Ubu Roi | Cheek by Jowl

June, 2014 | Barbican Centre, London

Resident Company to the Barbican Centre, Cheek By Jowl, gain access to the main stage for this attempt at a difficult text from an absurd writer and credited pre-cursor to the surrealists. My companion, James Hodgson (abstract performance artist and under-the-radar critic), and I couldn’t agree on this production: I thought it was a wasted opportunity to bring a founding text of scandalous theatre to a mainstream audience and it was a miserable failure; he thought it was an absolute disgrace.

嘈之家閉 | Applied Drama Centre (with Adrian Jackson)

June 2014 | Applied Drama Centre BGCA, Hong Kong

I have never had the chance to see Adrian Jackson’s work (founder-director of Cardboard Citizens) in the UK, so I was intrigued to go to a performance directed by him here in Hong Kong (he is credited as Director/Advisor in the programme). I should make clear that this was one of two ‘preview’ shows in which Adrian would be acting as Joker (the facilitator in the context of forum theatre). Sorry that there is no English title of the show: it’s apparently a pun because it sounds like 嘈之巴閉 (you’re noisy) but the 巴 (baa) is changed to 家 (gaa) meaning family.

Seventh Sense | Anarchy Dance Theatre

June 2014 | HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity

I remember the first time I was going to create a performance in a theatre with a revolve. We spent several months working with all of the latest revolve techniques, and hired a revolve designer and a group of donkeys who could rotate the revolve at a variety of different speeds – some faster and more nauseating than anyone had ever before witnessed – to create different moods and atmospheres. With only one week to go before the performance, we realised that we had accidentally failed to create any material to perform on this, it must be said, gloriously rotating platform. We did what any group of experienced theatre artists would do in such a situation, and hired two dancers to make up some contact impro on the revolve (as it rotated beautifully) so that the audience would know where to look. The revolve work was outstandingly accurate, with at least four different speeds of rotation. Afterwards when the donkeys and their handlers came out on stage they received a standing ovation, and we took our rightful place at the forefront of contemporary theatre technology.

Smashed! | Gandini Juggling

May 2014 | Udder Belly, Southbank, London

For over 20 years Gandini Juggling has been experimenting and innovating contemporary circus with a background in juggling, mathematics, rhythmic gymnastics and inspired-by-Pina-Bausch. It’s not just about what they juggle – it’s how they do it, what rhythms and detailed movements they adopt, what games they play and how they test themselves. Smashed! is a series of vignettes of nine performers and loads of apples. And a tea set.

Juggling has proved to be an exceptional device in ensemble training and Smashed! gloriously demonstrates this through concentration, tension, clowning, structures and chaos, alternating dynamic and static moments that are all present and the audience are drawn into endless mathematical patterns and games. I would confidently use Gandini Juggling as an example of Lecoq’s complicité or Meyerhold’s essential rhythm, which he believed was the most important element of theatre and created it from the very beginning with the mise-en-scène. Having argued that complicité can’t come spontaneously (despite many a teacher’s claims to the contrary), there had to be a structure and established rhythm. Skipping was the best example, at least over endless exercises with partners trying to compel one other to do something, with complicité, from nothing – until now. The audience also feel this hyper-awareness and the show is all the more compelling for it. Old-fashioned popular music is used throughout (seemingly to echo the point about Meyerhold) and the cast did very well to continue while a low flying helicopter decided to linger over Southbank covering all the sound for a few minutes (the show was also forced to share the venue with a considerably less professional band elsewhere in the tent.)

The Testament of Mary | Deborah Warner

May 2014 , The Barbican Theatre, London

This impressive adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel, The Testament of Mary, takes the perspective of an altogether different mother of Christ. This Mary, bitter and resentful of the way her son has been deified in the aftermath of the crucifixion, reveals her grievous thoughts and stark attitude to the audience, framed by a visit of two evangelists seeking anecdotes to spin into propaganda. Deborah Warner returns to the Barbican with familiar collaborator Fiona Shaw (and Vulture) but the decision to invite audience on the stage in the soft opening is the most questionable element.

1984 | Headlong Theatre Company

March 2014 | The Almeida Theatre, London

The biggest decision made in this otherwise true-to-book adaptation is the inclusion of a post-1984 historical debate. In dystopian London, Winston Smith commits thought-crime and begins a diary, an act which frames the novel and inevitably leads to his demise. Within the novel Orwell alludes to no future after Winston, only that totalitarian fascists remain stamping on liberty and freedom of thought in perpetual domination, but creators Duncan Macmillan and Robert Icke propose that it’s the inclusion of The Principles of Newspeak Appendix that structurally redefines the book and any further reading thereof.