“Sealand” at the Arcola Tent

After a successful run in Edinburgh, Sell A Door theatre have brought this quaint little piece of new writing to the Arcola tent.

We witness the story of a meeting of two families brought together by a strange coincidence – Ted, a father grieving after the loss of his wife builds a land on sea with his son Alex. The other – a family typical of the society Ted complains about: an alcoholic father & erratic mother, constantly shunned by their daughter Sarah, a girl more who would much rather be at a squat rave than a floating utopian state.

There are some seriously incredible performances – Jessica Stone who plays Sarah, is so believable, you could have sworn they picked her up at the nearest tube station and dumped her onstage. However the cast are all East 15 graduates (which provoked an interesting post-show discussion about whether reviewers can tell if an actor is trained or not – turns out we can’t). She brings all of the qualities you would like in an actor, which makes her characters journey for me, the focus of the play and the reason to go see this show. Slightly worrying however is a the echo between the character of Sarah and the character of Tilly in Jumpy by April De Angelis (writer Luke Clarke’s mentor on the project).

The set is lovely – built with serious skill for the stage, it represents the isolation and claustrophobia presented to us through the relationships of the characters. Considering the play is 90 minutes, the cast maintained a great energy and connection which kept the audiences focus – the text is also ludicrously funny in parts which is a great credit to Luke.

It’s a great piece that still writing-wise still needs to develop, so all the actors can receive the same audience response as Stone. However with the support of fantastic production companies, great writers and a responsive audience, there is no doubt that this play has all the potential to become a modern classic.

Running at the Arcola theatre till 10th November.

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Theatre debates: Why they still matter

This morning, I was blissfully scrolling through Twitter, when a link appeared to the following blog.

http://guerrillasemiotics.com/2012/10/21-theatre-debates-i-would-love-to-put-a-moratorium-on/

“21 Theatre ‘debates’ I would love to put a moratorium on” by Jana Perkovic, an Australian based theatre writer. I found myself feeling completely enraged – unsure whether it was the commute/terrible weather/shockingly unpredictable hormones, I attempted to let it settle.

However, I find myself sat here, plugging away at the keyboard, in some vein attempt to translate this frustration into a fairly legible counter-argument. In my opinion, this blog highlights some big issues surrounding attitudes towards theatre study, participation and engagement.

My perspectives of the value of theatre have dramatically changed since leaving university. This is almost entirely down to my current job, as well as my artistic work. I am taking responsibility for the future of the theatre industry, and therefore my perspective is almost entirely in consideration of how writing/performance engages young people of all backgrounds, hence why I feel so strongly about the importance of debate.

NB: This response is in no way intended as a personal attack on Jana. It is used as an example to highlight what I feel is a much larger issue with attitudes towards theatre in a variety of capacities.

NB: I also apologise in advance for having to describe myself and certain people as ‘young’ or ‘emerging’. I hate those terms. I have no doubt of the level of professionalism; unfortunately it is an easier way of distinguishing career development thus far.

Why debate still matters:

I am saddened by the cynical use of quotation marks around the word debate. I understand that for someone like Jana, who has had the privilege of studying and engaging with theatre for many years, may become slightly exhausted by particular conversations (21 to be precise).

However since the Edinburgh Fringe this year, twitter has been rife with blog posts, articles & hashtags surrounding many of the issues highlighted by Jana as redundant debate issues. These posts have been coming from theatre heavyweights such as Lyn Gardiner and Mark Fisher, as well as from talented emerging writers such as Catherine Noonan and Dan Hutton (catherinanoonan.com & danhutton.wordpress.com). The best part is that these two ‘worlds’ of theatre are engaging and debating with each other. This has been going beyond the cyber too, with events like ‘For the Love of Theatre’ at Battersea Arts Centre – inviting professionals and young people to discuss such issues around critisism in an open forum.

It’s not coincidence that across the theatre spectrum these issues are being explored. It highlights a need for these debates to still exist: firstly, to inform the younger generations of the industry, aiding them with their intellectual development which can only inform whichever artistic practice they develop. This in turn directly aids any current investment in the future of the industry – advocated by those professionals engaging with us.

On academic/intellectual engagement with the theatre:

I agree with many of Jana’s responses to the debates, particularly those surrounding arts funding.

However any form of relating or understanding from the perspective of the everyday theatre-goer (unless they have had the privilege of an academic crash-course in performance theory) is abolished with the following statement:

“15. Poor and wrong definitions of post-dramatic theatre, followed by fierce discussions of how there is a story in everything, you can’t not have a story, etc. (Everyone should actually read Hans-Thies Lehmann.)”

I have read Hans-Thies Lehmann on the recommendation of a tutor at university. I wrote extensively about the theory in relation to various works. I would never recommend everyone to read it. Why? Well firstly, there are so many alternative ways of engaging with the arts in a meaningful way that don’t relate to the avant garde. Many ways which much more valuable to society than debating things in academic circles.

NB: I am not entirely dismissing the importance of academic enquiry – in many disciplines it can later go on to inform government policy etc, but I’m talking about it in terms of the arts & making a direct, current impact to a particular group of people.

I understand that perhaps Jana’s point attempted to illustrate the annoyance we all experience when someone enters a discussion with large statements about a topic they are ill-informed in. However, if a young person approaches me looking to engage more with theatre, I am not going to order them to go out and spend £25.99 on a copy of Postdramatic Theatre.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore a good theory book. However, think back to the beginning of this fascination with theatre – how did you first engage with it? I’d tell them to take that money, take advantage of the brilliant subsidised ticket offers and go see as much work as possible, because the experience of performance is what informs debate more than anything theory book does (Lehmann’s himself is informed by SRS, DV8, Pina Bausch etc). For me, provided that someone has seen a piece of theatre/read a play and has an opinion on it, it is enough to engage in a debate with.

NB: If you are now curious about postdramatic theatre, read this lovely summary from Andrew Haydon: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2008/nov/11/postdramatic-theatre-lehmann

On writing:

I find it really difficult to accept the tone of the piece, which is a shame because many of the other blogs featured on the website are engaging and informative. I have clearly outlined my motivation and interest in the arts in terms of my work, so you can of course understand my complete outrage at the following statement:

“10. Whether and how we should ‘support’ ‘emerging’ artists. (Support to do what?)”

This appears to be the only debate in which Jana has not closed the argument with her clear opinion; therefore I have decided to construct a clear answer to this to assist Jana with putting this debate to bed:

Yes we should, and we can support them in many ways that go beyond financial. In fact, many organisations do: Roundhouse, Soho Theatre, A Younger Theatre, Ideastap. NB: Apologies for not having more info about other regional schemes, to illustrate the point I have used ones directly accessible to me.

These institutions provide facilities in which to practice the art, offer platforms and funding opportunities to show it, they offer inspiration and opportunity at a time where our government is letting us down. (I have addressed this issue in a piece on funding which can be found here)

It contradicts the fact that Jana believes that there should be lots of art funding available; does that not apply in her eyes to younger people who are still in the very early stages of developing their craft? I really hope not.

Conclusion

I am hoping that several of the topics I have addressed have highlighted that debate should be encouraged in a healthy and intellectually fulfilling way, for anyone of any academic background.