Form submitted successfully, thank you.

Error submitting form, please try again.

Territorial Teapots: Performing The Past 2010

It’s that time of year again. We’ve just past Bonfire Night, but we’re not quite in Christmas period yet. Every Halloween photo has finally been Facebook’d, but the Old Bar’s not started the expensive (but mouth-watering) Christmas meals yet. And lo, if you stand still in the Workshop Theatre for a moment or two you might catch the sight of the uncommon Second Year, zipping past, blinking in the sunlight and close to tears. It must be the Performing The Past time of year.

2006 saw French Surrealism, 2007 the Medieval Mystery Plays, 2008 Italian Futurism and 2009 Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. So this year we’re back in the 20th century for a healthy dose of Edward Bond’s controversial 1965 play Saved. It’s Tuesday. It’s chilly. It’s Late November. Let’s go.

Disclaimer: I studied English & Theatre Studies at Leeds. I have a tendency to over-intellectualise and maybe give an over-worked reading. If I’ve read the play in totally the wrong fashion, you have permission to hang me from the entrance of the WT as a warning to other know-it-all academicals.

The first group to perform the matinee slot make no bones about plunging the central moment of Pam’s baby’s death slap bang at the centre of the drama. Using elements of stereotypical ‘unfit mothers’ that the right-wing media have a field day with and grubby Jeremy Kyle/Trisha-style daytime ‘television’, the group bring the play into the 21st century. But this is all a superficial layer of show for the media. Scrape beneath a greasy photographer or a patronising interviewer or Lord Cobbold in 1965, and the group step forward to present their own, true, honest opinions of these very human and real characters.

The second group again insist in dragging the play into a 21st century context. Different perspectives of Labour, Socialism, politics, unemployment, Nationalism, sex, women’s roles are all thrown into a melting pot of ideas alongside a ‘Looking For Love’ video. Kudos for a sharp sequence of fighting over a precious teapot. Will poor Humphrey ever get his precious buttered bread and tea? The actors themselves sit alongside characters from the text, bringing the characters on page to life as much as the flesh-and-blood biography of the actors themselves, with ‘Edward Bond’ instigating the proceedings. Are these characters just as real as real actors, or are the actors just as real as the characters? Or are we all puppets of a playwright in the theatre space, evident by Bond’s definitive presence within the piece? What does this ‘realism’ mean in the theatre of actors? Can ‘realistic’ theatre ever portray the world it exists within, or is the social realism film movement of the late 50s-60s and the theatre of Osborne, Delaney and Angry Young Men sadly flawed?

Sexy. Terrifying. Hilarious. Sexy. Horrific. Funny. Scary.  Did I already mention sexy?  Just some words to describe the 2nd group’s take on what I seemed to think of as ‘Neo-60s’. Writers such as Ian McEwan and Phillip Larkin came out of the 1960s wondering if sexual freedom and ‘liberation’ had gone too far. Here, we see characters from Bond’s play fail to enter into a true and honest romance under a haze of clichéd sexual tension. The restaging of the infamous scene in which a baby is stoned is a horrific gob-fuelled homage to the romantic presentation of violence found in Burgess/Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. If we’re really liberated from morality and responsibility by a wave of free love and free expression, does that mean we’re free to do whatever we want? And, more worryingly, does this freedom extend to being able to show whatever we want on stage, no matter how vile or disturbing? Great tunes used though. T-t-talkin’ ‘bout my g-g-generation!!!

And so finally the last group. Reminiscent of a production of Blasted in 2008 at the Queen’s Hotel, Belt Up’s work at Edinburgh this past year and Leeds Theatre Group’s annual Full House Festival, the final group lead the audience into the tiny, but wonderfully employed, store room of the Banham Dressing Rooms. And this creation of a realistic, The Royale Family/Mike Leigh-esque space creates a horrific claustrophobia in the household. Tensions run high. Sexuality becomes just a casual occurrence, the bickering over the newspaper and irritation over a broken television all help to drag day-to-day life into a petty Hell of snide comments and childish insults. So when something does happen in the space, a symbolic rape, it can quite easily be dismissed by the characters in this small, meaningless little box. The questions that arise are the same questions we find in the work of Sarah Kane…can we just sit by and watch this happen before our eyes? Whether a performance is on a theatre stage or inches from your face, the audience’s problem remains: Does violence have a place in essentially a medium of entertainment? How can we stomach acts of violence reported in the media day after day but not stimulated violence in a secure environment? What’s so shocking about pretending to stone a doll representing a baby on a theatrical stage, and yet (in 1965) men, women and children are being killed daily in Vietnam in the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’?

Wow, heavy.

So, there we have it. Pats on the back for 2nd years, another round of engaging PTP pieces. Stoned babies, territorial teapots and more sex than you can shake a stick at. What’s on the cards for 2011 then?