8 October 2010

getting myself lost in translation: rosemary butcher

One of the main developments in my activities over the blog's dormant period has been a growing interest in dance. Hofesh Shechter's Political Mother remains one of the highlights of my year, along with two strikingly different performances seen in February: the intimate trio of 'With Which To Tell' at RAG, and the fascinating intricacy and breadth of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba's first visit to the UK.

I mention this because writing about dance inevitably means that I come with a theatrical rather than purely choreographic perspective to the shows. Whilst I have been expanding the range of contemporary work I have seen, and reading where I can, I am well aware that part of what excites me about dance is the thrill of being mid-discovery of it, still not sure of the vocabulary and history with which to contextualise the images and energies in performance. However I have never felt that this has been an obstacle to my enjoyment or engagement with any dance piece, as what I lack in technical understanding, I supplement with a kind of visceral experiential fascination, and a particular attention to how the shifts and shapings of a dance can tell so much about drama and performance.

With this in mind, I would like to offer a few thoughts on Rosemary Butcher's Lapped Translated Lines last Friday night, part of the Festival of Miniatures which she curated at Sadler's Wells' Lilian Baylis Studio. Butcher is celebrated as a truly unique, minimalist choreographer, and this work seems to be no different in presenting a pared-down, meditative piece of solo dance, performed by Elena Gianotti.

It was easy to see how the piece's construction related to the title: in the back corner, upstage right, were two overlapped metal structures, tracing silver lines almost like a heartbeat monitor pulled out of shape. Upstage right, a huge screen projecting an equally meditative, slow film of Gianotti performing the movements we saw live, but crucially unsynchronised and shot with extreme close-up at times, disorientating our sense of the very fixed routes which the dance was taking. Indeed, it was only in the form of this live presence that we saw the guidelines and fixed points of the piece, the straight lines on the floor which the dancer was tracing and building upon. Gianotti was something to be read: her movement seemed to make sense of and justify the presence of each element. Her dance became something between an argument and a meditation on the piece's existence.

And it is with this idea of meditation and live presence that I'd like to stay for a moment. Gianotti, and Butcher's choreography had a long applause at the end - and deservedly so because it was evident that the dancer had worked hard and that this kind of project signified a huge journey for those involved. However the audience was in no way part of this. The piece felt...esoteric, uninterested in those watching - even in the moments when Gianotti turned, painstakingly slowly to eyeball us in the dark.

Indeed, the slowness was one of the things which I found myself getting frustrated at. The piece refused to engage with any rate of change, always moving forward at the same pace: lapped rather than overlapped, stubbornly repeating structures at the same pace. I enjoyed the seeming arbitrariness of the ending - it could have happened at any point, I felt - but this was the first dance show I've seen where I have felt that terrible pang of the lonely audience member "but I don't understand it!".

I am always telling myself and others that performance, dance and theatre equally included, isn't meant to be simply 'understood'. And I believe that. Perhaps as someone with only very basic experience as a dancer, I did not fully appreciate the technical work of the piece. Yet I know that that isn't it.

My problem remains the fact that it seemed to lack...performance. I've never seen a dance piece before that wasn't also a performance. That magic thing that creates a triangle on stage, rather than a flat line between actor and director, making the audience feel like a peeping tom or unwelcome voyeur. This felt like second circle drama: the performer was working hard, and pushing through something, but connected only with the rehearsal process and offstage crew, with little concern as to what we were to do as viewers (and I heard several people in the audience echo these sentiments).

I wasn't surprised that Judith Mackrell's review for the Guardian was glowing, but I was surprised how lightly it skimmed across the surface of the piece. This was, if anything, a very intellectual and intellectualising piece of dance, in which it was difficult to see anything but the mind thinking. Like the looping film and metal sculptures, it seemed to be a lot of pre-fabricated structures being repeated and carefully measured. For all Gianotti's grace and precision, her body didn't seem alive so much as under total obeyance of her head, calculated and concentrating, with her memory slowly drawing the images and impositions around her.

I would love to hear from others who saw the show and have something to contribute - I am more than aware that my opinion of the piece will no doubt change over time, and my understanding of Butcher's practice will get deeper. None of my reaction is in any way due to feeling that it was 'bad': rather, I could understand how it was good, and clever and philosophical, but I couldn't see or feel it. I'm a simple girl: I like to see bodies moving, that's why I like theatre, it's why I like sport, it's why I like dance and debate and gesture and anthropology. But I struggled to see anything dancing, being live, thinking physically: it felt like the retracing of a thought. And perhaps in making such a statement I am eschewing the very preconceptions about dance which Butcher's work challenges.

23 September 2010

you know who your mates are

Put it down to ennui, unemployment or orientalism but last week I packed three Latin American films into less than 24 hours in my pursuit of things to do. And the three experiences of that short period all left remarkable, and different, impressions.

First was El secreto de sus ojos, Argentinian winner of 2010's Best Foreign Language Oscar and starring Soledad Villamil and Ricardo Darin:

I've already got into a few minor skirmishes (verbal) about the film, but I have to say that the Time Out review immediately raised an issue which I was surprised to have overlooked myself.

In it Dave Calhoun observes that this film, enjoying an extensive release in the UK due to its Oscar success, beat both The White Ribbon and A Prophet to the Academy Awards; he reminds us that such an achievement does not indicate that it is a better film than Haneke or Audiard's, but that the voters have bad taste. For some reason, such an obvious statement jolted me. Was I, like the Academy itself, persistent in pretending that the 'foreign language' award is somehow for the 'edgy', alternative or 'risky' films of world cinema, when in fact such exoticising patronisation of such superior film-makers totally disguises the real agenda, which is to honour the kind of films that would win 'Best Picture', and only fail to do so because they are not in English?

My own surprise at reading Calhoun's review made me reassess my own enjoyment of foreign cinema, especially my attitude towards Latin American films, which I consider to be some of the most inventive and exciting in contemporary film-making. Had I been guilty of exoticising? Like the Oscars, do I treat these films as 'special' because they are foreign, non-Hollywood, or can I simply enjoy them as films?

My attitude towards Secreto probably confirms the latter. The film itself, despite all this preamble, felt...flimsy. Like a lot of Oscar-contenders that attempt to pack in all the right references, events and stylistic notes to please but not challenge the audience. It isn't awful - Ricardo Darin is the kind of performer you could watch for hours - but its seeming lack of integral ambition results in the kind of film-making and acting which is competent without ever working up a sweat. Having last seen Darin in the sublime XXY - a phenomenally-shot film set in Uruguay in which he plays the father of a 15 year old hermaphrodite hitting puberty, which dealt subtly and provocatively with issues of gender, identity and expressed sexuality in South American society - this felt phoned in.

What is more, the film itself seemed structurally unsure of itself. Despite spanning 25 years, it displayed little to no interest in engaging with or evoking the considerable political and social changes which Argentina experienced since the 1970s; history was quickly nodded to with a few costume changes and a shot of Eva Peron. Unlike The White Ribbon, whose acutely detailed, claustrophobic atmosphere was all the more allusive and relevant to the history of modern Germany because of its specificity, this felt caught between periods, genres and stories. Whilst such in-between-ness can have incredible effects when it is deliberate, here it felt confused. This was neither a thriller, a love story nor an historical chronicle. It was somewhere between all three without being any of them. There were plenty of allusive themes and threads which we were referred to in passing rather than invited to dwell on.

Thus the overarching links of the script - memory, silence, the unspoken trust of true love - were named, and even discussed, but never really seen acting or moving through people, or through the edits and compositions of the film. So we have a scene - earmarked 'crucial' by its dark lighting and close-ups - in which two characters discuss the nature of memory and its ability to reinvent; this is half-heartedly carried into the structure of the film itself, which slips between old and new Argentina, with a few dodgy flashbacks. And that’s it! We are given no further clues as to how memory might work here.

The conceit of Darin's character writing a novel problematises, rather than illuminates, this evasiveness. It multiplies the perspectives of the film, almost denying that Darin is the real central character, the author, through whom there is at least a little clarity. Instead the constant shifting, which flirts with lucidity then seems to quite deliberately obfuscate it again, makes it difficult to connect.

This is, at best, a 3* Hollywood film. It has plenty of good ideas but I can't help feeling that it is coyly disguising the fact that, at heart, it doesn't have much to say. Like the novel written by Darin's character, it seems to suffer from wanting to be everybody, in every place, at once, yet endeavouring to tie things neatly together in the end – a neatness which its very generic profligacy would surely make impossible. (Of course this being a Hollywood film with big stars, we do get that attempted neat conclusion, patterned by a few motifs and repeated images, which still don't bear that much meaning when the two lovers finally seem to unite....I had no real idea that the lovers were going to unite - or that they were in love in the first place....!!)

There is a lot of telling, a bit of showing, but not a whole lot of doing here. It is ironic that Darin's pursuit of the widower of a rape victim whose case begins and ends the film is driven by a fascination with this bereaved man's ability to love. In one scene, he notes how the widower is alive, pulsing with love for his dead wife: we get the sense that Darin is almost jealous of this - because he knows he is incapable of doing love, of being it. His is a struggle to say I love you: the film returns to a note he scribbled as he falls asleep - TEMO (I fear), becomes TE AMO (I love you), when he connects his writing with the battered typewriter from his love’s office, on which he now writes, which is missing an A key. There is exciting in the potential here - a possible exploration of the real fears and self-prohibitions which go along with love and male sexuality in an increasingly 'equal' or developed society - but we only get the superficial nod towards it. Instead, this is a classy, well-executed box ticker and box-office hopeful, which doesn't get to the heart of its own questions: a heart whose pulse defies the very security of terms such as 'developed', 'equal' and 'love' in modern Latin America.


A film which does strike at the heart (literal and political) of contemporary Argentina is Plan B, recently released on DVD, the debut of Norwegian/Argentinian Marco Berger. This brilliant film, set in Buenos Aires, explores identity, sexuality and self-realisation in a country which this year became only the second in the Americas to legalize gay marriage.

The ‘plan B’ of the title refers to jilted Bruno, left by his girlfriend (though still occasionally sleeping with her) who plots to ruin her relationship with new boyfriend Pablo by befriending the former and pulling the two apart. However this initial idea quickly reveals the possibility of a more successful plan: seduce the shy Pablo, who has apparently experimented with men.

What ensues is a superbly acted, generous, honest film directed with attentiveness and humour by Marco Berger. It continues to quietly slink into my head weeks after having seen it. This isn’t a film about ‘queer’ love, or male homosexuality, so much as a gently opening of the binaries and divisions society often places between homosociality and homosexuality, and more broadly, the kind of impositions and systems of thought which find ourselves misidentifying the erotic and the Platonic without seeing them as part of the same spectrum.

With a simplicity that Secreto sometimes presented as contrivance, the film finds visual poetry and composition which converses with the stories and experiences shared by Pablo and Bruno: the building-block towers of Buenos Aires recall Pablo’s admission of his fascination with architecture, and identify him unconsciously with the simple, geometric ‘bucket and spade’ he describes himself as to Bruno.

This visual poetry is somehow natural and obviously composed, and kind of ripple effect of the story itself. Like Bruno’s B-plan, the cinematography feels beautifully uncalculated: there is an accidentally-on-purpose feel to the film which neither points gratuitously to some kind of notion of fate nor indicates an attempted ‘effortless cool’ which kills the energy of the story. Instead it feels like an intuitive piece of directing and acting, which has given time and patience to those involved, trusting every element of the piece, and in doing so revealing a profundity unexpected at the beginning. So too, Bruno’s envelopment in his plan mimics is kind of accidental discovery: not a huge self-revelation, rather a conjunction of time, space and feeling which is happy and alive.

One of the images which keeps returning to me is the punctuation of scenes with wonderful, almost stumbled-upon shots of straight block structures being crossed, intersected, by a diagonal line. It might be a ladder, a phone line; something visible in the distance or crossing the glass of the camera itself. These architectural happenstances became a kind of visual signpost, as my memory continued to turn over the film, of the entire piece’s trajectory, a beautiful way of using cinema and the camera’s often independent eye to tie the counter-currents of the city’s buildings to the equally newly acknowledged counter currents of emotion and desire that are challenging and struggling to be heard and told in Argentinian society.


This idea of counter-currents, landscapes and sexual desires is also at the centre of the film completing my trilogy, aptly titled Contracorriente (Undertow). Berger’s architectural spots of urban countercurrents here become poetic and metaphysical in this film set at the shores of a tiny fishing village in northern Peru.

If anything this is a more traditional film than Plan B, in both its rhetoric and execution: effectively a triumph-against-the-odds love story. What marks it apart is that, like the remote village away from the cities and superstructures of power, the story’s genre is dislocated from conventional cinematic models. What we see are novelistic devices and tropes – and a supernatural magical realism most famously celebrated in Latin American novels – now being employed filmically. A brave choice, but one that works.

Just as the central character, Miguel, married and expecting a child with his wife, and a respected community figure, is torn between his secret love of painter Santiago, a outsider from the city, so too the film delicately plays against itself, at times subverting cinematic norms and engaging the viewer with the kind of hypnotic richness that readers usually experience.Indeed the location, landscape and costuming is what provides some of the most interesting dwelling points and investigations of role-playing and self-acceptance in the film. Miguel and Santiago meet in half-complete buildings and rocky caves, contrasting with the bright walls and simple, clean lines of his home with Mariela.

What we see in Contracorriente is the kind of love Secreto hints at but never commits to. As a film it goes deeper into the psychological conflicts which affect the men and women at the centre of the story. Not only does it question what it is to 'be a man' in contemporary Peru, it questions what it is to be a male lead on film: how do we access the male characters, what are we allowed to see or not see? This is Miguel's story, and in focusing on him, we get a complex dissection of issues of identity, sex and responsibility; yet this inevitably means that Santiago is more of a stranger.

And what do we learn about love? Is the love in Contracorriente 'greater' than that in Secreto, because it is evident and acted upon? Or is it simply more attractive, more obvious as a story because in Contracorriente it is more impossible – that we see why Miguel prohibits himself, and we see why society might also prohibit him, whereas Secreto gave us no hint of any real obstacles? We come up here against an issue of both love and film: the story itself and how it is conveyed by the camera are inextricably entwined. Film mathematics dictating how much or little of a story we can fit in. Secreto attempts to tell a subtle story but inevitably ends up with a love-declaring finale, turning feeling into love, not through the power of the love or the characters, but through the will of film itself, and the spectre of Hollywood love stories. And Contracorriente gives us a more intriguing, pensive exploration of the conflicts surrounding Miguel's choice of 'mate', at the expense of allowing us to contact the other characters with the same depth.


As with all three films, Contracorriente is superbly acted. It isn’t simply that the two leads – particularly Miguel – are good. Miguel’s wife Mariela is a standout performance in a role that could very easily have been trite, undervalued or simply crass. Nevertheless her character remains one whose perspective we rarely get to see from. This lack of female perspective is perhaps one abiding link between all three films.

Whilst Latin American cinema continues to interrogate the machisto traditions and stereoptypes which have shaped and hampered its societies, now colliding with the growing Americanised ‘development’ of its industries – there remains a gap, on the international stage at least, where the female perspective should be.

I cannot expect Contracorriente to become about Mariela – the story is not hers – and I think that films which cast a homosexual perspective on societal relations in Latin America are essential – however my concern is that these male homosexual perspectives must then be challenged and re-viewed again. It would make me happy to see a film which tackled these issues from a heterosexual female perspective; and from a homosexual female perspective.

Perhaps, as I have touched on already, it is an issue of media and genre. Do certain types of art open themselves more accessibly to certain voices: are there different media more available to Latin Amercan women? Certainly on a local scale performance and performance art is much more available and utilized by Latin American woman, from independent artist and dancers to organizations such as FOMMA, which work through performance to deal with politics and indigenous relations with identity in Mexico.

Whatever happens, the stories of women in Latin America, and how they stand to be affected by the kind of social, sexual and political changes which (uniquely) impact each unique country in the region, deserve to be told. Otherwise the national identities of the region risk perpetuating nothing but a more nuanced version of its machisto relics which still do not embrace equality.


After all, what makes Contracorriente and Plan B remarkable is that they are not films about homosexuality, but about love and relationships. To say a film was purely about homosexuality would be to confirm an inner prejudice that such a thing was purely scientific, or isolated, or able to be studied as some kind of medical or social condition. Instead the films explore different ways of loving, friendship, homosociality and homosexuality.

The difference, then, between Secreto, Contracorriente and Plan B is not the difference between heterosexual and homosexual relationships, but between attitudes, versions of love. Social preconceptions – and cinematic conventions – which allow ideas of love on film to be reconfigured and explored. And this openness and exploration is something that mainstream American film consistently struggles to achieve. When it comes to male relationships, all love stories end in death, all friendship stories in marriage. The only exploration of homosociality which social preconceptions will allow in Hollywood are the ‘bromances’ of I Love You, Man.

These bromances are comedies which flirt with the idea of homosocial love and its potential erotic ends, whilst seemingly being forced to neutralise the potential destabilising effect of eroticism in male friendship through laughter - and having a quiet female partner in the background. These encourage white males growing up in late capitalism to identify with such films, to form male bonds whilst pronouncing disgust at the idea of homosexuality, but nevertheless allow them to find identity through being part of a group, by being the same as the men they hang out with. Not homosociality but homogeneity: men who, in these bromances, are traditionally ‘scared’ of marriage or unable to hold an identity in relation to their wives or female friends. Identikit films about males becoming identical – an attempt to reform a ‘man’s man’ group, tribe, that really lets you know who your mates are .

We know who our mates are.

Do we?

Isn't the key idea holding this blog together the fact that we don't know who our mates are: the confusion over who to settle with, who to sleep with and who to hang out with seems to be the key point holding together the Latin American trilogy I began with and the Hollywood bromances I am finishing on.

Or maybe even more specifically, these adverts and films only tell one side of the story, confirming that men don't know who their mates are. All the pieces mentioned deal with this crisis of male sexual and social identity: the difference is that Plan B and Contracorriente seem to be drawn unstoppably into that search for real identity, taking us on a journey in which ‘your mates’ become your mate (i.e. partner), demonstrating that ‘you know who your mates are’ is more than just a beer advert. It’s a statement of intent, designed to combat a dilemma of choice and self-definition in male ‘heterosexuality’. If anything, it lays bare the truth, that there is no such thing as homosexuality or heterosexuality, simply sexuality: and the elasticity of the role and identity of ‘your mates’ displays how easily friendship becomes love, becomes family and so on.

But we must be careful. That phrase ‘you know who your mates are’, opens up a can of worms in relation to biology, gender, reproduction and social structure. Once more it completely overlooks the female perspective, instead constructing a world of societal relations through a male gaze (be it self-identified as homosexual, heterosexual or homosocial). Isn’t what we find in cinematic treatments of male friendship, and adverts such as Carling’s, a dangerous elision of the female role to little more than a reproductive ‘mate’? Laura in Plan B is someone to have sex with, rather than someone we see Bruno really in love with; Mariela is seen suffering but we can only identify her as an image, a pregnant wife, a new mother. We only glimpse her suffering through Miguel’s story.

And perhaps this has something to do with cinema and women, the role of the predominantly male gaze. Yet it also seems to hint at social and linguistic gender issues. Isn’t it for women that the term ‘mate’ never seems to really make sense: it does not give her a chance to form her own identity. And if ‘mate’ is such a male-gendered word, whose meanings seem to have been totally defined by male social relations, how can a woman make friendships, build relationships with these homogenous tribes? What words can she use? What models or networks exist for her to do this? Is there a return to an Athenian concept of society where male friendship, spending time with your real ‘mates’, is far more edifying than loving a female? Are women becoming in fact, the ‘obstacles’ to true love, in ‘bromances’ and in love stories like Plan B and Contracorriente? I am unsure whether is this age of increasing self-consciousness, women oblivious to this occurrence - or complicit in it.

Who will make a film which has a woman at its centre trying to piece together her own identity with a vocabulary (linguistic, filmic and perhaps even societal) that has been defined by men?

16 September 2010

the six month itch


especially for you all, to coincide with London Fashion Week so we can all keep busy between shows, the launch of REPETITIVE STRAIN's A/W 2010 collection.

it has been nearly six months since we last got active on the blog here, and after a long spring/summer of finding employment, writing dissertations and taking shows to edinburgh, it is time for the dormant beast to raise its head and let forth a great yawn of verbiage. and maybe a few photos.

coming up in the next few weeks, i will be endeavouring to create a truly non-linear collage of many things that have provoked thought in the last half-year, including Edinburgh musings, some thoughts on dance and location, orientalism and the foreign language Oscar winner and much, much more...

please be a little patient, these fragments to be shored against our ruin may come in fits and starts --

- -
but they are coming.

29 March 2010


Did you miss it? I certainly did.

Reading Karen Fricker’s round-up of “theatre’s special day” on the Guardian theatre blog yesterday, it struck me that something crucial had been missing from this celebration.

It was not Dame Judi Dench’s official address, no, that had been delivered with her usual stateswomanship. Nor was it the alternative version, the cyber-hi-five issued to Obamaesque political idealism by American playwright Lynn Nottage, whose message was accompanied by a leisurely theatre montage, and a soundtrack which makes as if someone just died. And it was not the baroque ode to theatre proffered by London Theatre Blog’s Andrew Eglinton in quasi-versified aphorisms and enigmatic film clipettes.

The Guardian came close when someone decided to give Fricker’s article the headline: What’s your World Theatre Day fantasy? This seemed too good a question to allow the Guardian subs to answer, especially when you see what they wrote, mistaking the word fantasy for the word favourite: ‘Whether it’s a night in the West End or tackling a Howard Barker epic…’ You can’t help but think they could have thought up a better dilemma.

Judi Dench’s suggestion that ‘in many ways every day should be considered a theatre day’ certainly makes sense coming from a jobbing actress, but for the rest of the world this must be considered a damaging consequence of the culture industry’s inexorable (execrable?) momentum. In London, where Lord-knows-how-many plays can be seen each night we are many worlds away from the festival of Dionysius, and the theatres of other ancient civilizations, in which the cultural significance of the experiece was reflected by its occasional position in the community. Is it barbarian to suggest that seeing theatre too often (every week? every month?) reduces it from the extra-special to the ultra-mundane?

It is exactly this distinction that is missing from the virtual birthday party, the irruption of that which makes theatre worth celebrating, I don’t know: imagination? hopefulness? disappointment? the pure joy and real sorrow of fantasy.

If this is theatre’s special day, you fully hope and expect she’ll get stroppy, throw a tantrum, scream until she turns blue, demand a larger and more calorific cake, more numerous and costly presents, throw someone out, invite too many unsuitable guests, get drunk on supermarket vodka, puke over an elderly relative, wreck her parent’s house, go missing and return after a not-inconsiderable emergency services search operation, and sob fat tears of contrition into a forgiving parent’s jersey.

Last week I went to the opening of the International Istanbul Theatre Festival and was struck (or, rather, bored) by the lack of evidence that the organisers recognised what it was that theatre is good at: a breaking with the everyday, creating a sense of occasion. A woman whose oratorial skills were nothing short of disastrous stood up in front of a screen with the logos of the festival’s sponsors printed on it and read out the entire listings of the festival, the details of which we all had on printed handouts. The mere fact of ostentatiously giving a significant sum of money to a worthy arts cause does not in itself enough, there needs to be a sense that theatre is not just a poor cousin, but an important part of the family. In the same way, it doesn’t seem too much to expect that the UNESCO-sponsored World Theatre Day do something more than simply broadcast a indirect call for world-piece under the guise of a vaguely-worded appreciation of theatre.

We need to stop using the same old words and start saying things which make it clear we mean them. Unsurprisingly, Samuel Beckett knew this: ‘to speak of happiness one hesitates those awful syllables first asparagus burst abscess’. Which syllables for us now?


It all takes place, of course, in the smoldering ruins of The Globe – restored once more to the archeologists of the future in an all-too-historically-faithful revival of ALL IS TRUE.

The rivers of the world have been dredged, Kurt Schwitters has been exhumed for one last merzbau, Sir Nicholas Serota is pasting the walls with luggage labels and cigarette cartons and free newspapers. Shocked dolphins, the figureheads of shipwrecks, decommissioned nuclear warheads and rare whales all orbit in a cosmological mechanic aquarium, and it drips brine on your sister’s hair.

The audience are all suspended from the ceiling on swings of blue and orange rope and driftwood, which rise and fall and catapault someone into the nightsky: you hear them enter the Thames, and you see their occasional beaming betowelled reentrances, waving to you, waving to their family and friends.

It’s all in a language you cannot speak but do understand: it is spoken in phrases repeated in refrains, and written in the movements of one hundred bodies: the actors are all dancers and the musicians are all dancers and the dancers are all your past lovers and you find it is the story of your life you’ve always lived in your head, heard and seen for the first time.

Scarab beetles crawl in the embers, owls are nesting in the balconies, and the chef from an Ethiopian restaurant throws spices into the fire, spices which send your mother to sleep, and bring her long-forgotten bittersweet dreams until she falls off her swing and Kevin Spacey kindly leads her out of the auditorium.

The South Bank’s human statues have quietly followed you in and now run along the charred roofs their naked bodies daubed in thick paint all the colours of the world flags, juggling candles, scattering coppers, handfuls of almonds, raining playing cards flutter past your head.

The girls who followed you along the riverside and disappeared when you gave them coins now parade through the ashes, their ashen skin, the dots incised in their high cheeks, their wrackish rhythms, their infant rhythms, their shrieking gypsy song.

Some hungry Community Support have followed the girls in, but they have laid down their batons, and are being taught to dance, their radios echo angrily unanswered across the arena.

A tribe of children from the local school ride in on animals liberated from the local zoo, dismount and execute a dozen proud foxtrots on the splintered stage.

A troupe of deaf choreographers carry placards which say THUS I PARTICIPATE IN LIFE and other, cleverer things and someone has told them to scream, in beautiful disunion: I love you, I love you, you can never disappoint me.

A thousand men and women are queueing up outside with TVs under their arms – it has been bring your TV to work day but they are all redundant – and break ranks to surge inside and haul their TVs onto the dying fire and the mutinying crew of Doctor Who have dragged a stolen Tardis from the BBC studios, strip it to kindling and feed the fire, which now grows greedy with renewed intent.

Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen perform an increasingly frantic fire safety drill, piggybacking thrilled air stewardesses whose hopping scalded feet scratch their august autographs into the glowing cinders.

Someone from the BBC crew is giving the schoolchildren a lesson in elementary electronics dissecting the Community Support radios.

A sewage pipe bursts beneath the stage and riverwater is sucked back and sent high into the air, dousing your feet, fish falling flipping on the embers. Seagulls circle. The fire seethes.

The girls and the Community Support, the chef and the statues and the children and the BBC crew, Sir Nicholas Serta and Kurt Schwitters and Kevin Spacey, the actors and dancers and musicians gather and reach out their arms to receive the water, wash themselves and each other.

You don't know any of your neighbors, infact you've never seen anyone like them, but in the constant intervals you just get chatting, you love the way they’ve dyed their hair, the pieces of jewellery they wear, and when dawn breaks you go for dinner in a little place nearby that makes faraway food taste homemade and someone plays the accordion improbably well and you’re all like What a fantastic day it’s been and We should do this again and though you don't live anywhere near one another you share a cab home and the driver discourses prettily on the national deficit and the fare comes to less than you thought because you realise you share an childhood obsession in John Hughes movies and one of you invites the other on some unrehearsed pretext back to a small but welcoming flat, with posters of great art works on the wall, and you fall exhausted onto a single bed where one of you cries and is held in the other’s arms. You promise you’ll see each other soon, though you both know that you won’t, and you promise never, ever to forget.

16 March 2010

Who You Aren't

What It Was

Last night, Monday 15th March 2010, Chris Goode's one-off work 'Who You Are' set in Miroslaw Balka's How It Is in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern.
What might be called a 45-minute sound installation around Goode's response to the space and his preparatory thoughts on the audience.


Where I'm At

Somewhere - - disappointed.

After a lot of walking, talking, thinking, strolling, rehearsing lately, I've been thinking about journeying and audiences. About thinking walking - about thinking as walking, a movement, but also about clearings, about Heidegger and revealing, dwelling, technique as techne, letting appear... Feeling also other journeys through acting work involving Viewpoints, Grotowski plastiques and the notion of self-penetration: acting as a deepening and stripping away - a technique of unravelling, of movement into the self, transforming the space of the body that is already there - the body as another Heideggerian clearing, showing us its boundaries and springing away from them.
Continuing to think about journeying last night, it strikes me that Who You Are did not travel into the deep corners, or rather, rejected a collective, metaphysical expedition through the vastness of Balka's great black hole. Definitely an in-stall-ation not an ex-plor-ation.


Where It Was

Still walking-thinking a bit about Heidegger and audience journeys and self-penetration - surely the point of the exhibit is that it isn't a black box...it's actually quite light. It does transform and transmogrify its own distances; revealing unexpected qualities.
It's quite soft in places, hard and cold in others. The walls are deliberately different textures from the floor: they are invisible, glimpsed only in absence, whereas the floors give light, glow grey in patches, moulded by the shadows or shapes of others.


What It Wasn't

Indeed, having a cast of silhouettes sharing the space does not mean that we are 'deprived' of sight, or that our attention to sound is vastly heightened, as the piece ironically notes during one 'scene' in which Goode and the familiarly parodic Tate 'Visitor Experiences' manager discuss why nudity is inappropriate 'in the dark' of How It Is.

Deliberately or no, it was quite difficult to hear anything with the balance of the speakers.
What's more, the sense that really needed to be arrested was touch....sitting against the almost furry soft-brushed suedeness of the back wall of the piece made me increasingly aware of how I would like to be made more aware of my own body and its relation to the constructions around it - other skeletons and bags. Telling us doesn't really do the same job.


If It Weren't -

Another sense - that the piece did not feel intricately thought through - and at times it seemed to fall prey to a technique which too literally takes techne as letting appear and still prioritises the gaze - using nakedness (physical or emotional) as a shield.
After the dialogue with the 'Visitor Experiences' manager, its clear-cut play with the dark space and the imagination, bodies in the dark and the audience's implantation of sexual imagery amidst suggestive dialogue, Goode moved to a dimly-lit lectern on the edge of the open-end of the box, and began a self-interrupting torrent of personal testimony, biography, snatched memory.
The 'confessional', the foregrounding of the artist's honesty (an ironic thing to need foreground...), outpouring of personal detail, becomes a defensive shield. It protects the piece from examining a difference type of naked vulnerability, which is that of the audience and the relationship between performer and audience. It closes the gap between audience and performer, between audience member and audience member, by pretending there is no gap - no connection, just two sets of people in totally different worlds.
Almost antagonistic. Or rather, passive aggressive.

So such nakedness, the self revelation which could not feel like a revelation, instead presents, at poorly chosen junctures, a retiring back into the self - an almost-sentimental 'show' of passion and significance, whose show nearly succeeds in deflecting attention away from the emptiness behind it.
A closing of the gap between audience and performer - because that gap might be a door.
And the performer decides to shut it.
To not admit.
To think there is no light seeping in under the cracks.
When there is always light and shape in shadows.


How We Are

It felt, then, that such a performance carried some un-considered assumptions about the audience and the dark.

Firstly, in shrouding the audience in mysterious impersonality, in reading us randomly-generated names of people who might (not) be watching in America, in telling us that we are scary, that he knows nothing about us, Goode missed out on a glimpse, a genuine connection, with the peculiar type of darkness that the audience experiences.

Yes we might all be strangers to you (though several of us are not) - but are we strangers to each other? Don't we often see familiar faces, or go to the theatre with a friend, a lover, a family member, a colleague? Aren't I here with several people I know - some I knew were coming, others who I happily bumped into?

Isn't the point that this darkness, this audience shroud, is not equalising or even totalising. Isn't it sort of suspending? Not like the shut door, not a deadening or rejection, not a push into nothingness: rather it is a shifting encounter within a fixed time and fixed space. We become aware that maybe we can't move - or we shouldn't move - but we want to. We might want some water but we can't really open our bag in the dark - can't make that noise.

Doesn't this suspension of chronological time, ticking life, reveal something to us? Does it not let appear certain relations, feelings, characteristics, boredoms, excitements? Sitting in the suspended dark with a friend can often make you more acutely aware of each other.
Maybe that someone keeps looking at you to check your reaction, or maybe you become nervously aware of your own position; maybe your own relation is suspended, allowed to play out or reveal itself in a new form. Perhaps this is just How I Am but this must then be a part of How We Are...

I couldn't feel much engagement with this real intimacy of the audience; the shape of the dark, the contours, much like the architectural fascination we find in In Praise of Shadows.
More than anything, this felt under-done, made resoundingly timid by the grandness of the space it took place in, a space whose work with experientiality should not be competed with but complemented and confronted, expanded: exposed, perhaps, with a flash of light, made actually, temporarily, vulnerable and naked, intimate and imposing. They very grinning photo Goode describes on his first visit to the box, amidst the snapping teenagers.


Who It May

It strikes me that maybe sometimes Chris Goode is afraid of the audience...that he turns it into a thing, an 'enigma' and this is somehow scary - and so, to avoid getting entwined in this shadowy presence, it is safer to be almost aggressively, pre-emptively naked himself - to stop anyone else doing so.

But if we start to expect that 'nakedness' (in whatever form) from a piece of theatre, it ceases to be nakedness and starts to become a piece of artistic vocabulary: the dreaded nudity that Goode so deftly deconstructs in The Forest and the Field.


Who I Are

But what shape has a shadow got? How much of performance is there for the performer - how much is there for the audience? What happens if these figures become embodied in the same person? How can performance be intimate without being private? Or particular without being personal? Should theatre play a therapeutic role?
Is that Who We Are? or Who You Are when I go to the theatre. Someone around me who might make me better.

Who is sick.

Who is curing.

Who You Are made me feel oddly impersonal, indifferent to two things in particular:
1) to the audience; even sitting between two friends I felt only myself without pushing further towards my own experience or into the experiences of my two friends either side of me;
2) to the space. I felt it could have taken place anywhere; what's more, it would have been more effective in a busy train station or underneath a bridge with a handjob, anecdotally.

Did it try to fit neatly into the dark. Did it not fit. Was it not dark?

Are we not in the dark.

Is that it?

23 January 2010

Ivo van Hove and a fragile democracy

The problem of theatre in our lifetime is not an aesthetic one. It is social. It is not that we do not know 'how' a play should look, or what a theatrical form should take: it is that we do not know how to make it. We are unable to grasp the importance of theatre, for theatre's sake, understood on its own terms.

Because we cannot see theatre in theatrical terms, we cannot understand its position in society. And so every time we go to see a play, our reaction expresses discomfort. Not discomfort over particular social actions or circumstances: but discomfort with theatre's way of telling it.

Theatre seems constantly to be telling us about something else's view of the world. It is society's little secretary. A secretary which thinks its speech combines the polyphony of voices and stratas in all aspects of the corporation. But in actual fact, in losing itself, in becoming a mouthpiece with no mouth of its own, it simply keeps the boss in charge.

If theatre is a secretary, what is the political shape of the world in which it functions? Is there a power in being secretarial? And how does this relate to an understanding of democracy - or otherwise - in the cultural and social landscape? Does a secretary not represent many of the most repressed, and repressive, aspects of representative democracy?

Who do we elect to represent 'Theatre' now? And why does it need representing?

Theatre wants us to fill in a form. Age, name, date of birth, postcode, email, tick this box to receive further details.

How can we move it to a position of asking questions?

Several months ago I saw Toneelgroep's Roman Tragedies at the Barbican, directed by Dutch-born Ivo van Hove. The Hall was transformed into a muzak-filled corporate lobby: grey block sofas across the stage, a bar, first aid area, and internet zone all occupying the space. The audience were invited on stage, moving between dispersed video screens and relays of the action. An electronic ticker tape below the main projection screen showed the latest world news, noted forthcoming scene changes, and even provided a Roman history countdown: 3 mins til the death of Julius Caesar; 75 minutes til the death of Antony, etc.

At the end of the performance, when many members of the audience were already heading for the door, there was a projection of 40 questions concerning politics, theatre and acting.
Is it possible to have politics without a desire for power?
Is anti-political rhetoric the key to popularity?
Are all politicians actors?

I am interested in how van Hove's questions, and the extraordinary, sprawling-yet-minutely calculated 6 hour collation of Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra might encourage some consideration of theatre escaping its reflective duties of echoing social 'reality' and theatrical tradition.

There is something in the overt posing of questions which abrogates a sense of self - and simultaneously a sense of invitational, inclusive debate - so rarely seen (unless in pure egoism) in contemporary productions of Shakespeare. Roman Tragedies was not mute secretary; we were handed no forms. Instead we were confronted with a brief epilogue which challenged the timid assumption that theatre interrogates social reality only through dramturgical cleverness and mimesis.

Yes, Toneelgroep's production had sublime moments of dramaturgical re-visioning: playing Calpurnia's bad dream scene with Julius Caesar face to face with Brutus' final night with Portia; choosing to cast Octavius Caesar as female. Yet it also did something I have never seen in theatre: it combined this subtly woven re-vision with direct questions. It literally turned to the audience and said "what do you think? What does theatre have to do with politics?"

Whilst I was surprised how many people were already ignoring these directed challenges by the end of the show, apparently the London audience paid them most attention.

This was one of the observations made on Thursday 21st January when van Hove gave a talk and a round-table discussion at King's College London of his recent work and general practice.

A sleek, well-dressed man in his forties, van Hove is not particularly well-known in the UK, though his international reputation, having begun his career primarily in New York, is weighty.
More of us should know who he is.

In the roundtable discussion, Van Hove said that he treated the plays - Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra - as if "Shakespeare had sent them to me that morning". (Somewhat eerily - or perhaps she had heard it before - Lyn Gardner's review for the Guardian makes the same observation almost word for word).

Read only what is there, not what other readers and directors have found there.

Of course, we could argue that each text of Shakespeare is itself an historical construction which must be scrutinised; but not in the realm of a theatrical production. Not in the beginning stages of bringing a text to the stage. Van Hove's comments insinuated that his process was one of mapping, of plotting points in the plays' existing fabric against his own points of view ('the end must be slow'; Antony and Cleopatra would always come last; the snake had to be real): creating lines and planes of dialogue, a fresh play.

The ferocity of the vision must take precedent in this process; but van Hove equally remembers where it came from. The triumphant epic quality of Roman Tragedies came from within one quick reading of Antony and Cleopatra on an aeroplane: it is a direct response to something that clearly is conversant within Shakespeare's Roman plays.

A distinctive quality of van Hove's work is his insistence on an element of the 'real' - usually a very fleeting encounter which once again forces a tumultuous reevaluation of the context. He attributed this to his background in performance art. In Roman Tragedies, this came with Enobarbus' speech prior to his death:

I fight against thee? No, I will go seek
Some ditch wherein to die; the foul'st best fits
My latter part of life.

In every performance, the actor playing Enobarbus fled the auditorium, followed by a camera which then relayed the outdoors back indoors to the audience members huddling around the grey sofas of the 'conference centre' playing space.

Van Hove noted in the discussion in January the importance of place in the success of this 'real' moment. It is a moment when, in a playing space already dissolving lines between audience and actor, we are abruptly reminded that there are thousands of other barriers, spaces and borders to be dissolved. The actor crashes into the Barbican carpark: eerie but for the comical sight of my friends Rachel and Hugh having a sneaky cigarette mid-performance, stepping out of their 'moving'-audience role assigned in the auditorium, to another role. The borders, it seems, are not just dissolved and reconstituted: they choose and change themselves.

Van Hove's favourite city for this moment was in Amsterdam, as the play was staged in a theatre located on the city's most central square: Enobarbus would emerge into the scream of traffic, trams, taxis, commuters, hawkers, vendors, businessmen, beggars, fighting amidst the din to have his own wailing heard.

Van Hove construed the production as a study, charting from republic to empire and onwards 'the fragile birth of democracy'.

What might an understanding of birth, fragility and democracy make me see when I think now about Shakespeare, and about this nominal democracy of Britain 2010?

I think about voices, and about van Hove's earlier comment on treating a script as if the writer finished it this morning. About having certain approaches or techniques when it comes to staging, but never becoming an aesthetic brand. About being delicately democratic with a text - any text, Shakespeare or otherwise - rather than despotic or tyrannical.

I also think about van Hove's practical approach with his actors, a mode of being which he calls 'intense relaxation'. The performers are at ease, yet are able to change gear into moments of real violence or extreme emotional ferocity swiftly and believably.

Van Hove's approach to theatre is unremittingly even-handed. Respectful. There are no heroes or special stars. Of course he has favoured actors, preferred venues; but as he himself admits, there isn't a recognisable 'van Hove' style. Instead he treats each play, each performance, as if it were born then and there. He reads a text and asks what it wants to be, not what it has been before.

With regards to Shakespeare, or otherwise, his approach is something which every British director can learn from.

It strikes me that there is something ridiculously undemocratic, and brittle rather than fragile, about attitudes to Shakespeare productions in English, in this country. Roman Tragedies was lauded, and rightly so, for its sublimely Brechtian puncturing of political and theatrical precepts. Yet I cannot help thinking that its unrivalled praise in the British press was also gilded by its foreignness; by its not being in English. After all, we love Shakespeare in another language - a Japanese Titus Andronicus, a Polish Macbeth. It allows us to focus on the poetics of the stage, on the physicality of the bodies and sounds, rather than the semantics.

Yet this wild praise for foreign language Shakespeare insinuates a still-existing tyranny of language: that the words, the exquisite "poetry" (always 'the poetry'!!) of Shakespeare are all, or nothing. The absent marker in the Dutch muscularity of Roman Tragedies or the central lynchpin of Trevor Nunn's woeful read-a-long Lear for the RSC a few years ago. English productions of Shakespeare become more and more like radio programs, or audio books; international productions are subsequently expected to dazzle us with 'physical theatre' (a term which only seems to exist in theatre communities in Britain: other cultures just call it "theatre") - something to make up for that absent "poetry".

Any English production that does dare to change the language or structure significantly is itself accused of violence: it is arrested, and taken to the gallows for its insult on the sovereign of our great literary landscape.

Declan Donellan's seriously under-appreciated Troilus and Cressida in 2008, was criticised heavily for some of the staging choices and cuts. by a press unwilling - or perhaps unable - to engage with the reasons for those choices.

It seems that the English press can only judge any Shakespearean performance against Shakespeare, and the history of shakespeare in performance. Different rules seem to apply: you even get it in the US; take a look at recent press for Young Jean Lee's Lear-less LEAR at the Soho Rep in New York. The New York Times critic judged the piece a brave failure because it did not 'speak' sufficiently to the themes of original Shakespeare text.

I think about how this severity, this unchanging reification of a writer's plays into one voice, "Shakespeare", might bear similar traits as the voice of an ex-Prime Minister who, nearly a decade after some of the twenty-first century's most devastating political decisions, declares that he would 'do it all again' with half the chance.

Blair's attitude is a resolute, though highly self-motivated, failure to acknowledge the undeniable restlessness of political reality. The unending festering of social life which means that people cross borders, bodies are buried under rubble, decay and are never found, stock markets change every instant, money changes hands, languages interfuse.

And in Blair's stony declaration, I hear echoed the radio-friendly tones of a certain booming, boring Shakespearean theatre which has been 'doing it all again' without ever noticing that the decision to play it like that was wrong in the first place!

The man who agreed to invade Iraq was wrong, though he made a spectacularly elaborate attempt to derive empirical justification from absolute fiction. The practitioners who decide to 'read' Shakespeare to their buttock-numbed audience have trodden the same path - not in relation to this one writer, but in enslaving and corrupting our theatre in its entirety. They have bastardised it in constituting it, and given it a nice name badge to wear.

In Iraq that name badge reads 'democracy'. In theatre, I have no fucking clue what it reads, but I don't like it.

I am reminded of Deleuze and Guattari's 'Introduction' to A Thousand Plateaus, and of my friend Jonny, who will read this post, with whom I discussed just what this might mean for a theatre-maker:

We assigned clever pseudonyms to prevent recognition. Why
have we kept own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To make
ourselves unrecognizable in turn. To render imperceptible, not
ourselves, but what makes us act, feel, and think. Also because it's
nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody
knows it's only a manner of speaking. To reach, not the point where
one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any
importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will
know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied.

And just what might this mean for a theatre-maker dealing in the biggest oak-tree of them all? What tiny dendrite or little polyp can weld and weed itself about this monumental structure? Surely the only way for an oak like Shakespeare to keep growing is laterally, subterraneously: re-germination, decay, cutting, trimming, suturing as re-construction not de-construction. Trimming to stimulate growth: or simply delving into the soil - soil is a false surface; not a plane but a planet of its own, a dense forest - to seek out the freshest, most living part of Shakespeare. The part that can thump on your desk at 9am this morning - underneath your hands and in your fingernails like sods of mud. The part that is still growing, even whilst the tree above, in all its hopeless verticality, dries out.

The [boss] is dead, long live -

...Now boast thee, Death, in thy possession lies
A lass unparalleled.

19 January 2010


Some youtube wizard, the imperceptibly named dabble778, is responsible for the above. Bringing Bob Dylan's 2006 album Modern Times into glorious dialogue with Charlie Chaplin's 1936 movie of the same name, finally initiated me into the joys of Charlie Chaplin, after just about everyone else on this planet.

I've always venerated Dylan in a totally unhealthy way, but with Charlie Chaplin I suppose I assumed his raggedy limbs and musical hall clothes had nothing to do with me. All it took was a simple gesture combining the not-quite-arbitrarily-connected two, to unlock a world of pleasures. Well, four minutes of it.

In a link so tenuous it should have a new title, the Modern Times: Responding to Chaos exhibition just opened at Kettle's Yard Gallery, in Cambridge, bringing into an extraordinary conversation drawings and films by an astonishing variety of different modernist artists.

To name some names: Pollock, Malevich, Mondrian, Grosz, Klee, Pollock, de Kooning, Giacometti, Bourgeois, Beuys, Serra, Judd, Twombly, Boccioni, El Lissitsky.

Especial treats included a fourteen-minute-long video by Ferdinand Léger called Ballet Mécanique (which you can watch here), and a small drawing by Kurt Schwitters, entitled 'Koi'. This I had to bend forward to inspect properly, and I found it rewarding in a way no drawing ever has been. The lightness of the marks made, the careful deployment of colour and shade, and the way it lingered on the brink of signification (and its opposite), meant it revealed itself incredibly slowly. Several days later, its presence in the exhibition remains far more problematic than the bolder works of abstract expressionism which surrounded it, busily proclaiming their new language for art.

A friend remarked it looked like a drawing-board offcut, and intriguingly it did seem to bear the imprint of industry once more important but no longer otherwise accounted for, quietly commanding all your attention.

18 January 2010

trying to be nice - Trilogy at BAC

After a conversation with my flatmates this weekend, I have been thinking a lot about justice and theatre. Justice, that is, as 'rightness'; the particular set of rules which may or may not apply when we consider a piece of theatre and how it makes us feel or act.

We had been talking about how performance studies was becoming increasingly popular as a training tool for medical and legal professionals, with actors used to create 'lifelike' situations of crisis or dispute which the training doctors or lawyers could use to respond to appropriately.

I thought a lot more about how performance encourages or prescribes response; but more than that, about how attitude and theatre might have an interesting relationship; a relationship which can sometimes be coached or trained, just like the actors in medical instruction videos attempt to train doctors to exercise more 'gentle' or human responses to their patients particular illnesses or tragedies.
Is it possible to use something like a theatrical performance to 'coach' people into being nice?

And what is it about this tricky word 'nice' that makes me think of Nic Green's Trilogy?

The piece is a self-proclaimed feminist performance in three parts, a runaway success as at the 2009 Fringe which enjoyed a recent run at the Battersea Arts Centre and will transfer to the Barbican this weekend.

As the name might suggest, the piece works in three parts.

The first, about twenty minutes in length, is exposition with dance-moves. Green and friend and collaborator Laura Bradshaw enact a 'celebration of womanhood' which culminates in about 50 female volunteers naked and dancing on stage. Which is exuberant sheerly because its participants are exuberant.

This is followed by the longest - and most arduous - part of the show, which is inspired and driven by lengthy projections of Town Bloody Hall, the film of a public meeting on Women's Liberation in 1971, chaired by infamous misogynist (and bad sex novelist) Norman Mailer, featuring Germaine Greer and Jill Johnston.

Projections of the the two speeches delivered by Greer and Johnston are accompanied by - and interspersed with - the five strong company (four female, one male, as in Hall), reciting in unison various statements and parts of the discussion. They begin the section by telling - and sometimes showing us - how they were born; they end, naked, in a cluster, upstage; seven members of the audience, clothed, tracing circles with their arms gather downstage and move across the diagonal so that the groups switch places. (Greenm in preparing the audience for this moment, assures that their presence at this point will make sense when it happens...it does not.)

Finally, a shorter section which makes Trilogy an argument or a structured piece of gentle rhetoric rather than a discursive performance. A mini lecture about women's rights abuses, a proposed solution in the form of a 'Womanifesto', and the culmination: all the audience on stage, some of its female members unclothed, singing Jerusalem.

Re-reading what I have just described, I am surprised (as someone who does consider themselves a feminist but also a fairly critical cynic) that I enjoyed myself. Not least because I notice how different my voice, and experience, becomes when I write retrospectively about something I have seen; when I try to place it in an order or category of meaning or ideology. I thoroughly enjoyed being at the BAC on Saturday; it was as if I was filtering out my apprehensions, saving the political commentary for the blogpost, or the aftershow discussion.

And there were numerous points which jumped out mid-piece that threatened the political integrity of the piece by being so singularly idealistic.

In the third part, Green 'accidentally' showed us a slide, mid 'Womanifesto', of a lady getting stoned to death. The woman was buried up to her shoulders, in a white shroud and sobbing, keening to one side. The image was profoundly affecting - I spoke to many people (all women) afterwards who said that from that point on they were in tears.

Yet I found the inclusion of the picture a little cheap; as if this woman was a victim of great physical torture and injustice, that was becoming a representational ('poetic'?) injustice too. Green did not tell us who this woman was, where she was from, what year the photo came from, or exactly what the situation or conditions of stoning-as-punishment are. Such necessary details make an unjust event more telling, more clearly atrocious, but equally, they are fairer to the event itself.

There is something troubling in grabbing a picture off the internet (even if Green herself knows exactly what it means and where it's from), using it to powerfully influence the emotions of the audience (just before you are about to ask them to take off their clothes and sing Jerusalem, a wildly misread, politically manipulated tub-thumping England song) and not giving that audience sufficient information to contextualise and truly empathise with the victim.

And here is the rub. Green's piece was about celebrating difference, she cried, the difference in every female body, in every name and history of woman; yet there was very little consideration of ethnic specificity, or class struggle. Money, race and gender score a very desperate, confusing trio: and perhaps the key to really finding a place for feminism in 2010 is to acknowledge rather than condemn the inextricable bonds between all of these issues.

What is more, there was a sense in which Green seemed to be aiming for a kind of non-theatre. Sometimes we were watching dance; sometimes we were being sung at; sometimes it felt like a motivational exercise video, sometimes like a weird power-church.
The form was flawed, but it had good intentions, which almost seemed to misplace themselves, unsure whether to wholly unite or respectfully differ. I am thinking here about the role of nakedness in the piece.

I recalled Chris Goode's latest incarnation of The Forest and the Field, and its consideration of the distancing artificiality of nudity, which tries to cast the unclothed body in some kind of interpretive or eroticised, art-ified fabric, opposed to the honesty of nakedness. Trilogy's physical nakedness was underpinned by a certain ideological nudity, or prettifying; a particular attitude which wanted to use performance, to stage openness, in order to make people more open. Like those instructional medical videos, it was acting in order to get us to act nice, in our own lives. But was it giving us the naked truth?

Perhaps such honesty is impossible in a medium which relies on poetic license. Yet at times Trilogy felt like it didn't want to be theatre at all, so little did it use the forms and conventions of its space and tradition.

There was an element of the show which, my friend Jess rightly pointed out, felt a little like a sermon. I am thinking specifically of the final part. Whilst its attitude was not sermonising, delivered in that long, considered, too-smiley broad cadence which seems to have infused contemporary theatre which addresses its audience face on (I think again about the different - thought nonetheless considered, weighted speech of Tim Crouch's The Author ), but the effect it achieved, and the effect it aimed for, seemed to be one of making us sweet; coaching us, like doctors in those instructional videos, to be more 'human' (I am keeping 'human' in deliberate speech marks), as if we had none of that humanity already.

Though I was troubled by some aspects of the piece whilst watching them, I nevertheless appreciated, more than anything else, the opportunity to feel genuinely included and appreciated in a theatre. I am sure that the feeling of security which I experienced at one point of the performance was not entirely shared by everyone, but I believe that it was respected by everyone. As I mentioned in the beginning, its lack of obscurity meant that I as an audience member felt myself in an expansive space of personal contemplation (and this may have been as much due to my mood that night as the performance itself).

But something about Trilogy allowed me to dislocate my very analytical, often quite harsh, defenses and enjoy the event in real time, rather than anticipating all the points or criticisms we might throw at it later. I am aware that this generosity I felt from the performers may well be the effect of a theatre which deliberately appeals to women; I went with four female friends, and afterwards we stayed and talked for a few hours about our mothers, children, changes in feminism through our families' recent generations.

Yet however much our female discussion might have been conducted in a post-euphoric glow after having been naked amongst strangers on stage, or given the optimism and singular simplicity of Nic Green and her company's idealised vision for contemporary sexual attitudes, it was important.
The piece barely registered, its aesthetic accessories- and they were accessories: save for a beautiful moment when the five core cast created a kind of step ladder out of their naked bodies, draped one over the back of the other, and brushing the hair of the person behind them, created a kind of wave of spiralled movement up and down the ladder.

It was the moment of having a throng of naked bodies (all female, bar one) on stage which made me think. Nothing more.

Is it simply because I am female, and this is theatre about 'feminism' that I felt engaged? What did the male spectators think? What did the male actor think?

I feel confused about my response to Trilogy because I cannot pinpoint anything in the form of it which was thoughtful or so discursive; yet it did encourage me to think about what it felt like to be a woman, to be a woman in a theatre, to be a woman in 'the' theatre, to be in a theatre full of women and men, to be a naked woman in a theatre full of women and men.

My confusion over its meld of form and content has led me to believe that this wasn't a piece of theatre at all: it was a display of attitude, its own manifesto, an instructional example.

If we conclude that it is no longer a piece of theatre but an attitude, a display, I wondered whether it was possible to be precisely critical about an attitude or emotional offering? Is it ok for me to morally judge the impulse behind an action, or are we confined to making a more secure judgement of the presentation and execution of that action onstage? Is it ok for me to say the piece was... nice?

I thought about several different aspects of the relationship between attitude and theatre, and between justice and attitude and response. This consideration of niceness, of artistry and attitude also made me wonder about the role of the critic. It is inadequate for me as critic to celebrate a piece for having good intentions even if its resulting art is less satisfactory, or purely transitory. Yet it is human nature to work with the best of intentions and perhaps not quite achieve: it would be social and emotional cruelty to condemn failure to follow through, because we fail at it all the time.

It then made me think about the differences between the collective and the individual experience at the theatre. Perhaps it is impossible to create a collective critical response; but it is infinitely plausible to engineer a collective experience. The difficulty is that I find my sensory reception and my critical disagreement occurring together, offsprings of their mutual conflict.

So whilst I enjoyed the warmth and contact, so absent from contemporary theatre and our daily lives, of the final section as we stood shoulder to shoulder and sang Jerusalem, I felt deeply troubled by Jerusalem itself.

Firstly, as a former English student who knows Blake's prophetic books a little, and disagrees entirely with the cortarizing of this piece of verse from the bulk of Milton.

Secondly, as a feminist and political being who is uncomfortable with any song that has been trumpeted by the Conservative Party for campaigning purposes.

Thirdly, as someone who is Welsh, not English, aware that equalising cultural, ethnic, circumstantial differences for political unity can lead to a dangerous kind of ideological imperialism which feminism both fights, and flirts with, everyday.

Perhaps a show like this can only achieve an either/or: either political engagement and scrutiny; or a celebratory inclusivity, an interactive event. Trilogy will surely be criticised (mostly be some men I know, and respect very deeply) for squaring itself solely at women in a mode which is unable to be as egalitarian as the maxims it preaches. A play about women for women. Thus some might see it as an entrenchment of several divisions between the sexes: after all, no men were invited to come up on stage and take off their clothes.

Nevertheless, it made a necessary and eagerly non-discriminatory gesture which tried to incorporate the women of the past within and about the women of now. And for this particular reason, its singular focus on the female body was an attempted compensation for the deletions of history. Showing the female body, calling on the female presence today, in order to remind us of the physical similarities that bind women together. With a generosity directly opposed to the denigrating gaze which separates viewer and viewed, woman from woman, until they become competing objects for attention. To present the body in a way which is not primarily sexual.

In this sense, Trilogy is not a piece of theatre, but an opening of parentheses, a long moment. For creating a moment of community within the theatre, which transcended actors and audience, it should be acknowledged. But it must be questioned for its own politics, its particular form which seemed so eager to share yet did not offer a spoken dialogue or discussion of issues. It relies upon the men and women watching to do all of the critical thinking: to separate themselves from that collective moment in order to contemplate it.

So what legacy are women to take up now?