Saturday, 28 April 2012

Review - Mind as Matter and Medicine Now @ Wellcome Collection

Mind As Matter
I think brains are pretty cool. So when I heard of an exhibition about brains, merging science with art, i was extremely excited. This exhibition (@ Wellcome Collection, Euston Road, until June 2012) takes us through an examination of the human fascination with the brain. The exhibition housed photographs and paintings along with artefacts, scientific objects, and yes, brains (preserved of course). The goal of the Wellcome Collection is to present exhibitions at the meeting point between art and science. I found that with this exhibition waned a bit on this front; the outer edges presented the more art-focused pieces while the science was in the middle, the two existing in a segregated environment. This meant that the desired experience of seeing science as art and art as science was lost, for me anyway. That said, some of the pieces were really cool; casts of brains and the vein system in the human brain, and most haunting, drawings of a child experiencing a pre-operative procedure for a mental condition that will stay with me for some time.

Medicine Now
This exhibition, upstairs at Wellcome Collection, achieved what I feel Mind as Matter did not. Taking 5 areas of medicine now, the gallery was split up to merge the science and art of these. The most impressive section for me was the one on obesity; an installation of a tall, thin book shelf, stuffed with diet books reminded of the overwhelming amount of 'advice' available on the subject. Another sculpture (I've forgotten the title) looked at obesity physically; instead of the beautiful greek physique we are accustomed to seeing in a sculpture, the piece inflated various points of the body, balloning like the morbidly obese bodies we see from time to time. The figure was headless, and its body read like a road map of neglect. Other installations in this section were also very moving, includng the world map made of the kind of mosquitos that carry malaria; delicate, and dangerous.

I would recommend going along to check both out....they are definitely worth the time.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Time to get political

I try to stick to theatre and art in this blog, and its various inspirations. I can not do that right now. It is time to get overtly political. Time for some Canadian politics. Earlier this week, Alberta held an election for leadership of the province. As of the week-end, polls were showing the right-wing WildRose party in the lead, and the 40-year reign of the PCs in that province looked poised to fall.

As they sometimes do, the voters surprised everyone, and re-elected the PCs to a strong majority - 61 seats - while WildRose saw only 17. Canada breathed a sigh of comparative relief; bloggers and twitter lit up with otherwise left-leaning minds commenting how happy they were for a PC win, something you don't expect ever to hear.

So this morning, reading The Globe And Mail, I was made ill to read Ms Smith's latest.

Now that the WildRose were unsuccessful on their first attempt, they plan to change their policies. Okay, seems like a decent idea, right? Everything needs a fresh perspective after a loss. Sure. But Ms Smith campaigned on core beliefs including smaller government, ignoring climate change (well, arguing that it is still disputed scientifically...which amounts to ignoring it) and personal liberties. She had candidates making racist and homophobic comments in the media, never censured them. Now, upon losing, Ms Smith is thinking of "re-evaluating" their policy on climate change and other contentious issues. Pardon me, but re-evaluating? The party campaigned for several months on this right wing agenda, alienating the rest of the province. This is clearly something they believe heartily in. But a swift turn of the page to the day after losing the election, and Smith is ready to reconsider. Funny; a certain Mr Harper had similar right-wing views some years ago in Calgary. . . but he was deemed too extreme, and toned it down to get elected. Now that he is elected with a "mandate from the Canadian people" he is back to his right-wing tricks, dismantling the very institutions that define our country. Ms Smith appears to be taking a page out of Mr Harper's playbook.

Don't be fooled, Alberta. Ms Smith, it seems, will say whatever is required to get elected, and then do what she wanted all along. Please, have long memories on this one. Please.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

New Explorations

Spent this lovely, sunny Saturday indoors at the University of London. Normally this would make me sad, however, today it simply inspired and encouraged me. I attended the Womens Studies Group's annual Workshop, titled Women, Performance, Portraiture. This is a group of mainly history scholars who meet throughout the year for workshops, field trips, etc, and most importantly, to share their scholarly endeavors.

The day began with a keynote speaker - the brilliant Gill Perry. (more on her here: The paper she presented looked at art and the creation of feiminine celebrity, particularly in 18th century London society circles. Looking at the semiotics not just of the works themselves, but also at their placement, prominence, and re-location in manor houses throughout England, she made some intriguing suggestions regarding the role art played in creating and perpetuating myths of celebrity. There were many resonances for me in this lecture, notably the ideas of public vs private space - hearkening back to our thoughts about The Duchess of Malfi. I cannot begin to give justice to her argument in the lecture, however suffice to say that it sparked many ideas in me, and something creative will come from this.

The second half of the day allowed for each delegate at the workshop to bring a small 5-10 minute presentation on their own current work. This, too, was fascinating. I was humbled in the presence of these intelligent women and the brilliant research they are undertaking. For my own contribution, I brought a section of Forc'd To Woo, the devised response to The Duchess of Malfi that I had created before our group merged our individual work to create In Secret. I talked a bit about my process for creating theatre - looking at historical texts for modern resonances and stories that echo forward, telling us something about the human condition, and specifically the female experience. I also talked a bit about how this developed in performance, and my future plans for the piece. I had some great questions from the group, and overall they seemed encouraging to my endeavors.

On a personal note, I was sure I would be nervous speaking; I was in the company of accomplished and published scholars, a lowly MA candidate, and in theatre nonetheless. That said, I wasn't nervous whatsoever. I felt extremely confident sharing my work and responding to questions about how I had created the piece.

It seems odd for a theatre maker to find their best inspiration in a room full of academics, but alas, I tend to be unconventional.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Review - The King's Speech @ Wyndham's Theatre (West End)

I went in knowing little of the production, and only knowing the script in its film incarnation. I was pleasantly surprised by the subtlety of the direction of Adrian Noble (former RSC AD) and the ability to stich seamlessly together the multiple short scenes in various landscapes in this rather cinematic script. It visits many of the same locations as the film, but obviously lacking outdoor settings in the theatre, Noble, and his very talented sound and set designers, used the depth of the stage and a series of frames to give shape and distance to the space, and ingenious sound placement and effect to give the impact of being in very large or very small spaces.

This was a very crisp production, with top knotch performances on all fronts, even for the matinee crowd. Notable were Charles Edwards as King George VI, and Joss Ackland as King George V. Ackland's monologue about Edward's impending coronation after his death was riveting; a master class in acting. The only actor whom I felt less engaged with was Charlotte Randle as Myrtle Logue; granted, this is a challenging role, rather one-dimensional, as we really only see her complaining of the desire to go home to Australia. That said, her performance felt up and down, which was noticeable in comparison to such seamless performances from the rest of the ensemble.

It is refreshing to see a professional production who clearly have an enormous budget (revolving stages don't come cheap) and yet don't overuse this budge to clutter the space visually or technically. The design, as with the performances, didn't have anything that wasn't necessary. Noble has clearly taken a page from Peter Brook's manifesto and brought it sparklingly to life.

One thing to add...perhaps it was the timing and seeing this in London, but the stage show came off with a much greater sense of patriotism to the empire, rallying the troops, etc, than did the film.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Review - Song Dong: Waste Not @ Barbican (The Curve)

I had been meaning to take in this installation for some time, and today, after an afternoon at the Museum of London, turned out to be the perfect opportunity. I began with reading the lengthy introduction Song Dong provides to the piece, outlining a significant amount of detail on the inspiration, notably his mother's life. Growing up in post-war China under communist rule, she was raised in a time of extreme frugality to ensure survival. As her life grew and changed, the need for this intense frugality waned, however her need to save - anything and everything - remained. The way Dong describes it, it is as if the objects began to fill voids and harbour memories she was unwilling to let go of.

At a glance, this could just look like a pile of stuff, which really could be from anyone's house. But upon a slow, careful inspection, each item has been kept and cared for in a very specific manner; plastic bags folded in neat triangles, squares of fabric scraps wrapped with string or ribbon, books piled neatly. And Dong's arrangement within the gallery takes the viewer from the impersonal to the personal, moving from bowls and pots, to boxes and toys, and finally to clothes and shoes. It is remarkable the things that make you realize how far away from home you are; whilst looking at the installation, it occurred to me that many of the objects are similar to those my mother has kept around the house. Unlike Dong, I often encourage my mother to get rid of things she is keeping for sentimental reasons that are no longer of use. This installation and its memory-infested objects hit home, and caused me to re-consider this perspective.

I strongly recommend checking this out. It is free, and runs to 12 June, 2012 in the Barbican Curve Gallery.

Link Here:

Monday, 9 April 2012


Reading Sophie Nield's piece in the Guardian Theatre Blog ( got me thinking about discussions surrounding our work on Jean Genet. Our group, having created what we felt was an hour of work that subverted expectation and challenged the audience to take Genet seriously as a writer who still has something to tell us, proposed not having a curtain call. Our tutor, Andrew Visnevski, responded favourably to the piece we created, and challenged us further; not having a curtain call has become the expectation when one sees edgy, challenging theatre. So the audience, coming to see an MA response to Jean Genet would most certainly expect no curtain call. . . so our hour's worth of subversion would be undermined by this choice. Instead, he suggested that we come out behind the audience, and applaud them along with the empty stage; in a way, this honouring the ghost of Genet whom we had conjured in the previous 10 weeks and who had inspired our work.

So this is how we proceeded. Certainly the effect was startling to the audience; we waited for them to begin applauding, then appeared behind them, also applauding. It took a moment for each person to catch on, the increase in volume from 14 extra sets of hands clapping, the distinct lack of bodies on stage receiving the thanks.

In a way, this choice did what Nield and many comments on the blog have suggested; it forced a truthful appreciation of the work separate from the appreciation of the individuals creating the work. It is certainly something to consider.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Reflections in Latin - Ludus Danielis @ King's College London

I spoke briefly about this project in the fall, but in the swarm of work that has occurred since December, haven't spoken much since. This project, based in a long-term relationship RADA has had with King's College London, is an opportunity for MA Text & Performance students to direct a production populated by MA Latin students at King's. Outside of the play selection, the date, the location, and the necessity not to cut any of the latin text, the directors are given free reign on how to proceed.

Our play was Ludus Danielis - the story of Daniel - the c.1140 Beauvais play, in Medieval Latin and French. The location: the beautiful King's College Chapel inside the Strand Campus. So far, so good. Three of us from the MA T&P volunteered, and agreed to work together to co-direct the piece. This worked remarkably well, as each of us had the chance to jump in on areas where we were most interested or expert, allowing the overall production to have a very lively feel; a major accomplishment with an 800 year old play in a language very few speak or understand.

Our decision was to approach the story as a fairy tale of sorts; The student actors began as their "normal" selves, coming in as if they, too, were going to see the production. From here, we had 2 magical stagehand/ushers and a musician who weaved them into a magical land, wherein they took on the characters of the Beauvais play, and the play began. With limited cast, we opted to use puppets to populate chorus parts such as nobles or satraps, which traditionally would have been performed by larger choruses. This worked extremely well, adding a slight comic element to the piece. Now, adding comedy to a 12th century liturgical drama might seem odd, however our dramaturgical research uncovered evidence that these plays would have been fun and not purely serious; the role of early liturgical dramatic pieces was to engage the parish in the bible stories in a way that would be fun and exciting, particularly given that few would have understood Latin - much like our present-day audience. Another feature we added was music; a leitmotif was created for each character, which played as they began or ended an important speech or moment. This was in reference to the musical nature of these plays (many would have been fully or partially sung) and also to help the audience follow along with the story.

Overall, the production was a success. Our performers had a fabulous time, and reports from audience members was that the production was highly enjoyable. I look forward to this sort of unusual challenge again.

Photos: Ludus Danielis, directed by Kendra Jones, Cristina Cugliandro and Maria Kivinen
Design by Liv Wright

Perhaps I am odd

Still mentally reeling from the aftermath of 10 weeks intensely studying Jean Genet's work. I think it is the mark of a truly great writer that the further you get from the work, the more it seems to pop up in you, resonating across various areas of your life. One thing that is really interesting to me is the fascination many of my colleagues have had with Genet's own disregard for his writing, particularly his plays. He himself refers to them as "clumsy attempts", which many have voiced is frustrating, or difficult to encounter.

Perhaps I am odd. Somehow, in the midst of a world of people with limited talent taking themselves entirely too seriously, and even those with immense talent forcing a specific understanding of their work on others (The Beckett Police, anyone??) I find it refreshing to come across a writer who has had such immense influence, and yet disregards his own work in this way. It is important to note that he doesn't call out his work or tear it down, he simply acknowledges, with what I would argue is some modesty, that all we ever do is try. We never know all of the answers in our own work, or in how others will interpret it, and I find it rather inspiring that a man of such greatness can allow his work to be viewed with such simplicity. Certainly a lesson everyone can take from Genet, whether you like his work or not.