When Were You Last Scared In A Theatre? Ghost Stories at the Lyric Hammersmith – Review

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It’s a fair question, when was the last time you went to the theatre and were scared? It’s not the usual experience one gets when one sees a play. I started to feel uncomfortable before this had even started, the eerie noises, and semi darkness as you enter the auditorium. By the end of the play I was suitably shocked and came out with a euphoria similar to finishing a roller-coaster.

This new play by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, has a been a hit at the Lyric Hammersmith and is soon to transfer to The Duke of Yorks Theatre in the West End. It’s unnerving, funny, shocking and brilliant. Those that have seen it have been asked to keep its secrets and so my review won’t comment on aspects of the plot.

Andy Nyman, not only co-wrote, he co-directs and stars in the play, his performances builds the tension just perfectly and he adds some wonderfully witty moments. To me this is the real strength of the play as it manipulates your mind and emotions, your laughing at one point and then the next moment going “arrggh”.

Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman have created a wonderful piece of theatre that in short screws with your mind (in a good way!). On discussing the show afterwards with the friends I went with, on several occasions there were aspects of the show where we’d seen different things happen, who was right? Each of us would swear we had seen what we’d seen. The buzz as everyone was leaving the theatre was great, people were laughing, chatting, some looking a bit paler than they did when they went in. It’s easy to see why this shows reputation has spread so rapidly. Very seldom do I leave a theatre and catch a “buzz”, this show has buzzes by the bucket load.

The rest of the cast give superb performances, adding horror, humour and fear as needed. Special mention must go to James Farncombe the Lighting Designer, as the use (and lack of) lighting in this production certainly make this unsettling, and I’m still not 100% sure if I saw certain things or whether it was another of Dyson and Nymans mind games! It’s definitely some of the most creative use of lighting I’ve seen in a production for a long time.

The West End needs something new, shocking and scary, Ghost Stories provides this cranked up to “maximum”, I wish its West End run the greatest success, and highly recommend it (as long as your 16+ and not of a nervous disposition. ūüėČ )

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Transform

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To think, or write, or produce a play also means: to transform society, to transform the state, to subject ideologies to close scrutiny.

Brecht 1931

I’m currently immersed in the work and world of Bertold Brecht and Augusto Boal for my assignment. ¬†This is involving me reading widely and delving into topics such as Marxism, Communism, Fascism and the Brazilian dictatorship of the 1960’s/1970’s (heavy stuff admittedly and gets some great looks on my commute to work!), on top of reading both Brecht’s and Boal’s writings and works. My assignment is looking at how the sociopolitical context affected their directorial innovations. This is proving to be absolutely fascinating. One of the key things I’m gaining an understanding of though, is the fact that theatre can (should?) not only reflect the sociopolitical climate of the time but also seek to change it. Boal and Brecht perhaps are especially pertinent exponents of using theatre to change society.

The West End theatre bucking the recession trend is such an encouragement, especially as¬†one of the reasons that play attendance is up is that when people have been asked, they reply that they want to see something with depth, which TV and Hollywood aren’t providing. Audiences want to be engaged with, there’s a time and place to go to the theatre, sit back and enjoy some light entertainment. Yet there are times when the theatre can ” not just show real things, but how things really are” (Brecht). We’re living in tumultuous times, and the theatre can show those, yet also offer ideas and even possible solutions for the way forward for society. A lofty ideal perhaps, but one I feel is true, historically and currently. (just look at the history of dictatorships or countries with poor human rights, one of the first things they clamp down on or censor are theatre’s before most other things). I’m grateful that I live in a country where the theatre is relatively free, I’m also conscious that it’s liberty is under threat from fundamentalists of all persuasions who claim they have a right “not be offended”, which is silly as no-one has a right to not be offended. Often the truth hurts and theatre is perhaps the best art form to confront people with truths they don’t wish to see, for example in Hedda Gabler when Judge Brack says “ But, good God Almighty…people don’t do such things” , Ibsen is clearly showing his uptight Victorian audience with its head in sand that such things do happen, not just on stage but in their towns, communities and even families. What uncomfortable truths can today’s theatre confront us with?

I’m also so encouraged to read about Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre projects, not only that he did, but the centres and groups all over the world that are continuing his legacy and using theatre to help people in the here and now make positive decisions in their lives. While Theatre is about plays, the West End, Greek Theatre etc. Boal’s bringing of theatre to “non-actors” is ¬†inspiring and refreshing to read about. Once the assignment’s complete I hope to look more into the current UK projects using his Theatre of the Oppressed systems.

So while doing the college assignments can sometimes seem a bit cerebral, it’s worth remembering the power of theatre, in our own lives, and in society too.

Routledge Books

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Just a quick blog post today;

For all my colleagues on the course, I highly recommend the Routledge Performance Practitioners series of books.

I first came across this series of books a couple of years ago when I purchased one on Ariane Mnouchkine, which I found really helpful. I’ve just read the Augusto Boal one and have just started the Brecht one for my upcoming assignment.

They provide an excellent overview of the practitioners lives and work. I also like the fact that they include a comprehensive glossary and bibliography. I also liked the fact (with the Boal one I’ve just read) that the author offered criticism of the practitioners work too, these aren’t sycophantic books.

So if you struggling with your theatre practitioners and want a good overview book – see if this series contain a volume on them (their list is fairly comprehensive)

Happy studying!

We kept coming back to Kane

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Over the course of the study weekend at college I was surprised at one thing, often our discussions would come back to Sarah Kane’s work or influence.

I first came across Sarah Kane’s work via her play Blasted, which I read for one of my first units at college. I can still vividly remember reading the play and being dumb struck and disturbed after reading it. ¬†As mentioned in a previous post, reading this play led me to ask some questions about the playwright, and I started to read more about her. I was struck by several things, firstly her religious upbringing. I in my teens was very influenced by fundamentalist Christianity (thankfully I’ve moved on since those days) and totally understand her when she responds to comments that her work is violent that as she was immersed in the Bible during those formative years, that’s to be expected, the Bible is a very violent book. I’m writing this on Good Friday, where we remember how Jesus was violently executed and tortured!

I also totally agreed with her view that the outrage Blasted caused was disproportional to the fact that similar atrocities were being committed for real all over the world and within Europe at the time of her writing it. Every violent act is based on a real life story she’d read, I won’t go into the gory details, but one of the more disturbing scenes is based on her reading a report of what some football thugs did to someone. We should be more outraged by the real atrocities than the fictional ones.

Later on following a study event at college I bought her collected plays and read the rest of her work. Psychosis 4:48 is still one of my favourite plays ever. A close friend had attempted suicide a few days before I read the play (I didn’t know it’s subject matter before I started to read it) and it gave me some insight into what they may have been feeling. It’s also one of the few plays where I’ve literally sobbed while reading in places as it was so pertinent to my friends situation. I’m aware that she gave it no parts or stage directions as she was influenced by Martin Crimps, Attempts on Her Life , and while Martin Crimp wrote that play to challenge the audiences perceptions of what a play is.¬†Psychosis 4:48 doesn’t come across like that to me, Kane realises that there simply is no other way to represent the psychosis.

For a playwright that only wrote 5 plays and died so young, it’s amazing the influence she has on current theatre. The other students all seem to have a “I remember when I read Blasted for the first time” story, Aleks Sierz, at the Study Weekend talked about the form of Blasted as a “rupture” form, ie. the bomb blast ruptures the play. I feel that reading Sarah Kane’s work and especially Blasted ruptured my theatrical knowledge and experience and I’m grateful that it did.