Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blue Dragon

It was a pretty weird experience to watch Robert Lepage's The Blue Dragon at the Barbican on Monday. It begins with a short Prologue, which is followed by a dance sequence in front of projected titles. Then there is a multi-lingual scene set in Shanghai's Pudong Airport.... Sound familiar?

This is, of course, not plagiarism in either direction but synchronicity - there are certain subjects in the air which artists of particular outlooks feel drawn to. All the same, it was a bit of a surprise! After Pudong, the play moves onto a different route, although the centrality of foreign visitors in contemporary Shanghai kept Dis-Orientations and Re-Orientations very much in my mind. The Blue Dragon is an intimate, lyrical, surprisingly linear and naturalistic three-hander about mid-life crisis, the failure of art and love, parenthood, and China. All themes very close to our own. But the final result is very different as a theatrical experience.

On the way home, I found myself jotting down notes for our next co-production with SDAC. But, I'm happy to say, they were inspired more by the differences from Robert's work than by the similarities.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rehearsal as refuge

I have spent the entire weekend doing accounts. And I mean the entire weekend. From 9am to 9pm Saturday and from 9am to 7pm today, with brief meal breaks and a quick trip to Tescos. This was not what attracted me to the theatre as a career. Last weekend was very similar, and next weekend promises to be even worse.

In my spare time, I am directing Howard Barker's The Europeans for Rose Bruford. It's a final-year production, so the actors and team are trained and ready for the profession, which means the quality of their work is very high. It feels like a holiday to go into the rehearsal room with them - though this is meant to be the real work. Bizarre.

On the train down to Sidcup on Friday, I had a long chat about this with Iain Reekie, the Head of Acting. He said he felt much the same, rehearsing another of the shows. For him, the tension is around the fact that the future of higher education generally, and drama schools in particular, is so uncertain right now. He, and the other Bruford staff, are all caught up in a web of politics and finance like the one that's dogging me. And, like me, he finds the rehearsal room to be a refuge. A safe haven in a storm.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Antonioni Project

To the Barbican for a production by Ivo van Hove and his Toneelgroep Amsterdam. I had very high hopes for this work, after their extraordinary production of The Roman Tragedies, which I saw in 2009. Like that show, there's a lot of multi-media in The Antonioni Project - not totally surprising, given that the production is based on three films by Michelangelo Antonioni. In The Roman Tragedies, the film was to do with the constant exposure of political lives, both public and private, to the scrutiny of the media. Here, the film-making itself almost became the subject: the production's probably best described as a live film - every scene is shot and projected as it is being performed. At times this can be stunning - for example, when bluescreen is used to place actors who you can see on stage into a pre-recorded and totally "real" environment - but very often it feels as if the technology has been allowed to become the point. The narrative and the characters just aren't interesting enough to hold their own against all this, and so the production seems rather "New Labour" - all style and no substance.

At the same time, it's very fascinating and suggests lots of possibilities for a future project I'm currently mulling over. The characters are living in a world where everything is conceived in mediated terms, perhaps especially human relationships. So they can only operate through layers of media-tion: and the apparent distancing achieved by the technology is a powerful metaphor for the way they see their own lives.

All this made sense to me intellectually as I watched the piece - but it didn't work in terms of emotional engagement. There was no compelling narrative to pull you along, no character to draw you in. I want to treat these subjects in the new play I'm planning with Hui and Tony - but we've got to make sure we don't lose the humanity.