Thursday, 31 May 2012

Review - The Conquest of the South Pole by Manfred Karge - Arcola Theatre @ The Rose, Kingston

In premise, a strong idea; 4 unemployed lads from east London, working their way through social exclusion in their own way, bond over the story of an expedition to the South Pole that begins as an escape, but slowly merges with their own reality. The job market, prospects, become metaphorically the endless antarctic ice, and the goal of reaching the South Pole something never fully attainable. Very timely in its subject matter, the production unfortunately does not hold up. The script - disjointed and episodic - felt as though it was being moulded into a linear, psychological storyline, rather than allowing the juxtaposition of scenes that may or may not make sense. Having not read the original German version, it is tough for me to say just what role translation and direction jointly held in this.

The performances were adequate at best, with mere moments of interest perking up for me. I strongly dislike actors who appear to be over-directed, with choreographed physicality that does not come across as natural to their being. This may seem like a contradiction given my penchant for physical theatre and dance, however pieces which manage this balance of choreography that seems to be pouring out of the actor rather than painted on it are truly remarkable, and what we strive for. This piece did not have this quality.

Again, I stress, there were moments. Unfortunately they were few and far between, the gaps being overwhelmed by actors shouting in roaming accents.

I do, really, see a seed of something interesting here - it simply didn't get to blossom.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


So, as I approach my 30th birthday, growing ever further from the "emerging" 16-25 year old artist category, but certainly not yet "established" at least by my definition of the word, I am at a loss for how to describe my position. It is funny that we see such a need to rank and label everyone and everything - emerging director, young theatre practitioner, veteran actor - as if the label somehow justifies what we do. Can't I just be an artist? A moderately successful artist? Does that work? It is hardly a selling feature to write on my next grant proposal. I can see it now - "Kendra isn't quite young, nor is she old. She has done some work, but not a ton. Truthfully, she lives a life of artistic moderation." Not really going to rake in the cash.

I don't know whether I really have anything to say about this, beyond what is above....what do you think? What do you call yourselves?

Also related to the birthday, I'll be travelling to Paris in a couple weeks to celebrate my 30th. I thought that given my proximity now, and the elegance that is added to any task by doing it in French, I would turn 30 en francais. It is better that way. I have not been before, and am looking forward to taking in Montmartre, the Seine and all the public gardens, along with some French Gothic architecture at Notre Dame. I also plan to make a pilgrimage to Montparnasse cemetery. Unlike those who visit the graves of more popular figures (Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, etc at Pere Lachase) I plan to visit with Ionesco, Beckett, and Sartre, 3 minds with whom I have been engaging over the past 6 years or so. I do love cemeteries, but have never been one to visit "famous" grave sites (although my toy poodle once peed on Louis Riel's grave in St Boniface) so this will be an interesting and unique day out. Also, I love the idea of creeping out my daughter with an afternoon in the cemetery. I am a nice parent.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Intellectual Fan Girl

Our dissertation term (aka right now) is peppered with weekly lectures and workshops to help us along with our process, and also to help us consider paths once we have finished the MA. This has included various events from panels with emerging artists, Q&A with former students of the course, and talks about casting and organizing. A highlight has been the fabulous workshop on directing from Andrew Visnevski for which the quote of the evening (whilst dissecting a scene from The Duchess of Malfi) was " 'How Now?' here means 'Holy Fuck she's going to shoot my balls off' " - something you have to imagine this polished, intellectual, very proper man in sweater vest and tie saying to get the full effect.

The most recent installment was from the academic side, and featured the brilliant Elin Diamond, feminist theatre writer and professor at Brandeis University in the US. Elin's lecture focused on a chapter of her book - Unmaking Mimesis - which looks at Brecht through a feminist lens, calling for a Feminist Gestic Theatre. A chapter (and book) I would strongly recommend.

What was most inspiring, for me anyway, was her discussion of how she got to where she is now. She began as an actor, trained in drama school and working professionally, but always had an intellectual side, writing essays and reading voraciously. After completing her MA and committing to being an academic, her focus was on bringing theatre and performance into the contemporary discussions of criticism. She argues that playwrights are theoreticians within each play, and the time spent to consider a play and/or performance text is unendingly valuable in understanding many of the ideas that scholars so readily apply to painting, philosophy, gender studies, etc. I was encouraged to know that it is possible to make a move such as this; to sit on both sides of things, and force not only work, but serious intellectual consideration of the work through your own writing. This is something which I hope to be able to do with at least minor success in the coming years.

Monday, 21 May 2012

10 Weeks With Genet

This is my portfolio, bearing creative and academic witness to my 10 week encounter with Jean Genet during the MA.

The "hard copy" was handed in as an installation - dirtied paper, various trash items from scenes and things through the 10 weeks, reminiscent of Tracey Emin, crumpled and in a trash bin.


Going Beyond To Return

This is an adaptation of an essay I wrote on the MA earlier this year, looking at the history of tragedy and what all of this theory means to someone trying to create theatre today. Please share your thoughts!


Sunday, 20 May 2012

Head is Swirling

An MA dissertation in any form is a challenging prospect. One in which you will be not only researching a subject, but creating a response to it theatrically as well as writing on it academically is an entirely new level of challenge.

Things I am learning:

1) I really like to research. To a fault. There comes a point where reading yet another version of Antigone (or reading it again for the 100th time), watching anther German Opera version, or listening to another random lecture from the RA about any painter ever to have lived is just not going to do anything. You need to create. You need to put down the books and get up in the studio and just see what comes out. I am approaching this point now.

2) I have a tendency to want everything to fit to a plan, but at the same time happen randomly. The two are not compatible. I have been hit with two major setbacks to my plan - in the form of casting issues which were first solved, then sort of solved, then not solved at all - both of which had me reeling last week. Several hours we spent lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, surrounded by my iPad and copies of the play, listening to intense music whilst wondering what to do. I do learn the most from these things though; the times when my left and right brain are battling it out over order versus chaos are the times when the most remarkable ideas come out.

3) The play has the answer. It always has the answer, you just have to give it time to tell you. Luckily, I had the time in this instance, and didn't end up staying up nights bawling at my lack of options.

So, phase 1 of the dissertation approach (reading like a maniac) is coming to a close. My first workshop to lead will be in just over a week, and I am looking forward to just playing. It is funny that when reading, I get so many ideas, mostly in the form of physical images in my head, all of which seem to be contrary to the last. Right now there are about 50 "moments" I have imagined. The first 3 workshops will be a chance to try these out, see what actually works physically and with text or music, and then I will go away to try to piece together the first draft of a piece. Then I will come back for 3 more workshops to sew it together and share it on the 19th of July at RADA.

From here, oodles of reflection on the process, writing to pull in all the inspiration and thoughts to create the piece along with the future...where does this go now. And more importantly, where do I go after this whirlwind of a year, personally, and artistically.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Review - King Lear - Belarus Free Theatre @ Shakespeare's Globe

This is the kind of production that changes your mind about everything. Belarus Free Theatre brought their politics to the fore very clearly on several fronts in this production. First, performing in Belarusian rather than the "legal" Russian of Belarus. Second, in their sparse, minimalist interpretation of the play, proving that you can take away the funding, the building, most everything, but you can't take away the fire of theatre when there is talent and something to say to the world.

When we critique most productions of Shakespeare, we critique the use of the poetry, the selected cuts, the understanding of the play. This production took away our ability to do this by being done in Belarusian, but also in the layering of sound, singing and piano under soliloquies, soundscapes created through noisy tarps and water; despite this, the sounds and images created on stage seemed to evoke the poetry in their very existence. Never before have I felt the cold fury of Lear on the heath in such a powerful manner, or the haunting moment of Lear mourning Cordelia's death. The incorporation of Orthodox religious-sounding songs, beginning with happier folk songs and evolving to dark chants haunting the pace underscored the piece perfectly. Lear's violence toward his daughters and everyone around, and their reciprocal violence toward Lear was frightening and stirring, evoking thoughts of life in an authoritarian regime. When Lear and Cordelia are caught after the French lost the war, the faceless soldiers, speaking in hushed tones sent chills up my spine.

This was my first experience of the Belarus Free Theatre's work live, having only read/heard about them. I will do everything I can to see their work again and again.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Review - Posh by Laura Wade (Royal Court @ Duke of York's Theatre, West End)

I saw this last week, on the opening night of the previews for this West-End transfer from the Royal Court. Posh was highly successful for the Royal Court a couple years back, completely selling out its run, and receiving strong reviews from some camps for its bold anti-Tory politics. Others did not find the politics so convincing.

Sadly, despite the outstanding performances and production, I have to side with those critics who did not find the initial production as political as it claimed to be. Presenting us with a clique of entitled (and titled) Eton-Oxford boys enjoying a night of debauchery, Wade is clearly aiming to show us what is wrong with those in power in England (and elsewhere). In this, she is successful; the young men come across as awful people, initially in their brazen plans, then as the play goes on, in their misogyny, violence, and ability to squeak out of trouble unscathed, in spite of the destruction they have caused, all with the wave of a pen over a cheque. That said, the play is rather one-sided - we do not see a glimmer of dimension to these characters. Wade presents them without a shred of compassion or decency, only concerned for themselves. I left feeling like the play hadn't given me anything I didn't already know, and didn't challenge me to think about the situation in a new light; it encouraged the sort of envy and derision these characters accuse the 'middle classes" of in the play, rather than attempting to present an alternative.

As I said, the production itself was strong. All performers were well cast and excelled in their roles; notably the pub owner and his daughter brought 3-dimensional life to characters who could run the risk of being hokey stereotypes. The clever set and use of choreographed set changes added to this (although the musical interludes could have been done without...the first was intriguing and used the set and history well, after which they devolved into a Glee-style singalong in my opinion).

It is certainly a play worth seeing. I'm just not sure it achieved what it set out to do.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Reading Time

My mind is engulfed with reading on performance theory right now. More on that later. That, and Laura Wade's "Posh" now transferred from the Royal Court to The Duke of York's Theatre in the West End. It is a good thing I am not a reviewer with deadlines, as it is taking me awhile to decide exactly what I have to say about it.

In the interim, I have come across two excellent articles today that I must share.

First, Dennis Kelly's (colourful) speech to open the Stuckemarkt festival in Germany. Kelly, a Brit playwright who pushes the boundaries of "polite" political theatre, challenges theatre makers to stop trying to make plays political for the sake of it. Quote of the piece "I believe young theatre makers need a very healthy does of 'go fuck yourself'". Well said, Mr Kelly, well said.

Link Here:

Second, Lauren Gunderson on the economics of presenting female characters, since (gosh darn it) a significant proportion of audience members are female. I can't say I agree with the argument entirely (which pretty much relies on mimesis and our desire to see the self reflected in the theatre...) but she does make a valid point. Worth a read.

Link Here:

Happy Reading!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Video Post....Lavinia

This is an older video of a piece-in-development from 2009 (Performed in autumn 2009 at FemFest Cabaret in Winnipeg, Canada). Titled Lavinia, it is inspired by Lavinia, Titus Andronicus' daughter in the dark Shakespearian play. Lavinia is kidnapped and raped, then has her hands and tongue cut off to stop her from telling who did this to her. In the piece, I wanted to explore her mental state, knowing that she is henceforth unable to communicate, trying to tell of the horrors she experienced whilst still re-living them in her nightmarish reality.

The audio is a cut-up interpretation of the BBC production of Titus Andronicus (1985 - the voice you hear is Edward Hardwicke), merged with a PJ Harvey song....all audio editing done by John Norman.

Here is the vid.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Review - Cymbeline by The South Sudan Theatre Company @ Shakespeare's Globe (Globe to Globe Festival)

There is something truly extraordinary about seeing performers so joyous to be performing, that when the curtain call begins, a full-blown dance party breaks out. This company, which has only existed for a year, born in Sudanese refugee camps, was presenting their first international performance, at the much publicized Globe to Globe festival. Working in translation to Juba Arabic, they presented Cymbeline as a story of love and war in Sudan. Accompanied by fabulous drumming (by the co-director and translator), Juba songs and dances were woven into the play, for entrances, exits, and the fantastic war scene. Each performer was fully committed to their character and the presence of each performer was undeniable. 

Now, as a piece of theatre, it was by no means the best thing I have seen. Jumping lines occurred with fair regularity (although in many instances, worked rather well for the energy of the piece), and some scenes felt flat. As well, even softer scenes, such as Imogen reading the letter and learning of Posthumous' location, came across as harsh, simply due to the nature of the sounds of Juba Arabic. . . as a result, some of the colour of the story was lost. Overall, however, the pure joy filled The Globe and infected everyone in the theatre.

 Sometimes theatre isn't about the perfect performance. It is, as a brilliant thinker once told me, about "bringing joy to the peeps". Per Brask, you were right.