Form submitted successfully, thank you.

Error submitting form, please try again.

The Truth of Practical Essays

What is ‘the truth’ of Practical Essays?  They can be scary, stressful, flawed, distractive and dangerous.  They can also be incredibly adventurous, challenging, dynamic, enjoyable, entertaining, fun and…anarchic.

Several of this year’s troupe has opted to try and find the ‘truth’ of theatre, what is it that separates humans and humans on a stage, the reality that lurks behind a staged performance.

Rachel Ashwanden’s piece follows the pattern of an improvisation game, who’s coming to the party?  But the invited guests get more and more surreal, awkward and seemingly insane until finally Alex Kav’s ‘Old Irish Lady’ like a hurricane of stereotype blitzes into the space.  Rachel tries to find the ‘truth’ behind this piece, as the constructed world is simply that, a construction of imagination and theatrical techniques and script.  Humphrey peels back the layers of false bravado behind social media to find the real human behind a profile picture.  Phoebe’s actors seemingly recite dialogue from iPods, recreating characters and swapping roles and stories exploring how verbatim is used to embody a character and filtered through an actor.

Christie is also interested in actors on stage, like Nicolai Khalezin in the WYP’s recent 12 Proposals for a Better Europe, she strips down her actors onstage, forcing them to dig deep inside themselves to open up their personal stories onstage, stripping away the tags and labels they have earned in their lives and whilst attending University.  Meghan stages a 1984-esque lecture on thought control and her character champions it as a way of perfecting and stabilizing lives, though the effects are less than reassuring.

Milly (with assistance from Vicki) doesn’t so much explore the truth, as more declare she has found the true answer to truth.  Like terrified and squabbling primary school children, the girls demonstrate Milly’s Three Step Plan™ to finding truthfulness, but actually it is Vicki’s honest account of how her and Milly share a history which gets down to the real matter of truth.

 Chris and Humphrey present a showcase of bad jokes, bad songs and bad poetry which all adds to a hilarious Beyond The Fringe-esque comic adventure.  The seriousness of performance is not only dissected in this symposium, it is chewed up, spat out, stomped on, spat on again and chucked in the dustbin.

Sam immerses his piece in Documentary Theatre, attempting to reveal the truths of Coca-Cola’s evils and patronage across the world.  Amid a sea of coke cans and bottles, Kav and Scarlett explain the negative and positive effects the company has had on the world.  What is the truth of Coca-Cola, a refreshing beverage or an evil stranglehold over us all?  As each fact is read out, coke cans and bottles are sent flying across the stage as the walls are deconstructed, and facts and opinions are shattered.

Aoife The Giant by Alex Kav appears to be a delightful fantasy story for young people to enjoy, with accessibility in the form of sign language.  Yet is also looks at how we literally ‘signpost’ meaning within theatre, communication and language with signifies such as the Living Signpost Man and actors sharing parts with such a subtle shift or exit or entrance sometimes we in the audience never notice the transfer of performer.

Rose offers herself to the embarrassment Gods and performs dares to show how humiliation can be liberating.  Alex Webb deconstructs how we perform in interviews, dates, to ourselves, to our peers and how difficult can be to juggle these roles, identities and masks.  Finally Vicki’s piece satirises directors and performers who trample on the reality of people’s lives and stories for the sake of art or entertainment, and her real and personal life is shredded in the arena of theatre and performance.

Other shows of note are Laura’s look at how all of us in the world are connected, from the smaller events (such as coffee and rain) to the larger events, such as war and terrorism.  Sophie’s piece takes a look at women in the military, the trials and tribulations they go through, what they prove to themselves and to their friends and family.  Jake’s durational piece is about confession, as he purges guilt through flapjack, tea and a waterfall of ink.  It’s a great place to rest up in-between shows in an environment that, at first, can appear safe and secure until the confessions cut a little too close to home.  Jake is like a Venus fly-trap, we come for the sweet cakes and drinks until suddenly we are ensnared and forced to witness anonymous confession.

Mark Walsh is hidden deep in the bowls of the building itself, bricking himself up with secrets and other people’s memories and places of security.  Literally closing himself up deep inside the Workshop Theatre, in the dank little basement, he is hiding away secrets, our secrets, in an odd but somehow creating a playful and safe environment for us the audience to place faith in his entrapment.

Josh certainly steals the show when it comes to ‘truth’.  Whilst other shows present the imperfect nature of truth, or the problematic search for truth, Josh cuts to the heart with his honest exploration of trust.  As his charm and openness allows the audience to place trust in him within the blackness of Studio 1, he places trust in them to catch him when he falls from a high point.  But this trust takes a leap into faith when Josh paints with his bare hands a beautiful image of Christ, and we are all witness and share in his love and belief in Christianity.

So…what is the ‘truth’?  Vicki and Milly come to the conclusion truth is different for every person, and comes in all shapes and sizes from all directions.  Truth is mutable per person, but for that person it can appear solid.  Each Practical Essay is different, each approach is unique.  In fact, each year of English & Theatre studies is unique, each approach to teaching, learning different.  Some years of Practical Essays are incredibly stressful, others run quite easily.  Staff come and go.  Our viewpoints are flexible.

However each year is connected, each person is connected, each generation of theatre-makers are connected.  The Workshop Theatre is 46 years old, as Orwell says about England: “an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.”

We are all Workshop Theatre kids, now and forever, and that is the truth of the matter.

And on that note I’m off to dig Mark out of the brick wall, as he’s probably quite peckish by now.