It’s that time of year where everyone starts to publish their Top 10 lists, and let’s face it, no one needs another ‘these were my top 10 shows of 2014’ list. Keen to add my voice to the hum of list making I’ve decided to go personal (when do I not?) and write about moments, experiences and those HELL YEAH I LOVE THEATRE thrills that I found myself in.
So here it is, a mashup of things that made 2014 the most theatrical it could be my Top 10 Theatrical Moments of 2014: An Idiosyncratic View
1. Visiting the Schaubühne in Berlin
After a breakup with a boyfriend I found myself on the phone to Canadian Airlines transferring a flight we had booked to Prague for a single ticket to Berlin. I’ve wanted to visit since I got obsessed with Bertold Brecht and Heiner Muller whilst studying, both pretty standard German theatre foundation blocks. I guess it was a combination of Sean Holmes at the Lyric Theatre with Secret Theatre, Katie Mitchell just being Katie Mitchell and Thomas Ostermeier’s Hamlet at the Barbican that made me want to visit make the theatre pilgrimage to the Schaubühne. Arguably one of Germany’s powerhouse theatres it feels like any British theatre creative has to see at least one of the shows that emerges from Schaubühne. I managed to catch two; Sarah Kane’s Crave directed by Ostermeier which has been in the repertory since 2000(!) and Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs directed by Katie Mitchell. Both were in German, and had surprisingly similar design ideas and simplicity. Crave featured four performers on chairs restricted to a small rectangular lit area and simple but concise direction from Ostermeier. Mitchell meanwhile took Macmillan’s text to a whole new level with two rectangular podiums, two bikes, and a heck load of coloured cabling. The two performers generated the electricity to power the show whilst performing on the bikes. Kinda neat when Macmillan’s Lungs is all about sustainability. After buying a Schaubühne tote bag (the done thing to do, obviously) I felt like I’d achieved something off my theatrical bucket list. The Schaubühne is a gorgeous building, and the work that Ostermeier as Artistic Director is generating and facilitating knocks the socks off most British work. If you’re ever in Berlin you have to go.
2. Megan Vaughan’s blog
I’m totally being a fan boy right now, but I don’t care. I think 2014 has been the year that Megan Vaughan AKA Churlish Meg taught us that blogging about theatre can be just as exhilarating as watching it. Vaughan’s blog Synonyms For Churlish has been a revelation. She’s used more swear words than a bitter grandmother robbed of a WI membership and I adore her even more for it. Vaughan’s response to Teh Internet Is Serious Business at the Royal Court was genius, and her admiration for Chris Thorpe’s pants in her review of Am I Dead Yet? is adorable.
3. The Closing Image in A View From The Bridge
After spending several minutes trying to find a photo of the closing moment of A View From The Bridge directed by Ivo van Hove at the Young Vic I’ve had to give up. Of course there isn’t any photos of the ending, it would be the biggest spoiler ever, but all I will say is it is breathtaking. The most breathtaking synergy between direction, design and text I’ve seen in theatre. Instead you’ll have to make do with this photo of the chair lifting moment (above). Seriously, if you’ve not seen the show it is transferring to the West End in 2015, book now and hold your breathe at the end, you won’t have a choice but to. Hats off to Jan Versweyveld for the superb design.
4. Verity Standen
2014 was definitely the year I fell in love with Verity Standen. Okay, not Standen herself (I’m all for the men) but her work. She’s an extraordinary vocal composer. Her piece Mmm Hmm left me stunned, then I saw her perform in Leviathan (she also composed the music) and finally I sobbed myself silly during Hug.
I could listen to her work endlessly, so I suggest you do just that. Here’s an extract from Hug:
5. Associate Artist at Ovalhouse
Throughout 2014 I had the privilege of working with Ovalhouse as an Associate Artist. I was given a small pot of money, resources and bundles of encouragement from Rebecca Atkinson-Lord and Rachel Briscoe (joint Artistic Directors) to explore and push my creative practice. I went in with one aim: to begin to explore what it meant for me to be a theatre-maker again. I created a small piece as part of Fun Palaces called Floating which involved a monologue, a room full of balloons and wind machines (photo above). It was about that giddy feeling you get inside from something special happening and how we can make more of that, to float with it. I performed the piece, the first time I’ve performed in four years (I used to be a performer, dontcha know?), and it was terrifying. It was also bloody brilliant. I’m going to be redeveloping it in 2015 so if you stumble upon me with a balloon, you know why.
I also conducted a week’s research and development period on a piece of devised work called Love Descends. It’s a re-imagining of the Orpheus and Eurydice story with a LGBT lens and an all male ensemble using choral song/music. Working with a creative team, a group of wonderfully open and honest performers I spent a week creating the beginning of what will develop into a larger piece.
You’ll note throughout this blogpost I swing between being terrified out of my mind and floating somewhere on cloud nine, I think my time as an Associate Artist at Ovalhouse broke down a barrier I had been building. It’s not easy to do things that terrify us. We put up blocks both mentally and physically. When it comes to theatre-making I’ve been hiding from creativity and rehearsal rooms for years now. Afraid because I’ve spent what feels like most of my time since graduating being the least creative, stuck behind a desk and making other people’s theatre happen. I thought I’d forgotten what it means to be vulnerable, to play with ideas. Most of all I think I felt a pressure, a “why is he making work?”. In reality this was my own pressure, and it was ridiculous. My time at Ovalhouse as taught me that creativity is about being vulnerable, is about playing and seeing what gets stuck to your foot as you leave a rehearsal room. Above all I remembered one important thing: theatre-making is fun, and I can do it.
6. Slow Dancing at Fierce Festival
I had the pleasure of spending my final night at Fierce Festival in Birmingham in a Polish community centre slow dancing. I wrote about the experience of dancing with strangers here, but to summarise: we should all slow dance, all the time. Sod this dancing to Beyonce, get me between your arms and we’ll sway the night away. It might not seem that theatrical but being part of a live art festival, being surrounded by theatre and arty folk, I think it is safe to add this to my list.
7. This is How We Die
Okay, I couldn’t write a Top 10 list without mentioning Christopher Brett Bailey’s This Is How We Die. I saw it during the initial run at Ovalhouse and later at Battersea Arts Centre. Rarely does a piece of theatre wind you, like kick you in the stomach and stop you breathing, but This Is How We Die did. Oh my giddy-aunt it was exhilarating, like a roller-coaster that both thrills and terrifies you. The first solo show from Brett Bailey it was just a torrent of words, imagery and eardrum bursting music. I left Ovalhouse shaking. One guy behind me whispered “I think I’ve just been reborn”. Seeing the show a second time I managed to pinpoint what it does to me. I used to suffer panic attacks whilst at Drama School. For one reason or another I couldn’t control my body and whenever I felt one looming it was like I was on the edge of a giant hole. It took all my energy to not get sucked down into it. My heart would pound, I’d sweat, and I’d often have to just run away from wherever I was and hide. That’s what This Is How We Die made me feel like. Standing on the edge of that hole again and I was petrified of falling back down it. Not often a piece of theatre gives you that kind of feeling is it?
8. Incoming Festival
We did a festival. 7 days, 17 performances, 900 tickets sold, 6 workshops and an Off West End Award Nomination as Best Producers. The best week of my life? Quite possibly. I’ve dreamt about A Younger Theatre hosting a festival for a few years now. A stumbled across some notes from 2010 which included a festive on the wish list, so four years worth of ideas bubbling away and thanks to the team at New Diorama Theatre it all came true. Incoming Festival celebrates the best emerging theatre companies and was our first adventure into supporting theatre beyond just writing about it. Incoming Festival is back for 10 days in 2015 so be sure to pencil 1-10 June in the diary, and you know, come along and see what I’m proud of. Running a festival, as I’ve learnt, is like hosting a big party. You put the invitations out, you book the band and cake, and you wait in hope that someone turns up.
9. Tom Scutt
This from Mr Burns…
This from Medea…
This from A Number…
Tom Scutt please don’t stop designing.
10. Crying at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
I initially wrote this last moment about my experience of taking two shows to Edinburgh with Ridiculusmus but everyone knows what that is like (hell/joy/drunken/sleepdeprived/boxofficereports). So now I wanted to write about crying. Sometimes theatre can be devastating for the audience and this can be a wonderful and joyous thing. Why do we shun the joy of crying in public? I guess embarrassment, but at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe I embraced crying. Maybe I was just sleep deprived and hungover but I cried a lot. So It Goes by On The Run Theatre had not just me but the whole audience blubbering. I’m talking wet necks, open wailing and a stage invasion of audiences wielding tissues. Then there was Verity Stranden’s Hug which made me completely break down. It was like losing my mother, and that is a devastating thought alone. I think I even cried several times out of happiness, which is just lovely.
So there we have it. A mish-mash of theatre moments. Only took me 3 hours to put together. Let’s hope 2015 makes for speedier blog composing. Right, I’m off for a cup of tea.