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‘Alas, my lord, I have but kill’d a fly’: Performing the Past 2009

Theatre studies production 2009 PTP1Audience members of the final product of the ‘Performing the Past’ (a core module for all 2nd year WT students) don’t tend to get it easy. Inspired by French Surrealism, the WT class of 2007 crawled over their audience. In the name of The Medieval Mystery Play, the class of 2008 enticed their audience outside to meet Adam and Eve. Fired up by Italian Futurism, last year’s audiences were immersed in white smoke and revolving plates (it was the inside of a microwave, you see).

This year represented a departure (not from discomfort – sorry, we quite enjoy perturbing you). Rather than working with an historical genre, the students worked with Shakespeare’s early play, ‘Titus Andronicus’. Four different companies took on a section of the play each. A universal set made up of a large scaffolding structure transformed the Banham theatre and was fully exploited by all four companies: to traverse and crawl seductively, to separate soliloquy from dialogue, to attach multimedia screens used to both magnify characters and their dialogue and take us beyond the theatre and even to reach the greatest heights of the walls with letters that dripped with blood. Audience members were totally immersed in their island, but at liberty to watch the bloody action from many angles and levels.

A flyer was handed out at the beginning explaining that these were four separate pieces of work, and the companies used this quality to their advantage. Artistic choices and portrayals attended very particularly to a section of the play, rather than having to worry about the implications their approach might have for the play as a whole, giving the production both a richness and specificity. The second group faced a real challenge with Bassianus’ cruel murder and Lavinia’s horrific rape and torture, and their decision to use a combination of stark puppets and real people to represent these two characters enabled them to communicate the events with subtlety, whilst maintaining their horror. During the following group’s section, the stage is stained by a haunting wandering figure, her paintbrush drips as she dips it in the red contents of her bucket – it is the tool by which she captures sections of the dialogue, which she paints in large letters on the set. This works so well at this moment because Lavinia’s experiences become vivid and inescapable for us, just as they are for the characters in the play, and it is this that determines the tragic and unsavoury events that are to come.Theatre Studies production 2009 PTP2

The other major point here then is that artistic or stylistic specificity to individual sections did not prevent meaning from traversing sections, but enhanced it. Admittedly, this is an appreciation that might have been realised more fully if a synopsis of the play had been provided on the flyers (just for people that are a bit slow, like me). However, the group did make a clear conscious effort to overcome the potential confusion of new actors taking on roles in the play by consistent colours in characters’ costumes, which was very helpful (especially for people who are a bit slow, like me).

It was a really unique experience to be offered four different stances on the play, all of which were slick and clearly thorough in their rehearsal processes. A massive (if not a little belated) congratulations to the 2nd years. Now to get on with those journals. Enjoy that. Over turkey sandwiches.

And you’d better say nice things about our Practical Essays. All 21 of them.