Monthly Archives: April 2016

How can you do GCSE Drama without theatre?

This article in Standard Issue magazine has recently addressed the issue of GCSE Drama requirements being changed so that seeing live theatre is no longer a requirement for the syllabus.

I can just about understand how this allows schools in remote areas (where they perhaps don’t have easy access to theatres that we have in London and other large towns and cities) to add GCSE Drama to their syllabus. But I am deeply concerned that with funding cuts, it will be all too easy for schools to justify seeing live theatre as a frivolous expense. There is something about the ephemeral quality of theatre, the experience of something being created live in front of you, the acts of teamwork to make it run smoothly, that just don’t translate in quite the same way when watched on screen.

I have very much enjoyed the proliferation of NTLive screenings – they have allowed me to see productions such as The Audience and Frankenstein (which were way beyond my budget and/or sold out) – I can hear the words and sound effects, see the set and movements, but I cannot feel the atmosphere. It is that atmosphere which is so crucial for young minds to fall in love with theatre. To feel a soundtrack pulsate through your body, to have that connection with the performers on stage. By watching this on a screen, you are somewhat dissociated from the action.

It’s painting by numbers, experiencing things second hand; it’s tantamount to watching your chemistry teacher do all the cool stuff with a bunsen burner, it’s seeing someone else’s samples from a geography field trip, it’s regurgitating someone else’s mathematical proof rather than learning to understand it yourself. Sure it helps, but it’s no substitute for doing it yourself.

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Here are my list of my favourite theatrical memories which just couldn’t have been achieved by watching it on a screen:

Kenneth Branagh throwing a handful of snow over my head as he walked through the auditorium in The Winter’s Tale. (Having worked for 9 years in retail, I have a hard time getting excited about Christmas until December – and here I was, feeling all twinkly and festive, IN OCTOBER).

Cackling a bit too loudly at theatre joke in The Little Dog Laughed, and Tamsin Grieg making direct eye contact with me and a grin and twitch of the eyebrows that said: “you’ve had this happen, haven’t you?”

Having the bejaysus scared out of me in Ghost Stories and wondering who in the auditorium was screaming (only to realise it was me).

Seeing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in preview, (before the luminous turquoise clunky jerky telephone box was deemed safe for use), with a non-existent invisible Great Glass Elevator, and Willy Wonka and Charlie sat on the floor in the cavernous expanse of a starlit stage. “Come with me, and you’ll see, a world of pure imagination…” was proper spine-tingling stuff, a piece of understated theatrical magic.

The pre-show for Measure For Measure in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and one of the male actors propping his elbow on my shoulder and asking suggestively: “So… are you working tonight?”

Sitting in the back of a car for This Time Tomorrow at Edinburgh Fringe 2015, in one of the greatest exercises of theatrical intimacy I’ve ever witnessed.

The abundance of theatrical electricity in the auditorium for In The Heights during “Carnaval del Barrio”.

The thundering of tap shoes in Thoroughly Modern Millie rippling through my seat in the tiny Landor Theatre.

The noise and smell of battle in both Titus Andronicus and Henry V at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Getting splashed in a glorious finale of Singin’ In The Rain.

Being addressed directly by both actors in Lampedusa at Soho Theatre.

Having to resist the urge to run onto the stage in War Horse and make them give poor, exhausted Topthorn a break.

Punchdrunk, generally.

People, Places and Things – Wyndham’s Theatre

It’s only April and I think I’ve already found my favourite play of 2016. Technically I found it in March, but it was so good I had to see it a second time. It’s intense, funny, traumatic, beautiful, terrifying, poignant and inspiring – and Denise Gough has more than earned the accolade of Best Actress in the 2016 Olivier Awards.

People, Places and Things takes us into the messy world of rehab, as Emma (Denise Gough), and a selection of other recovering addicts, work through the minefield of physical withdrawl, and the subsequent therapy sessions as they battle the psychological demons which always lead them back to substance abuse: the people, places and things they associate with using.

Denise Gough is absolutely magnetic as Emma: from the minute she ricochets into reception, high as a kite, slurring expletives into her phone, and expecting a quick fix to her problems, she invites us into the unfiltered wreckage of “I can quit anytime I like.” She’s an almost permanent fixture on stage in a role which seems equally draining and exhilarating, and Duncan Macmillan’s perspicacious writing more than passes the Bechdel Test. (Take note, playwrights: THIS is how you write good roles for women).

Bunny Christie has created yet another stunning and versatile set – staged in traverse with some audience seated on the stage, the tiled walls feel very clinical, compounded by the hallucinatory graphics as they start to crack and float away during certain scenes. Backed up by a pounding soundtrack from Matthew Herbert, stunning sound design by Tom Gibbons, and vivid lighting by James Farncombe – this is every bit another success by Headlong, to rival their previous work on 1984 and The Nether.

 

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Photo by Johan Persson

She is backed up by a tight ensemble cast who play roles including medical staff and fellow service users in various stages of recovery (and relapse). The lucid scenes of withdrawl with multiple Emmas staggering, pacing and twitching about the stage are quietly harrowing. Barbara Marten plays a selection of calm and withering professionals who, according to Emma, “look just like my mother”. Her offbeat sense of humour helps to temper some of the seriousness of the situation, offering Emma a ‘stool sample to eat’, before joyfully announcing “it’s FALAFEL!” But her appearance in the final scene adds a real thump of poignancy, showing us the enormity of Emma’s wayward past.

Jeremy Herrin’s directing helps us to navigate through a potentially confusing narrative of the things that Emma perceives, both real and imaginary. The group therapy sessions present snapshots of the lives of other addicts, the familiar patterns of behaviour, and Emma’s reluctance to engage with the process. Gough delivers several monologues with real punch: how exactly are you supposed to live sober when the world around you is so screwed, that drink and drugs are the only things that make it tolerable? But towards the end, we are all rewarded with the fruits of her hard work and honesty, as she practises her apology to her parents – a tender and moving piece of vulnerability.

Theatre is my addiction. And I am craving another hit of People, Places and Things.

A HUGE thank you to Seat Plan for the tickets!

‘People, Places and Things’ is playing until Saturday 18th June 2016 at the Wyndham’s Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DA. Contains strong language, strobe-like lighting effects and short complete blackouts in the auditorium. Suitable for ages 15+. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.peopleplacesthingsonstage.com/