PALMYRA

HOME ORBIT2017

Written and Performed by Bernard Lasca and Nasi Voutsas

Bert and Nasi performed their 2016 show Eurohouse about an hour ago so it feels like I already know these two charming pals or clowns or maybe I’m just beginning to have a sense of what they could be capable off. 

The stage is set as simply as before with two chairs set far apart. What enfolds is on a larger scale than EUROHOUSE and adds a ladder, boards on wheels and china plates, in fact boxes and boxes of broken china plates. Oh and there is a hammer too.

Hauntingly beautiful music inspires a dance where Bert and Nasi literally glide to the music. There is scuffling, destruction and bargaining. This is bigger than the hopeful formation of the European Union and its subsequent splintering as seen in EUROHOUSE. Instead  Palmyra is a painful look at the making and breaking of an ancient civilisation. The piece looks at how complicit we all are in the preservation or devastation of a community, a society or a culture. 

Bert and Nasi flit in and out of civility, acts of  intimidation and literally trying to brush the ugliness and damage out of sight. What started out in EUROHOUSE as disturbingly dark clowning is rapidly becoming more violent and unpredictable in this piece. When one of them threatens the other with a hammer it is then offered to an audience member for safe keeping. Choices become central. Who do you choose to entrust it with? I was contemplated and duly rejected. The keeper of the hammer is faced with what to do next or who to give it back to. 

These two are lovely guys or they might just be Tom & Jerry in human form. Their work together is exciting and provocative creating much needed dialogue about the world we live in.

Palmyra will never be glued back together like a broken plate, nor can those lost lives be revived. Yet we can still react and respond. We can defy expectation and we can try to be better. Perhaps there is still hope for us all if we can still hand some stranger a hammer and anticipate empathy and goodwill rather than large scale carnage.

BRAVADO

HOME

Part of Orbit 2017

Written and Directed by Scottee

Entering The Briton’s Protection pub on a busy Saturday night felt intimidating. It was heaving with men out for the night, men on stag do’s, men in football scarves and men already pissed. A perfect setting for performance artist Scottee to stage Bravado as part of Orbit 2017.

Upstairs in the pub a room is set up with 3 flickering and crackling analog screens, a mike and a teleprompter. Tension builds in the room as we wait for someone, anyone, to break the stalemate awkwardness and embarrassment filling the space. We need a volunteer from the audience to stand up and deliver the text, to man up and speak up about Blood, Spit, Tears and Cum. We need a perpetrator or a victim, a male presence to speak the words that Scottee has lived. A different voice each night for a story that remains unchanged and timeless.

This is a visceral and vicious account of working class men at their most brutal and brutalized. It is set against a backdrop of blokish telly of the Nineties like WWE wrestling, The Mitchell brothers in Eastenders and Bullseye. Each segment is broken up with an Oasis song which could be sung by tonight’s bloke. Ours honours the text with real tenderness and compassion but baulks at singing. Yet another insight into the complexity of the male psyche as he reads out such painful experiences but cannot sing the familiar lines of Look Back in Anger.

The content of the text is not easy to hear but the writing is a delight. The emotional pacing and the delicate attention to such brutal details are incredible. Bravado is a lesson in both how not to be a man and a testament to the potential beauty in every man.

PEOPLE, PLACES & THINGS

HOME

Written by Duncan Macmillan

Directed by Jeremy Herron                          with Holly Race Roughan

Almost 2 years after it’s world premiere at the National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre Headlong open the first UK tour of People, Places  & Things at HOME. The play retains the original set, but has a new cast and is updated to include reflect recent major political events.

The stark white set is like a tabula rasa before the sudden ear splitting plunge into period drama with Emma as the fragile Nina from Chekhov’s The Seagull. Seconds later and time fractures again like a skipping cd and the seamless shift to the reception area of a rehab unit reveals a second audience facing us with traverse like staging. This device toys with the layers we may all sometimes hide behind. It also  manages to convey that sense in therapy that someone literally  has your back.  In many respects the seating of the audience serves as a second circle of trust in this therapeutic space.

If there is a huge amount of pressure on Lisa Dwyer Hogg to follow the award winning performance of Denise Gough it is not apparent. She delivers a wonderfully brittle, fractured addict trying to survive her many demons. The frequent use of gallows humour sits well with her Northern Irish accent and places her securely in a family of distant fathers and relentlessly harsh mothers.

Her Nina/Emma/Sarah is “excellent at being other people and totally useless being myself.” Like so many addicts she displays a toxic combination of low self esteem and grandiosity, doubting herself as an actress while challenging her doctor to “be cleverer than this. I need you to match me.”

Bunny Christie’s set facilitates the craziness of withdrawal. Aspects of the walls and floor move and shift like prisms and open up to reveal floating images, and alternate Emmas fragment and appear through walls and furniture like ants crawling on skin during withdrawal. 

The therapy space reveals the raw vulnerabilities of those in recovery seeking to deal with pain, make amends in the 12 step programme and ‘practice’ ways to avoid the triggers of people, places and things. As a therapist I can vouch for the authenticity of these characters, the fragility of their sobriety and the beauty of those ‘lightbulb moments’ when new truths are revealed.

The closing scenes are brutal and harrowing as a family explores honesty and their separate truths. Therein lies the painful reality that sometimes the people, places and things we most yearn for are truly the most dangerous. The final moment on stage sees a fragile survivor seeking acceptance from us the audience. 

Booking details

22nd Sept- 7th Oct.

Operation Black Antler

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HOME MCR

Devised and Produced by

Blast Theory and Hydrocracker

It is 1983 and I’m sitting my A Levels and dating a British soldier who turns out to be doing undercover surveillance around the Border in Northern Ireland. Fast forward to 2017 and my son is studying for his A Levels and I’m about to go undercover as part of a state surveillance operation in Manchester.

Friday afternoon and my Handler texts me a meeting point to rendezvous with the rest of my undercover team. At 7.45pm we gather and wait uncertainly for our instructions. Paranoia is already setting in as I assess the group and zero in on two individuals who might be participants like me but who might just be actors planted in the group.

The lines are blurring as another text sends us to a dingy location and our Handler suggests we make tea as an ice-breaker. People are moving around. A van door opens and I catch a glimpse of a hunched figure before it slams shut. We head upstairs to the briefing room and a very convincing Richard Hahlo rattles through the details of the covert operation. Images of POIs (Persons of interest) are shown and we are bombarded with intelligence on them. My Handler is matter of fact as he calmly reminds us that we do whatever we feel necessary to extract intelligence. The underlying inference is WHATEVER it takes.  I start to feel like I know what is expected of me and adrenaline kicks in.

Divided into small groups we develop our cover stories. Deciding who we are going to be starts to uncover lots of details about who we actually are and what we are comfortable  sharing with strangers. The groups head off separately to infiltrate a social event full  of right wing extremists. Drinks ordered at the bar and we enter the crowded venue and start to mix. It is hot and loud and difficult to tell who are actors, audience or just normal Friday night punters.

After a while chatting with guests we finally get into conversation with our POI  who is hard as nails yet warm and funny too. The disarming part of the performance is mixing with people who hold views that I find abhorrent yet finding myself warming to some of them. At one point my team mate and I hold an animated conversation with “Lisa” about how great it is to have the D.U.P have sway in parliament. We enthuse about their anti-gay views and pro-life stance. The striking point to this is that we both appear at ease with this perspective. We have never met before tonight yet we both come from Northern Ireland and are a similar age but whereas I grew up Protestant on the Border, she was a Catholic from Derry. The sense of blending in to survive in a hostile environment was unnervingly familiar and we both felt like kindred spirits through the whole experience.

The night passed quickly and people ebb and flow building the sense of confusion over who is “safe”. I get caught in a tussle and “Lisa” and I get soaked with a G &T, a bloke gets threatened with a pool cue and we get offered napkins and fairy cakes. Intelligence gathered we are told to exit to safety. Outside the bloke who spilt my drink insists on an overly long, apologetic hug and whispers he will see me at the next Meet. I feel dirty and triumphant. Meeting another undercover operative we have to make decisions that may change lives forever. It is the power and subtlety of Operation Black Antler that ensures we really do become deep swimmers in a very murky world.

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Speaking to Director Matt Adams from Blast Theory afterwards it is clear how much thought, effort and nuance has been put into developing this production. As with any immersive theatre you only get out what you put in to the performance. I found it very powerful and as I chatted to Matt Adams about growing up in the blurred boundaries of sectarian life on the Northern Irish border and the implications of Brexit and GE17, it was crystal clear how valuable this experience was. It is a sobering reminder of how easy it is to shift our moral compass to accommodate our environment, but at what cost?

At HOME until 17 June

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TANK

HOME

DIRECTED BY Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens

WRITTEN BY Billy Barrett, Joe Boylan, Craig Hamilton, Ellice Stevens and Victoria Watson

This is the kind of theatre experience that might leave an audience dumbstruck at times but is guaranteed to generate conversation in the bar afterwards. BREACH have produced a piece of partly verbatim theatre that can shock and provoke but is also a sensitive and moving portrayal of how inhumane humanity can be.

In the midst of Sixties Cold War paranoia NASA funded a ridulously indulgent experiment into animal neuroscience. John Lilley headed up a laboratory on St Thomas experimenting with 3 dolphins in captivity. The main protagonists of this true story are Margaret Howe Lovatt and Peter a young male dolphin. There seemed to be little emphasis on hard science as Margaret had no qualifications as a researcher other than she was curious and liked dolphins. Lilley was also curious, mainly about what effect LSD might have on a huge brain- it might be useful to mention his best mate directed all the Flipper movies! The aim was to teach the dolphins to speak English and so improve Mankinds chance of communicating with extra terrestials should we ever meet any.

The high or low point of five years of research was a 10 week period in which Margaret and Peter cohabited in a watery home. Peter did not learn to speak English but Margaret did learn how to masturbate a dolphin so maybe not an entire waste of time!

TANK uses dried out tapes of some surviving recordings of this research to illustrate this fishy tale and lo fi microphones to reproduce Peters attempts at language. The large video screen is used to show the underwater film of Peter and Margaret while the four actors on stage work to create a prism like take on what really occurred in the lab.

The actors bicker on stage as to the detail of the actual events. Margaret was “ruggedly feminine” and wore heels or boots or ….. Pam the dolphin had dried out traumatised skin or was covered in concealed blood. This is an odd couple love story or it’s a girl wanking off a gigantic dolphin cock. At the centre of this piece is the many facets of the story. Love, science, philosophy- how do we each perceive an event and how does experience colour our viewpoint? Here the women are wearily sensible  and frustrated by the men who sexualise  events like smutty schoolboys.

Joe Boylan is superb as Peter. He physically evokes the power and curiosity of the young dolphin. His is a totally believable performance and as he dances with the others the vibrancy and naughtiness bubbling through is totally infectious. Sophie Steer as Margaret vibrates with passion and despair as she attempts to communicate with Peter. There is an innocence and a whimsy to her that makes her masturbation of this dolphin seem sensuous and natural rather than sexualised which is exactly how the research assistant described her actions years later.

There are some delicious moments as they all sensuously dance together with blank faces or as they strip down and  Boylan puts on his dolphin mask. The air of menace is never far way as they fantasize about Margarets ruination and death at the fins of a dolphin army.

This is raw and edgy and joyous, it is dark theatre. It reminds us just how crazy humans can be but there can sometimes be a little magic in the crazy. TANK is good crazy.

POSTSCRIPT:

Twenty years after these experiments I spent a summer in Windsor researching parenting and attachment behaviours in dolphins. Two mother and their babies and I got to observe and play with them. It was heaven on earth.