Sunday, November 22, 2015


A family tragedy sees me leaving Berlin for the near future. I will be writing again shortly, and probably from a vastly different location.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Veda Popovici's Revolutionary Gear

One thing I have learned about criticism is that critics often fail. Trying to meet a work requires such a difficult tight-rope exercise combining poetry, the act of writing, contextual research and so on, that it's a miracle when it actually works - when these things are actually singing together properly.

Veda Popovici's feminist work Revolutionary Gear evoked a particularly sharp feeling of inadequacy, as I totally failed to meet the work's demands. I am excused slightly by the fact that her demands are so rigorous and extensive - to actually critically engage this work would take years, I don't think that's an exaggeration. To this end, I recommend reading her own theoretical writings and tidbits, in which she tries to formulate and develop her position, some of which are available here.

Or if you want to read a hopelessly inadequate response to all of that, published on Arta Magazine Romania, it's available here.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bucharest Art Week and Public Speaking

Over the next two weeks I will be writing from Bucharest, where I am on residency as part of Bucharest Art Week and Atelier 35's Public Speaking program.

More soon!

Monday, September 7, 2015

A funny thing happened on the way home, or Platform 8

I sometimes work as a critic. I am learning that this is a very complex role, involving shaping a written reponse from a total chaos of culture, social relations, economics, institutions, ethics, critical and performance traditions, and so on. You are never good enough - after all, your analysis can't possibly take in everything. All you can do is take a position, and try to write - I guess - actively. You become reliant on a particular, mystical kind of poetic energy - a channeling of this complex mass into some sort of articulated statement, something 'good'. Whatever that means. Something which helps, I guess.

There are times when this task is very difficult. It requires, for one thing, an endless, exhausting self-critique: 'is this position correct? Can I argue this?' Mostly, the end result will be an assumption anyhow, based on my limited understanding of 'stuff'. Which leads to one subsequently asking - what's the point? If it's just going to be a claim anyhow - if it's just an opinion, then why do the work at all? Why bother sweating over tiny details, staying up at night thinking about a particular social or ethical problem, punishing yourself because you didn't get an actor's name correct? Why bother - if it's inseperable from the hate speech posted on the next blog?

There are no clear answers to this, and indeed, I ask myself these questions regularly, especially in the context of today. This is very much about capitalism, the global system and what it is doing to people. I am aware, and I have been told, that for a critic, my writing is more than usually subjective, more than usually activist, more than usually non-neutral. It takes a particular position, that position is informed by certian phenomena and a certain reading of the global system and its local manifestation in politics, the ways in which both are oppressing people, and by its ultimate compromise of being written by a writer-perfomer(-director).

What has suprised me since I began writing this blog is the lack of objections. You would think that someone writing from a subjective position - in fact, with little or no instutional authority - would be cut down fairly quickly. The opposite has been true. People have, for the most part, been, somewhat worryingly at times, agreeable. Performers, especially, have taken things I have said about their work to heart, but not as negatives - as shortcomings of their own. I know this because they have told me. Even when I have claimed to them that, no, they must be mistaken because the response was so personal, so based on my own specific critical frame - they have (mostly) corrected me.

If this sounds like self-flattery, I cannot explain to you how useless it all feels when faced with a Metro Station filled with refugees. Part of my critical stance, and also my art work, maintains that the future is defined by massive-scale humanitarian crises, caused especially by climate change - but other factors stemming from the new, self-erasing ethics of capitalism. This is not an opinion. If you want, you can also do this research, or I can argue it in dialogue. In short, although you can put it different ways, capitalism removes excess time, excess energy, and excess money from people, in order to force the individual to comply with its dominant ideology, which can then be manipulated, and prevent them from ever acting collectively and changing their conditions. Not a new idea - but it hasn't become less true in the last two decades, although it has all but disappeared from public discussion.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Patos OFF11, Smederevo

I like small theatre festivals in small places, precisely because they seem to represent everything that theatre is - a struggle against something impossible; an attempt at engagement in an impossible situation.

Smederevo is a historically significant town - once a key strategic location of the various conflicts between the Ottoman Empire and Hungarian/Serbian/Austrian interests in Europe. Today, it's perhaps most known for its now-dormant aluminium plant which smelted raw metals sourced from Bosnia - now the source of various conspiracy theories after it was purchased by a US conglomerate in 2003, only to be sold back to the Serbian government for $1 in 2013 and all but closed down. Was it a strategic salvage operation for steel left over from the Bosnian War, as some locals whisper? Today it is certainly operating at reduced capacity, as the government searches, apparently without much enthusiasm, for a partner to run it. Regardless, Smederevo does have many conventional signs of a once-thriving Eastern European town, now swimming persistently against a tide of rampant and unregulated investment which characterises an aspiring EU member (but seems, for reasons of proximity and regulatory environment, particularly characteristic of Serbia).

Amongst this, Patos operates its youth theatre activities from the sanctity of the ground level of the town's grandiose cultural centre - a 300-seat emblem of the soviet era, once holding performances equal to its vast size, and now maintained seemingly as a matter of town pride. A town like this is the perfect place for locating the zeitgeist of Europe today - caught between an optimisn based on unquestioning embrace of capitalism, and patches of something resembling a genuine community spirit. This is not a matter of pride or lack thereof, it is absolutely context. As young people grapple with the problems of unemployment, high rents, corruption, and general lack of stuff to do, the town experiences a slow bleed of its talent, its life and its energy, with those left behind looking whistfully at what their life might have been.

So the first thing to say about Patos OFF11 Festival is that, almost regardless of what it creates, it's kind of already winning. But the sheer level of participation from locals and in particular the local youth of Smederevo is clear testamount to this festival's achievement both locally and on an international scale. That it all seems to have been done on a shoestring is once again no accident, and absolutely testment to a a few hard working individuals and a menagerie of volunteers. Again, this is how theatre functions. Not from grants, not from politics - absolutely from the energy of people.

The five days I spent at Smederovo were doubtless magical, filled with relentless work, foyer conversations, and general glee. Settling into the routine of 10am starts, during which me and the group of critics called THINC defined our common ground and our differences. I was particularly blessed with my participants, coming from Novi Sad, Belgrade, and Smederevo, who fought hard in the right way and for all the right things. As with any great dialogue, it was constant, exhausting, and relentless. The criticism we created will pale into significance in comparison to the fights we had.

Just a single review was produced by me - the Teatar Rubikon's Pulse, below - but happily there exists a willing team of critical voices to pick up the slack undoubtably caused by pure exhaustion. Congratulations to the participants, volunteers, and organisers that made this wonderful event happen.

Pulse (Titraj)

Sometimes a show really upsets you, for no other reason that, despite its obvious quality and technical skill, (or perhaps precisely because of this), it operates directly against your own objectives for theatre.

As a spectator, I want certain things from theatre, and they're not rocket science. I want to feel human again. I want to understand human struggle. I want to feel empathy. I want to learn. I want to be free - even if it's just for a moment - from the restraints and oppressions which govern me. I want someone - if they are going to perform for me, and make me sit there in silent contract - to do these things on my behalf. Or to try, in a human way.

As a spectator, I want these things. As a critic: I demand them.

Pulse is an experiential light and projection performance from Teatar Rubikon, from Rijeka, Croatia, exploring physics and the limits of the human being's understanding of nature. The audience is taken on a journey through oceans, through outer space, through the history of art, and deep within the mysteries of the human body. All areas unexplainable. Presented as images, as spaces, as objects, these elements of the unknown collapse, wobble, and fold in on each other like a mutating virus, or perhaps one of those floating multi-coloured boxes that made up Windows 95’s standard screensaver.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Coming up: Patos Off Iranjie Festival, Smederevo

From the 26-30th of August, I will be writing from Smederevo, Serbia, for the Patos OFF11 festival - a festival featuring local and regional artists.

During the festival, tossing aside my regard for time management in the true spirit of the festival, I will be running a workshop with local Serbian critics, as well as trying to squeeze in two performances.

So suffice to say this is about all I have time to write at the moment. More soon.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Australian Artists: Submit to the Senate Inquiry but understand its futility and greater potential

Note: I have a self-imposed embargo on writing about Australian arts when not in the country, which I am (again) breaking to write this due to the extreme nature of the government cuts and their wider implications. I am conscious that taking pot-shots from afar is not ideal, and no attempt is being made to capitalise on this position.


Reading Alison Croggon’s self-published submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Arts Budgets of 2014-15, which is reviewing a reallocation under direct government control of almost 50% of Australia's major arts funding body's budget allocates to artists, one can make some casual notes which result in an alarming whole. Putting aside Alison’s undeniable authority on the issue established in an intimidating autobiographical introduction, the irrefutable nature of the argument is its most shocking component. Some statistics presented are alarming to those new to them: that the Arts sector is nearly as big as Mining, that it is a far greater employer, that it receives substantially less government subsidy than mining, not to mention benefiting to Australian life in terms of education, togetherness, and identity. These arguments are not new to Croggon, who has been championing these statistics for some time to anyone who will listen.

Nor, unfortunately, is it news to the Australian government, which has full access to this data. They know how big the arts sector is, they know how big an employer it is. They have mapped out precisely how the cuts will affect everyone – as Alison puts it, "individual artists, who already substantially fund the arts through their unpaid work, will be forced to compete in a diminishing pool", moving overseas or opting for different careers to keep off the dole queue. This is not an accident, it is precisely the point. As ad hoc and reckless as the Abbott government’s strategy may sometimes seem, the cause and effect has been fully mapped, and it is certainly not something drawn up on the back of a napkin at Rockpool Seafood Restaurant over a few glasses prior to a helicopter ride home to Double Bay. The reality is not casual - it is much worse.

The question that naturally arises from Alison’s argument is as follows: why would any government, especially one from a party nominally interested in economic prosperity (at least historically), want to smother a sector that is seemingly performing so efficiently and productively – employing so many people with so little government expenditure? The answer to this question lies in their overall electoral strategy, which involves marginalising target groups and decimating their influence on the political narrative.

Removing the real opposition

Among the greatest threats to the Australian government at the next election is the potential for communities and collectives of critical thinkers to collectively emerge in opposition to it and form coherent counter-narratives. The money from Arts Council Grants is one of many methods of support and growth for these communities and can indirectly feed critical public dialogue. The free time that people from these communities have to be active – many of which, it should be noted, are still in fledgling stages and are still defined by individualism,  career-driven and institutional objectives – is removed when you starve them of money. Furthermore, cherry-picking certain artists to receive funding allows the government to distribute the flow of finance only towards those artists which are not likely to even inadvertently feed this community. The comments from the CEO of Opera Australia, Craig Hassall, that he was “delighted” and that “my first thought is that I am relieved and delighted that major performing arts companies' funding hasn’t been cut […] I don’t really have a view on where the money comes from, as long as the government is spending money on the arts” should be read in this light – further, not only will Opera Australia benefit from the changes through its funding being maintained, it will directly benefit from the removal of its primary competitors in the marketplace, which includes small and independent organisations thriving on some sense of collectivity, community and solidarity. Furthermore, the beneficiaries of the cherry-picked funding – Brandis’ own Artists Army if you like - are likely to be classically-trained artists from wealthy backgrounds, who include most of Australia’s opera singers, it being an expensive activity, further benefiting from another individual source of funding.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Faki Festival, and exquisite anarchy

It was with excitement and anticipation that I boarded the bus for Zagreb and Faki - a theatre festival I knew little about. My expectations from the programming were for a fairly radical time, and my appetite was whet by, among other juicy provocative phrases, the festival press release's proud exclaimation:

"The international Festival of Alternative Theatre Expression was first organized in 1998, in reaction to the elitism, but also commercialization of the institutionalized cultural scene, defined by political and artistic one-sidedness to the point of obstructing the independent avant-garde, subversive and experimental practice of theatre and performing artists.
Admission to the entire festival is free of charge. On principle."


Photo: Merima Salkić

Part theatre festival, part rave, Faki seems to run on a kind of anaemic energy usually reserved for those at the extremes of life, which indeed some were. Amongst the Mad Max 2 style junkyard fortress of the Autonomous Cultural Centre Attack!, a former medical factory, one can party hard, sleep hard, art hard - everything turned up to 11, and a kind of sublime, with a beautiful community surrounding it, bouncing from conversation to conversation about the work in a kind of never-ending rigorous dialogue.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


This is an actress. This is a piece of theatre. This is not real. It's a performance.

So I had to keep telling myself during DivanOccidentaleOrientale's IVETOTELLUSOMETHING, a piece of microtheatre in a bathroom, on this occasion executed by Italian actress Rosa Palasciano. The performance, so says the sprawling description, speaks of a crisis, failure, or precarity. These are common themes for artists today as they try grapple with an increasingly shallow and difficult world, at once moving too quickly for tragedy, not quickly enough for comedy. The search is for some genuine, authentic connection, and the fear is that the days in which that might be possible have now passed.

Photo: Merima Salkić

The performance is in a bathroom, and for one person only. So there's a lot of standing around waiting whilst Rosa - adorned in coat tails and a pencil moustache - grandly sweeps out of the bathroom to semi-seductively select her next victim, and plenty of time to imagine what the hell is going on in there. Yet more intrigue when you see the faces of the post-ops, grimacing or strained with discomfort. Still, of course when it came, it surprised me. I don't know if it was the awkwardness of the encounter, the manufactured nature of it, the feeling that I should feel something. After putting on the headphones, I am suddenly conscious that I am standing in a bathroom with a stranger, who is manipulating my movements, staring at me expectantly.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Faki: Paulina

The Mexican-US border is a awful scenario, exponentially getting worse. This was the case even before 1994's NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement that saw thousands of US companies set up shanty towns just over the border, another happy new frontier for capitalism, in search of lower wages, less rights, less protection, and a freely exploitable workforce (read: the usual). Mix this in with the social problems from a sudden influx of workers without infrastructure or housing, long history of drug trade and human trafficking and you gotcha selfa helluva neoliberal cocktail, buoy.

If that sounds bitter, it's difficult to look at a work like Paulina, adapted from the play La Casa de la Fuerza (The House of Strength) by Catalonian playwright Angela Liddell about the 2008 rape and murder of the titular 16 year old girl, without a heavy dose of anger about how these circumstances were created in the first place, nor a sense that this is not an individual case. Performer Clémence Caillouel never lets us forget this - by staring at us in a kind of clown-like accusation for the entire 50-minute duration of Paulina. The text is haunting - taking as its recurring theme a song about rag dolls - but it almost feels unneccessary in the face of this optical assault. Caillouel's at once pathetic, at once powerful glare asks a tragic, silent question about the rape and murder of a human being. In some sense it's an old question, also raising an old paradox seemingly destined to recur until the end of time - in what supposedly ethical world can this happen?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Faki: Untitled

Some performances don't ask for criticism - they just need someone to write down what happened.

You could pick out stylistic or technical elements of Elisa Arteta's dance experiment Untitled - some kind of hypnotic, repetitive rhythm of feet-on-floor, the artist's address to us also seeming to tumble along perpetually. The fact that the seating was in-the-round.

You could pick these out - but it would be irrelevant. This work, like any political work, is about you.

Photo: Merima Salkić


A grey, flourescent-lit room. Arteta, dressed in sweatpants and a pink hoodie, warms up as the audience enters, before gently evolving this into her 'work' - literally, a simple dancer's exercise in leading with body parts and weight-transfer. She begins to speak a text - a response to Judith Butler, some loosely connected thoughts surrounding her 'political body', and the various ways in which it may be formed or employed.

Then she says "you can leave when you want". And she keeps working.

And now, it's over to you.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Piece of Plastic

I had a lot of problems with Marius von Mayenberg's most recent play - I have tried to explain why over at Exeunt Magazine (UK).

Here's the link:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

FAKI Festival, Croatia

Hello from the bus.

Over the next week I will be performing at, and writing criticism for, this small festival in Zagreb: FAKI Festival.

Festival website:

Sunday, May 24, 2015

This Thing Called Artist Development

On the 22nd of May I was invited to speak at an event, irreverantly titled 'This thing called artist development', at the Ovalhouse Theatre in London. Artist development, as the title suggests, can be a strange and elusive idea. It is clear, on one hand, that it exists - that historically, an artist's career can be traced back along some sort of line. The audience included artists, funding bodies, and independent producers.

This is an interesting organisational idea, and may exhibit the best kind of 'throw people together in a room and see what happens' mentality. The structure of the day was fairly loose, and consisted of some morning provocations (of which I was a part) followed by the all-important lunch. Some community hall style discussions on various topics allowed a more conversational dialogue-driven form, and the subsequent artistic interventions abstracted the concepts into a form in which everyone was in many ways much more comfortable. Finally, we were invited to speak into a fossil about what the day meant to us.

It would be fair to say that I am not convinced about the state of UK theatre at the moment. From where I sit there are many problems, most of which are deeply embedded in economics - not least the City of London which is doing its best to price itself out of any kind of artistic lifestyle - and unlikely to change at any time soon. The day was clearly an attempt to generate new ideas and concepts, as well as to promote the Ovalhouse as a space for developing artists, and to bring in new collaborators who might contribute to the community. Within this context, it's a nice event, in that it gives people a chance to step back and discuss what they are doing, where it's all heading, and to try to steer the conversation in a certain direction.

The Inquiline

The Inquiline is a physical theatre piece about science, and a significantly honest attempt to articulate a darkness many scientists are existing in at the moment.

Written for Exeunt Magazine in London- link below.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

100 Grad - Sunday ('Catastrophe Sunday')

'The road to hell is paved with good intentions', thought your correspondent, as I wearily arrived at HAU 2 about 90 minutes after planned, panting from a long (8.6km) walk from Pankow to Kreuzberg. After having my original plan to catch the free shuttle service from nearby Ballhaus Ost - the third venue in 100 Grad - foiled by that venue not having any events on Sunday (and therefore no bus) I decided that Sophiensaele was not too far by foot, and kept going. Waiting for half an hour for that bus from Sophiensaele to HAU, my destination, I experienced 'nature calling', and ran inside for 5 minutes, only to find that the bus had chosen those particular five minutes to arrive. Deciding that now both my planned 5pm and 6pm shows were a write-off, I saddled up again, and continued walking to HAU, briefly taking in, by force, the tourist delights of Berlin.

Gotta get that bike fixed for summer...

Hamlet Private

My good fortune finally came when I somehow caught Hamlet Private, a piece of international  microtheatre directed by Helsinki-based, Swiss-born director Martina Marti, and which had just six performances during 100 Grad over a three hour period. The work has been in Berlin before 18 months ago, and has 'toured' internationally through several different performers in different European countries. It's a one-on-one performance, and can be performed anywhere with a table, two chairs, a candle and a deck of specialised playing cards. The performer (a mystical Claudia Schwartz) sits you down and explains to you that Hamlet is 'inside the deck of cards', and then proceeds with a kind of customised tarot reading that incorporates elements of the play.

It's possible to read Hamlet as being a play entirely about Fate. The references to free will and autonomy are littered throughout the text, taking on new resonance these days by the fact that the play is so well-known, and therefore that any audience comes to it knowing, in some sense, their fate. There's a sense of inevitability about Hamlet's death drive, he is in some ways a character waiting to die, intuitively deducing that this is the only way to really resolve his inner crisis of identity and authenticity. Even a surface reading of Hamlet reveals a play obsessed with mortality. 'To be, or not to be' is at once a simple musing on the false choices that constitute an existence under sufferance. After all, if the choice is between different ways to suffer, that is, indeed, no choice at all.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

100 Grad Festival - Saturday

Berlin's annual 100 Grad (100 Degrees) festival is an opportunity for Berlin's three main independent theatre houses - HAU, Ballhaus Ost and Sophiensaele - to improve their brand and market themselves as key centres for new theatre in Europe. The rules are simple: anyone can make a submission in November each year, the performers don't get paid and come from everywhere anyway, and it costs €17 for a day pass to as much theatre as you can handle. The venues get free labour, and the performers go home with some photos of their 'Berlin stage moment', or access to an audience that, due to low expectations, are likely to see any actual art as a bonus.

If the above sounds like reluctant critique, it's because although it's clearly problematic, 100 Grad is one event where I just can't muster the cynicism. Sure, there are many things not to like, and it may be continuing a sorry tradition of Berlin being a mecca for new models of artist exploitation which are then exported to other contexts, but there's something about drifting between the three venues, meeting old friends in bars, and the unique character of each venue that leaves you spellbound, regardless of your predisposition. It's quintessentially theatre - and literally irresistible. Entering its final year this year, it will be replaced by something else next year, (probably more problematic, and developed "in dialogue with various venues, artists, and the Berlin Senate department for culture and the economy". Hmmm. Sounds exciting. Will the artists finally get that minimum wage they've been seeking over the last, well, since forever? Something tells me, no).

Not to mention the generally high quality of work. Berlin is a place where many skilled performing artists live, and many more take the chance that 100 Grad offers to come here and perform. The result is more hit than miss, and a surprising amount of artfulness for a festival that is only loosely curated.

This year, the festival runs over four days, Thursday-Sunday, and takes in a seemingly endless number of shows. A lot of dance, a mixture of mostly German and English language,

Some of which this reviewer saw - but not many.


(Minsk, Belarus)

Mauser is a militant enaction of Heiner Müller's 1970 play of the same name, which addresses a paradox of dissent and collectivity. The audience enters the space to find themselves milling about nervously on stage with their fellow audience, whilst officials roam around enacting a mock registration process. There follows an oddly choreographed text segment, which combines menacingly spoken sections from Müller's play and rigid, military movement. Finally a symbolic massacre of the audience takes placethrough the medium of balloons.

Monday, February 23, 2015

White Night Melbourne, and 'the corporation as artist'

My article about White Night, an event in Melbourne modelled on Paris's Nuit Blanche which itself takes its name after Saint Petersburg's White Nights festival, was published over at Spook Magazine.

The article makes an argument for these city-festivals concealing their true objectives - raising capital and branding the city, and appearing as 'arts festivals' to the detriment of art and art dialogue. This is inevitably an unpopular argument in Australia, where the distinctions between public and private are seldom visible - making it a perfect melting-pot for new forms of creative capital. The Audi Artcar is a sad example.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Staging a Dialogue's Collapse: Artist Orginisations International

First, a disclaimer, or perhaps a statement. It's now been three weeks since Artist Organisatons International, over which time your correspondent has found himself more than usually stranded, and unable to publish anything. The cause: the feeling of... well, dread, that the event inspired, together with a frustrating combination of self-reflection, a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between different positions (not at all in a healthy way) and an overpowering dose of pessimism. No-one can deny this was a difficult event at a difficult time.

Writing under such circumstances is also difficult, and this might indeed be my worst writing. Reaching a firm conclusion is impossible - and has resulted in several different attempts over the past three weeks to fill this yawning void (shared by most audience, judging by the various explosive groans and mutterings around me at different moments).

One such feeble attempt can be found below. I do not deny that I have failed to meet the task of critic in this event, and for that, I blame the extraordinarily high stakes, as I perceive them. This sense of dread is overpowering and nauseating. My decision to publish an incomplete argument should not give the idea that I think these things are unimportant.

Artists Organisations International may prove to be a landmark moment - possibly for the wrong reasons. The decision to publish is because of this. I don't pretend to give a definitive or privileged account here - rather, a selective one, divided into some key concerns. There are some which are urgent, and which Artist's Organisations International may represent. As to the significance or validity of the event itself, I will leave that to others to discuss (at length, no doubt).




Everything is lost.

That was my feeling walking out of HAU on the first dramatic night of Artist Organisations International, a Ted-Talks style 3-day art forum curated by Johanna Warsza, Florian Malzacher and Jonas Staal. 3 hours of exhaustive, chest-puffed dissent, in the form of staged contests - so much futile expenditure of energy, and only a particular variety of nothing to show for it.

Art is an elusive feeling, thought I. It's an energy. It's non-tangible, and indirect. Perhaps as consequence, its agents - artists themselves - are elusive creatures, traditionally not prone to explanation or other causal processes associated with the outside world. Rarely do they talk about what they really mean. Art is symbolic, after all.  It's a code. It operates among that which cannot be spoken in words.

As a result, art says one thing and means another. I wasn't the only one left fairly bewildered by the, sometimes furious, but always tense, dispute. Over what, exactly? Was it simply a fight for dominance? Was it supposed to be some kind of metaphor? For what?

Sadly - my conclusions that night as I left HAU were quite dark. But then, maybe it was the time.



Thursday, January 8, 2015

Situation Rooms

Warning: comparison with the video game Call of Duty follows...

Weapons export and manufacture is one of those weird areas of economics - like the market for oil, it kind of determines a lot, without being talked about in a meaningful way. Arms trade can determine alliances, which can determine information sharing and spy networks, which can determine cultural ties, which can determine how a conversation between an American and a German plays out in a bar. Likewise, for many unexplainable global events there is a military explanation - but like a report of new climate science, it just doesn't make a good media narrative. People don't wanna hear that they are slaves to a giant military machine that's operating virtually without ethics, regardless of the level of truth to that depiction. And there is at least some truth. Make no mistake - despite the liberal pomp about disarmament and stability, the world today is buzzing with military activity. With each passing year, the armament of the world grows ever-larger. (And no, I'm not talking about Iran or North Korea).

Weapons trade is particularly pertinent in Germany, which makes a hell of a lot of them. While post WWII Germany is careful not to appear military in its direct interventions,  when it comes to manufacture and export of weapons, the same care is not always shown. Thankfully, the issue has some visibility within Germany, or at least in Berlin, thanks largely to the presence of a vocal radical left wing which brings these things to dialogue, and a conservative bastion which, though interested in profit and exploitation, is also (mostly) willing to listen. This has the effect of keeping tabs on where weapons are going, and ensuring, to a degree, that those destinations have some justification beyond profit. If armament can ever be truly justified. Anyway.

Situation Rooms, a new work from German political theatre pin-ups Rimini Protokoll, is a participatory theatre work that makes a detailed investigation into the arms trade and its consequences. Many years in the making, it sees the audience (or I prefer 'user' for reasons which will become clear) given a video-guide in the form of a customised 'tablet on a stick', entering a carefully constructed maze with 15 other users, and encouraged to carry out tasks which follow the narratives of 20 individuals who have some connections with weapons trading. The stories intersect and are reliant on each other - for example, one user carries out an action as part of their story, which has a physical effect on another story. From the uprising in South Sudan to a firing range in Northern Germany to a hacker in the US, this complex tapestry of technology, economics and politics is mapped out through the stories of its agents. Some, as you expect, are very violent, some quite mundane, although all have a haze of menace overhanging them.