Fringe Online 2021
Living Newspaper #6
Royal Court Theatre
Genre: Absurd Theatre, Cabaret, Comedic, Contemporary, Costume, Cue Scripts, Drama, European Theatre, Experimental Art, Feminist Theatre, Film, LBGT Theatre, LGBTQ, Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, Multimedia, Musical Theatre, New Writing, One Person Show, Online Theatre, Performance Art, Political, Satire, Scratch Performance, Short Plays, Sketch Comedy, Solo Performance, Solo Play, Storytelling, Theatre, Translation
Written by Pamela Carter, Hester Chillingworth, Tim Crouch, Molly Davies, Amy Bethan Evans, Robert Alan Evans, Stacey Gregg, Rose Lewenstein, Simon Longman, Rory Mullarkey, Lettie Precious, Pavel Pryazhko, Testament, Joe Ward Munrow, Kit Withington, Rachael Young. Pavel Pryazhko’s work will be translated by Sasha Dugdale.
Designed by the Design Collective (Shankho Chaudhuri, Debbie Duru, Cara Evans, Sandra Falase, Zoë Hurwitz, Chloe Lamford) – Edition 6 is led by Sandra Falase and Zoë Hurwitz
Lighting design by Simisola Majekodunmi
Sound design by Tony Gayle, Rob Donnelly Jackson, Ella Wahlström
Composition by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley
Facilitators and directors for Edition 6 Hester Chillingworth, Jane Fallowfield, Grace Gummer, Lucy Morrison, Hamish Pirie, Sam Pritchard, Izzy Rabey, Anthony Simpson-Pike.
Till May 2nd .
Living Newspaper #7 will feature young writers, from April 26th.
Living Newspaper is a vital series, a cutting-teeth opportunity for so many writers, actors, directors. Sheer storytelling’s necessarily the backbone in these shorts: resolution signals wildly to be let out.
This sixth week explores a deserted theatre watching a revivified outside, as theatricality and the missteps of living start slowly to collide.
Each week the diverse sub-edits as it were produce the ‘Front Page’ item, the ‘Con-Troll Room’ and ‘Horoscope’ slot for a particular take. It’s intriguing to see how each writer or team responds to that brief.
Hester Chillingworth, Lettie Precious, Pamela Carter, Rory Mullarkey, Robert Alan Evans, Rachael Young, Simon Longman. Composed and written by Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley
This Is Actually Live
The Front Page
This week’s valedictory front page starts in the Downstairs with just two actors, Nando Messias, Grace Savage, with a chorus of sound checks as we’re invited to jump out of our cameras, if watching live…. Well it’s fun: we unmute and shout.
Then it isn’t. Ghosts from the past year literally ghost in and shut something promissory with it.
Audience are asked to choose telepathically. Desire or rage? Well people are looking forward to unmuting their lives. As Savage leans over the console Messias gyrates to a wild work-out like Nureyev on an imaginary sunbed till we’re treated to broken monologues. ‘One of the happiest days of my life was observing open hear surgery, for research purposes….’
This deliberately deconstructs the notion of collaboration, by breaking up component contributions. Written deliberately in sections announced as ‘section three’ and so on, until the pull-away.
flicking the shamrock
The Long Look
Performed by Amanda Coogan and Rachael Merry we’re in a world of linguistic breakdown.
First, four languages: English, Irish, English and Irish BSLs…. Coogan who takes the authority voice and Merry the subverter of metatext, discuss how the title’s offensive. There’s a lot of stills, a lot of Stormont shots, actors appearing as BSL diminutives of themselves.
Quite often we’re mired in subtexts, signs, and conflicting shibboleths. A sharp take on what underlines the whole Good Friday fragility, waiting to break over a noun with a verb of active violence. Careful what you flick for.
Someone Stares at a Dog for a Few Minutes, and Has a Think About It All
The Long Listen
We’re in a world those who saw Simon Longman’s Gundog in 2018 will recognise. Alan Williams is briefly quizzed by a laconic Marion Bailey, and possibly Basil the Dog. It’s enacted entirely in voiceover. quietly gradated as Williams bows and unbows his head on an old bench. ‘Yesterday I smashed a window. It set echoes… Does it still echo? Can pain echo?’
It’s at times bleakly comic, comically bleak. Does he have power over dogs, Williams’ character asks, and – he has a shocking attitude towards dogs for one in his locale. Williams’ character is clearly traumatised. In grief. ‘This year’s going to echo for a long time.’ A piece that will do just that.
Rory Mullarkey’s known for his curiously violent fables like The Wolf from the Door and Pity (both Royal Court, 2014, 2018) where many people get slaughtered and we laugh, or more elaborate pieces – NT’s Saint George and the Dragon, 2017 – where revolutionary fervour is swapped for a superannuated saviour complex.
It’s an obsession unabated here, as if Mullarkey’s workshopping himself out of the fabulous. As performed by Louise Harland, Sule Rimi and Millicent Wong we’re back with the dark woods as the actors announce themes as a rapid-fire doxology of plots. Some we know, some are very Mullarkey; some what critics might say needing the toilet. We’re off chairs onstage into the Stalls then back. After a hundred of ‘this play is about’ we’re circling back to opening phrases, shaded with present laughter, present tears.
Mullarkey’s final engagement with the now – here trembling with doubt – asks too what this engaging dramatist might dare if he confronted the dark of what he conjures, instead of being so terrified he renders it into vaudeville
Pavel Pryazhko translated by Sasha Dugdale
Pavel Pryazhko is a renowned Russian language dramatist from Belarus. Sasha Dugdale’s Audio introduction is essential in tackling this text, with intros and stage directions as long as Shaw, but with face masks. This is the most overtly political Pryazhko’s been – he’s normally highly visual and poetic.
The t4t concerns the travails of two policemen in lockdown but at the same time trying to ward off the sometimes joyous sometimes more direct actions of a crowds of people.
Fathers rush up to embrace their own children, sometimes young people arrive with more red and white ribbons – ‘astonishing’ as the text tells us. Belarus’ coup after a corrupt election sparking massive resistance still hangs in the balance.
The policemen are baffled; so is a foreman, carefully spraying out graffiti. Nothing happens several times. There are no arrests, and the most said is ‘they’ll be sorry’ and finally ‘let’s pretend this didn’t happen’ as the people goes on as their country shouts abuse at them.
Mi casa es su casa
Clue’s in the title. Nando Messias comes out of the Court entrance all dressed up and with desolate love messages in strips presented close up. After, a retreat to large cardboard scrawls just outside the entrance. Then back close-up with smartphone texts. They’re graphically intimate – you have to freeze to read. Then it’s written on the body.
Clear enough. A love letter from someone we all know. Please come home. Messias is the spirit of Court future.
A 2020 Jerwood New Playwright, Hester Chillingworth’s playful interventionism – first seen solo in the durational installation Caretaker last October – is here a little heartfelt. Again they’ve removed a human component, but it’s only speech, restored textually as if words glance off paper card and body, becoming the doubles of what they connote.
This mix of curating (they co-curated Queer Upstairs with Mark Ravenhill in 2019) and site-specific promise, might inject a kind of experimental theatre into the Court that’s been seen fitfully recently, say in Simon Stephens’ uneven Nuclear War back in 2017.
Robert Alan Evans
Blue grey – it’s almost back in Derek Jarman’s Blue, but this texture focuses, slowly moving with flecks of sky-blue. Watching paint dried.
‘I’m not a visual person.’ It’s a slow rove of grief. Louisa Harland narrates how a mother has reacted to the way she prevented a twelve-year-old daughter from finishing her last – often disturbing – works through well-meaning bustle, and how there’s a curry menu scumbled from June 20th.
The dog – depicted digging up human bones – has more visual memory than one blinded by loss. ‘I’m not visual’ carries its inconsolable refrain; we’re left with blank grey blue. Harland’s character can picture mourning though with a haunting presence.
Joe Ward Munrow
Millicent Wong’s in a news box of multiple monitors. Reuters – Top items, Afghanistan withdrawal, Myomar and Japan’s contamination, at least focused on (from the post-imperial west’s point of view) the East. Fox? This is where the casual delivery explodes and ‘drops a register into your heart, your gut..’ Wong’s newscaster explores what tiny positives are worth celebrating, with such existential freight meaning we’re the ones in the news.
Amy Bethan Evans
Welcomed by Cian Binchy in a beautifully decorated cloakroom to neurodiversity as set default, all you neurotypicals out there. It’s a punchy take, like Paul Wady’s show Guerilla Aspies, based on his book.
So have we seen a. levelling-up? Neutrotypiclas are struggling with what neurodiverse people have been for years.
Binchy wades through the more harrowing questions, like sudden realisations that you hate your office job and cry every day. Evans’ point is the pandemic strips away typicality, showing just how perverse neurotypicality is. Your job can’t hate you, in fact it doesn’t love you back. Binchy’s way with the text starts faux innocent and dives in to Evan’s excoriating wisdom.
Evans is strong on how abnormal performative roles are, how society’s skewed against your wellbeing. More, the history of solitude asks dangerous questions of our complacency.
Tim Crouch has always proved an exemplary performer of his own work. Next a virginal statue, Viking-horned Brit-faced and baseball-batted, his ‘Virgo you can be any sign you like’ precedes a virtuosic diatribe lasting well over 13 minutes.
‘I’m sorry this is so passive-aggressive, I’m a Piscean’ Crouch refrains so you relish each payoff, each prick at credulity, each self-identification and construction of the self.
‘Sagittarius you are to principles as Orlando Bloom is to a plant-based diet.’ It’s one of the most engaging pieces Crouch has written, hair down as it were (courtesy of a blond wig) delivered at a gallop. Geminis: ‘Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, the late Duke of Edinburgh’ wait to hear how the twins align. It’s even more dangerous, sotto voce for Aquarius. And for Scorpio’s terrible fate there’s always the Mayan calendar.
This isn’t just the wittiest and sharply-acted of the series, it’s a reminder why Crouch is such an elemental force. Here he’s himself, neatly aligned with planets of his choosing.
ADVENTURE BEFORE DEMENTIA
The Blank Space
One of the hidden crises of lockdown has been acceleration of other diseases, other illnesses. Dementia straddles both. Further, there’s a way we deal with dementia dramatically that takes little account of these in early stages, only shadowed by but not wholly overtaken by it. They’re not yet anonymised dementees.
Upbeat music. Louisa Harland’s angsting round mother Marion Bailey even if eddies knit around a second jab. They’re bright. It’s not Bailey who flinches from the world ‘dementia’ but Holland’s ‘geriatric mother’ – she’s forty, recently given birth. Jab two over, Bailey wants to go trekking round Europe, one last fling. But she’s ‘vulnerable’. ‘I’ve already lost a year’.
Themes not always touched on emerge, like a daughter’s neediness. ‘You’re not nineteen, you’re seventy-three.’ Bailey’s character states she’s both, and all ages, producing a shimmering monologue. ‘I’m all these people and all this time is folding up around me… my life flashing… and it shouldn’t be folding but unfolding. This was supposed to be my time.’
The end’s upbeat too. It’s not often we’re exposed to the everyday like this at the Court, with the smart language out of Katie Himms and say radio drama (the filming here and cuts are quietly excellent, though so many others are too). But the theme throws up some complexities.
I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO CALL THIS SHIT
The Weather Room
Michelle Tiwo starts. ‘Want to know what the first thing about covid is? You don’t know what it is till it happens to you… like religious revelation…’ and those lines ’I can’t breathe…’ And’ bury the one you love.’
Shot in a few violet-lit spaces including a toilet, this litanic beautifully delivered monologue is given texture, pause and varying pace. Hope is up against whoever calls BLM a moment. For many June 21st won’t be their moment of freedom, and that decisively includes the living.
LIFE IS DIFFICULT AND THEN YOU DIE
This isn’t what was expected! Rose Lewenstein’s famed for Now This is Not the End (2015) confronting three generations, fleeing the Nazis and dementia; Darknet (2016) on hacktivism and commodification; and Cougar in 2019, a memorable exploration of sex as commodification and power in 81 dazzling scenes in as many minutes.
So Lewenstein performs her own piece singing at the keyboard, chanteuse in vamp scenery. ‘What doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger/Life is difficult and then you die.’
There’s engaging cutaway forage. Strum a balloon anyone? An upbeat downbeat Victoria Wood moment.
Like Crouch Lewenstein can let rip on her own piece, and like him too revel in pessimism because perhaps we’re reaching the end of a phase. There’s an energy and freedom in grabbing your own words by the scruff, and despite everything, an exhilaration too.
Our Moon Under Water
Maimuna Memon and Millicent Wong speculate on Orwell’s words about an ideal pub, and iterate its virtues. By the time Alan Williams joins them, they’re in full excited flow in the mezzanine bookshop with a new pile of books including Wisdens serving as a counter.
Wong does an impression of a trad proprietor. It’s a series of nostalgic iterations, warm, slightly fuzzy, with a whiff of Utopian pub values (pretty trad). Maybe it’s hopeless Morris stuff, but we can dream. All three actors relish this one. It exhales a warmth with its own unfolding pace, won’t be hurried by last orders.
Kit Withington’s relaxed manifesto carries its values with attractive obliquity. You can taste the politics in pork scratchings and the banning of pub meals, kettle chips, happy hours, online presence and weird cocktails. And there’s a final trick with a book you’ll almost miss.
Pixels: How are you feeling?
The News Stand
Lara Grace Ilori, shot in tenebrous light near serious fronds (we saw those FOH last week), asks in voice-over about the war on sleep, her character’s scorn of gaslighting by front-benchers. What was hoped for happened and nothing got better: Black U.S. president? Mostly it gets worse – being arrested for simple protest.
There’s a valedictory check-list of so any aspirations that come to nothing. ‘A version of the future where we all feature. Can you see it?’
The kernel of such work as Pixels needs urgent expansion. When we return to the Court it’s almost certain BLM, the right to protest and the appalling decisions of 2020 will scorch an urgent polemic through its programming.
STREET CRED REPORT
To grime in the tech room Dorcas Sebuyange references heroes including James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Stuart Hall. And you so wish Hall – coiner of ‘the great moving-right show’ and so much else – was living to hear what Sebuyange’s shredding.
That sewage Dr Tony Sewell’s Cred Report. The one that says it’s all about geography and class. ‘Blacks need to embrace middle class values.’ The report only falters over someone like Johnson never stooping to be a baby-father. ‘Blacks, we’re very disappointed in you… Everyone can breathe, police never use a choke-hold.’
It’s all there. Including theatre. Like Young, you feel Testament – so nuanced in Black Men Walking – are going to walk right back to set a report alight. Which, well…. Sebuyange’s performance is a blinder too.
you, me – the market
Sule Rimi in pink shirt and a mirrored part of the bar is incredibly seductive. He talks of caution. Everyone’s feeling that. But it’s not quite caution as we know it.
Half-seducer, half-therapist, his persona zones in exhorting us to ‘step into your own future… I’ve got you because I’m always ahead of you… got you priced you in. Is that OK? Feel my underlying movement… am I big enough?… I do massive volume…. I want to show you my spread…’
Next is censored (cut to the street outside, with a surprise vignette). But will he love us on Monday? Carter’s languages flares up at the arousal stage of investment, and asks exactly what zones of denial we use to accept our abusers.
The future, cautious, putting out in soft and jagged pieces, is the last in the regular series, though #7 with young writers aged 14-21 has been added next week as a bonus, and that’s going to be serious, and (probably) wonderfully uncompromising.
The ensemble effort this week seems restrained and almost shy of itself. Gregg’s work is like Munrow’s: how we intersect the ephemeral. Pryazhko’s political parable has to be imagined from the page, though translator Dugdale makes an eloquent case for a dramatist worth seeing at the Court.
Chillingworth’s postcard from the Court makes you eager to see her larger-scale work; with Mullarkey we see a similarly brief chip – here of seasoned obsessions at a cusp of renewal. Longman’s haunting piece is one of the best, with Robert Alan Evans and Precious adding briefer testaments to loss. It suggests a new tenor of reckoning as in Sassoon’s words we ‘unload hell behind us, step by step’. Young’s short shot-through angry piece asks if that’ll be the future too. Testament kicks that door down.
Withington though is softly Utopian, bright-eyed, even optimistic about a particular experience. Seemingly as fuzzy as Withington, Carter’s take on a very different capitalism is excoriating.
Davies’ miniature film also looks ahead. Superficially more conventional than many, it explores complex issues worth developing.
Amy Bethan Evans and Crouch in very different ways brilliantly explore identity and social constructions of selfhood. Crouch has the unfair advantage of being a seasoned author/actor but his Horoscopes is a miniature classic of this series. Similarly, Lewenstein’s singing herself front and centre is the most unexpected takeway this week.