the eyes of another.

Yes, yes, yes, yes...

My chief concern here is, somewhat ironically, whether this is a play that will change anyone's mind. You either walk into the theatre with some reasonable understanding of social critique, and therefore almost all of Thorpe's text will drip with familiar crisis, or you can not, and it will seem totally bogus.

I'm most interested in the other side of that argument - which I don't represent. What is it like to walk into that room, from your 9-5 job where you support unquestioningly an entire system of beliefs that you have supported unquestioningly, unconsciously, for your entire life, into this tirade of problems of xenophobia, white supremacy, and various distancing mechanisms. Do you walk out changed?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Show 6

Disclaimer: I just finished a workshop studying under the writer.

Further disclaimer: This appears to be an example of a review where the critic absolutely did not understand even the basic premise of what it was about - apparently a real life occurrence of Chilean children forgetting (or being forced to forget) their parents in the 70s. I choose to publish as-is, as the plot was not as important to me as other things which were going on.


We live in the age of hyper-forgetting. Jameson, Baudrillard - these guys are from 20 years ago now. History is rewritten daily. So not only is there 'no war' going on in Iraq right now, ones that we are absolutely certain did happen are disappearing.

The theatre writer, perhaps, exists on some kind of precipice - balanced between the two acts of forgetting and archiving - their words solidified in print before exploding out of the mouths of actors, and then sitting on a shelf, hopefully awaiting revival. If there is anyone who understands the politics of forgetting, it is the playwright, stranded as they are between these two worlds of preservation and declaration, the library and the public square, as it were.

Mark Ravenhill's new play Show #6, performed by the ensemble of Secret Theatre, seems like a play that forgot even to have a title. Fragmentation of speech - a method that Ravenhill employs in some other plays - is here ramped up to 11, as the characters hang suspended in an inability to articulate.

The meat of the play is a political and philosophical crisis, expressed through the personal in the form of the poetic. Banal reality collapses quickly into fantastic fantasy, and the two become interchangeable. Lines like 'You have to remember accurately or you should stay silent' or 'you can choose a story that makes you happy' and several references to competing realities display a confusion for truth in a mess of political, familial and existential violence. It's a poetic attempt to articulate a crisis that cannot be described with rational speech.

It's disappointing to see the production not meet the demands of the text - though more in the manner of how. The ensemble and director have elected to meet the difficult puzzle of the language with a cold, sharp, almost militant clarity in their decisions. This results in an overcompensation which feels oddly like going to drama school - I could almost imagine an invisible director screaming commands from over the shoulder of each actor.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Edinburgh: Where Theatre Comes to Die

Over the next week I will be writing criticism at perhaps the worst possible location for one to write criticism - the Edinburgh Fringe - the home of star ratings and grabby taglines, as well as performing my own theatrical monologue End of Species to be presented together with a nightly forum with climate change scientists at a secret location in Summerhall.

I LOVED IT *****!!!! is all that any artist coming here wants to read. So I fully expect to find nothing here, and no reward for anything that might pass as actual critical writing. Sitting in the courtyard at Summerhall - you can almost explode with the conveyer-belt of flyers, pedalled by desperate artists in cut-throat competition. For what? One may well ask. To tear at the few scraps of what was once theatre? Looking around, you can't help thinking that, if there is a place where theatre comes to begin a longer journey into the public consciousness and eventually into history,  this isn't it. This is a place where theatre comes to die - where it has finally exhausted all that it can give.

There will be nothing here. So why am I here?

Perhaps, as a friend suggested to me today - I am here to be proven wrong. I am certainly ready for that.

Laughing at Critical Thought

The past week I was a participant in the workshop 'Laughing at Ibsen', which was hosted by the Venice Biennale of Architecture (which has a small side program in theatre) and led by Mark Ravenhill. The workshop participants were half Italian, half foreign, and we examined methods of injecting laughter into dramatic situations in which does not obviously belong, in this case, Ibsen's Ghosts.

An interesting thing happened at the end of the four days - I was invited to share reflections. My response was filled with the gusto of one totally swept away by the moment - I babbled insipidly about the Italian comedians in the room, something about how they were gloriously lent to comedy. True - but not useful. So the below is an attempt to reclaim some lost critical territory, as there are important things to be said about laughing today.

Upon re-reading Henri Bergsson's essay On Laughter, what I noticed the most was how it seemed at once relevant and irrelevant. Bergsson's focus is not on the generic 'comedy' but on the human reflex 'laughter', and exactly what that is in a very scientific way. This approach essentialises 'the comic' into its audience response, and in doing so achieves a universality born of neutrality. Examining the impulse - laughter - and not the form of comedy effectively splits the content's meaning and its function. In short, it removes comedy from ideology.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Like many critics, I am not in the habit of writing about a work-in-progress. But in certain circumstances, you just get the feeling... why not? Plenty of theatre does not need gloss to make a clear and relevant point. Audiences, from my experience, do not really care about mistakes, perceived or actual - they care about the contest for reality. This can be present in theatre at any stage of development.

Having said that, it's hard to  imagine a work-in-progress feeling more complete than this work from Agrupación Señor Serrano, presented as part of the Venice Architecture Biennale workshops I attended as a participant. We enter an auditorium half-filled with seats and half with cushions on the floor, and are met with a stage that gives off a similar sense of lounging, white sofas lazily strewn together to form a lounge room, with a big screen projecting a video game behind.

At this point, I admit, I expected what followed to be shit. Call it years of seeing theatre stages of lounge rooms, unselfconsciously realised on stage in a replication that shows no acknowledgement to a world outside a middle-class world of leisure. In retrospect, I should have noticed the tiny abnormalities. Why the casual appearance of the actors? Was there not at the same time some tightness in the air? Why the all-too-boys-club behaviour, joking and high-fiving one another in front of a video-game replay of Italy vs Croatia in the World Cup? Why the clashing combination of sterile sofas and home-made cardboard shanty town on the table?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The logic of 'cutting small'

The rationale behind cutting support for small arts organisations and upholding larger, more unwieldy institutions has never seemed logical to me. It doesn't work in the world outside of the arts, where small business is seen as having an important role to play in employment and general well-being of a society. Why governments feel it's necessary to apply a different logic to the arts mystifies me, apart from the natioanlistic motivation of having 'flagship' arts organisations which are seen as important to uphold at (least) an appearance of culture.

Of course, the logic of cutting arts can always itself be challenged.

The mobility and versatility of the International Performance Festival Cardiff seemed from the outset its strong point, with curator/director James Tyson generating a program that was able to focus on internationality and mobility whilst staying small. Not only does this have only a fraction of the cost of a national theatre, the gifts it gives are not necessarily less fruitful.

Full interview with James published over at A Younger Theatre, available here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

LIFT: Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich

 I was a brief, unofficial guest of the London International Festival of Theatre, which runs 3-19 June at various locations.


It was a shock to find that this show, brought to the festival by chelfitsch, Japan, had left me with nothing, perhaps even less than nothing.

After all, the elements are there. Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich is a stylised, absurd piece of - I'm going to call it 'movement theatre' - that takes a convenience store as its central metaphor for human existence. The absurdity of convenience stores, and employment of them to illuminate the human being's capacity to willingly succumb to dehumanisation, has been pointed out in material as diverse as Kevin Smith's Clerks and Andres Gursky's 99 Cent. The material elements of this dehumanisation are obvious and plenty - neon lights, brightly coloured packaging setting up a power relationship with the spectator, the various control mechanisms in place which seem to coercively determine habit without ever rendering itself visible - the entire functioning of language in this space - like a form of new-age propaganda.

Friday, May 30, 2014

On the Move

Next week, my monologue End of Species has been invited to the Ignite Festival Exeter, and the Cardiff International Festival of Performance. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to write on some of these events, and some from the London International Festival of Theatre on the way back to Berlin.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Berlin Biennale

Together with Sonja Hornung, I was a guest writer for the Berlin Biennale on 27th May.

We penned this dialogue over at ArtSlant.

Theatertreffen round-up

My Theatertreffen round-up was published over at A Younger Theatre.

It feels like the event has reached some kind of precipice - it will be interesting to see which way it goes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Theatertreffen: Die letzten Zeugen (The Final Witnesses)

Only in Germany.

This was my thought for most of the duration of Die letzten Zeugen - a 2.5 hour long performance about the Holocaust, followed by 1.5 hours of forums with the survivors. Only in Germany, I thought, would this be on a stage and called theatre. Anywhere else, it's a lecture.

Actually, this play, performed in Berlin as part of the jury-selected section of Theatertreffen, is not German - it's Austrian. The stories of seven Holocaust survivors from Vienna, sent to the camps at Auschwitz and Dachau, are told by actors, while the survivors sit in the background listening (again) to their stories. Director Matthias Hartmann has placed emphasis squarely on the stories themselves, removing almost anything that might be considered direction, save for a solitary writer sitting centre-stage who transcribes as the actors speak. There's an oddly formal process, too, for when the actor's story finished and they exit the stage, escorted by the actor who voiced them.

Anywhere else, and on any other topic, such earnestness would be considered parody. Here, it serves as a kind of respectfully light touch, privileging  the dignity of the survivors over the audience's comfort or attention span. The moments are not crafted, but given the full stage, save for some supporting projections, to breathe.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Theatertreffen - There Has Possibly Been An Incident

EDIT - On account of the depth of other critical writing about this show, I have written fairly dialectical criticism here. For a more in-depth description of the nuts and bolts of the play I recommend Catherine Love's review over at Exeunt here.


Are we living in a time when the ability to stand out from the crowd has been demonised? If so, are we left with just conformity?

Today, reality, as structured by language, is built on a combination of xenophobia (particularly anti-muslim sentiment), a nihilistic catastrophe fetish played and replayed by the media, embedded twins of patriarchy and capitalism, and of course, our old friend distraction, which deters the pursuit of these things. The most powerful narratives of our time exploit these for political gain. They are, mostly, sites of fear and oppression, and key generators of conformity. Today, the individual is so tied to the institution it is difficult to gain enough distance to look at it, and what it is doing.

There Has Possibly Been An Incident, performed as part of one of Germany's largest theatre institutions, Theatertreffen, addresses this reality and tries to find the language to shatter it.

We enter the theatre to a rock track too loud over the PA and performers busy at work setting up the stage with tape and microphones. Already there's a sense that we're going to work. The actors sit and begin to read, throwing their finished pages away as though language itself is dying as it is spoken. There is a bomb under this show - it's gun-to-the-head theatre.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Isaac's Eye

Science + comedy = ...?

Historically it was perhaps possible to mix the two (although I struggle to think of examples. But that's maybe because I forget comedy fairly quickly. EDIT - Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid). But now? Apart from following some old adages: "laughing in the face of danger" perhaps, or "tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin", I can think of barely any justification for creating an out-and-out comedy about science in the age of global warming. This was very much reinforced for me with Richard Bean's The Heretic a couple of years ago - which at least had the gall to directly suggest that scientists fabricate truth -if not to effectively deal with the problems contained in that suggestion.

That's not at all to say that it shouldn't be done. There are some extremely good comedies out there with serious subjects - the Roberto Benigni film Life is Beautiful is perhaps a perfect example. The risk is that you trivialise the subject. Oscar Wilde, that most trivial comic writer, was the chief exponent, standing as an example of how to treat something as serious and trivial at the same time, creating a kind of acidic layer on otherwise totally irrelevant comedy. Given that scientists already battle vast misconceptions of the public, trivialisation does little to help that situation, and may, in fact, significantly hinder it.

It is interesting, therefore, to see in some supplementary notes for Isaac's Eye, provided by Regine Hengge, (a scientist at the Humboldt Universität Berlin who is acting as a 'scientific co-ordinator' to ETB's ongoing Science and Theatre series),  that the playwright of this 2013 play, Lucas Hnath, "does not miss a single one of any of these cliches". Here she is referring, not necessarily in a critical way, to the myth of the 'scientific genius', sometimes called the 'Great Man theory' which informs the technological determinist view of history - that history is advanced by the discoveries of a handful of select individuals. The accusation of cliche could be extended to many other areas of this play, which I found to be a particularly poorly written - almost inexcusable - attempt to discard most of the context in which it was operating.

Friday, April 18, 2014

anti theater 1

If you've ever been for a night out to the theatre when all you can remember is the bar afterwards, then New Theatre's anti theater 1 will ring true. It is an event in which, as far as I could tell, the opposite of theatre is manifested as follows: a group of English speakers in a bar in Berlin.

That is all the description I need to give of it. There were other moments, tiny accidents happening like magic, as if perhaps designed by some invisible hand. There was the conversation I had with friends - about Portugese dictatorships, and representations of the holocaust (again). But to point them out seems ludicrous - they were, after all, accidents. Accident begins with purpose.

What is the opposite of theatre? If we create a opposite of theatre which is 'real life', then it will generate, by opposition, a false theatre, remaining unseen. So what 'theatre' did this anti-theatre create? To ask this question, we perhaps have to ask - what is the opposite to Americans drinking in a bar? To me, this is a problematic artifact to pose as anti-theatre. Too often now, theatres are reliant on their bar sales rather than ticket sales to drive profit. Theatre as a social experience has perhaps become a kind of bar - removal of formality, prevalence of lights and loud music, breaking down of the barrier between audience and 'the stage'.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Public against Capital

A dialogue with my frequent collaborator Sonja Hornung, written in response to a ticketed conversation about on the topic "Art in the Public Sphere" at HAU, Berlin, has been published over at ArtSlant, and is available here.

This is an increasingly urgent conversation, as capital becomes more coercive and invisible in its strategies, and is being fought with protest and dialogue - I fear, sometimes, to little effect.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

#1000thLIVE, or The Ethics of the Invisible Hand

Last night I was privy to parts of Forced Entertainment’s 14-year old piece And on the Thousandth Night... via livestream from Lisbon, Portugal.

I want to say something that I feel was overlooked – it was not an exercise in storytelling, but in forgetting. Forget that there is anything but this stage, these people, princesses and so on. Forget that you have to think. Forget that there is anything but the theatre.

The work is a line of people wearing crowns and telling stories. Someone can interrupt at any point and say “Stop!” and then continue their own story. It hurts to point out that this monumental work is really just a theatre game. It’s played in rehearsal rooms everywhere - just not for 6 hours. The difference: every now and again an invisible hand intervened and curated specific moments and stories that were, as if by magic, allowed more air time than what was afforded others. These moments were inevitably shocking, sometimes violent, and interrupted the flow of English banter and piss-taking that characterised the rest of the dialogue. So one moment we were in an enchanted forest where no-one could move for about 20 minutes of re-starting, and then suddenly, we were a plane dropping a long, slow bomb.

The strength of the work relies almost entirely on getting these curated moments to drop in a way that was meaningful, and not forgotten by the time the browser is refreshed. At its worst, the effect is like reading media – you get the fluffy kittens and bunny rabbits, and then a flash of hyper-authentic catastrophe sometimes on the same page, sometimes the same header. At its best, it operated as a metaphor for such – for the violence of contemporary narration.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Theatre should not talk about Climate Change

My article about theatre and climate change has been published over at A Younger Theatre and can be viewed here.

Written in a haze of desperate rehearsal, it's not my best work, but I still think the point is worth making. Dialogue is only helpful if it is helpful. Silence - protest - must be an option.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Stating the obvious - I am on a break from criticism again.

I am producing this work. It has been trouble, but will be worth it I'm sure.

Meanwhile, Theatre Garmyder of Ukraine appears to be still on course to be shut down on March 16, despite the uncertain political future at the moment. I will announce this to the audience after the performance in London on Tuesday.

In the meantime I once again express solidarity for these artists, who are sadly being punished for fulfilling their social function.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

When the government closes your theatre

In September 2013, I visited Festival of the Wandering Hanger in Lutsk, Ukraine. The theatre is now being shut down.

What I saw there changed me as a theatre artist. For the first time, I was present at a festival that did not seem to be just there for the benefit of profit-raising and CV building. I saw something very simple, but that seems to be kind of lost now - an authentic collective energy around art.

What stunned me the most was that this festival seemed to have the full support of the local council - to the extent that they had co-operated with the organisers, local amateur theatre group GaRmYdEr, to stage the visiting plays in various locations in the city. So Garmyder took theatre to a local hardware superstore, the underground ruins of a church within the walls of Lutsk Castle, and an abandoned ex-Soviet nightclub.

Like the rest of Ukraine, Garmyder have been busy lately. On the 21st of November 2013, the Euromaidan Protests began. The protests began in response to President Viktor Yanukovych suddenly withdrawing from Free Trade discussions between Ukraine and the EU. This looked rightly suspicious to many Ukrainians, as just two months earlier Russia had responded with extreme rhetoric to the advancement of Ukraine's participation in the talks, and the history of Ukraine is one littered with exploitation at the hands of its big neighbour to the East and, more recently, European invitations which carry optimism and hope.

Garmyder acted as artists should in that scenario. They produced a two-night performance 'AU!, said to millions' in response to November 30's early morning police raid, which took as its source material the social media messages of the protestors, just eleven days after the protests began.

Two months later, the response from the local government of Lutsk was to call in the head of Garmyder, Ruslana Porytska, and tell her that her position was no longer tenable as of March 16th, 2014. When asked about the future of the theatre, the council gave the response that the theatre could not continue and would be forced out of its current home in the House of Culture. When asked the reason for this, she was told that the theatre had failed to tour to local towns of the surrounding region.

To the many volunteers, workers, and artists at Garmyder, it is very clear that this is not the reason.