If I Ruled The World… A Festival For Young People

March 26, 2010

The Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) are known for their innovative performances. Their commitment to the development of contemporary performance along with taking risks and giving opportunities to those who justly need it have earned them a reputation. This week however they stepped up their antics a little further by hosting a week long festival for young people, by young people, called ‘If I Rule The World… A Festival For Young People’.

It is daring, challenging and above all – it is needed.

The BAC’s work with young people has always been strong, evident in their thriving Young Peoples Theatre (YPT), yet by handing the reigns over to young people to dominate every inch and spare corner possible to young people is outstanding. The BAC has been turned into the place to be, a hotspot for young people to express themselves and be heard.

This festival is even more needed as it is linked directly to the up and coming election, giving young people a creative approach to what would happen if they had the chance to rule the world. There are huge scrolls of paper hanging from the ceiling within the foyer of the BAC. A scroll of thoughts and comments from the participants on the question of “If I Ruled The World I Would…” are splattered across every inch of it and offer an insight into the participants. From ‘Stop the troops in Afghanistan’ to ‘Lower the voting age’ – this scroll is clearly a form of expression, of an often unheard voice.

One of the rooms at the BAC has been turned into the prime ministers office and we are invited to enter, and write a letter to our ‘future Prime Minister’ about what we want, what we need, what we want to see from this man. By the end of the night, I had frantically written a letter declaring a need for less lies, less hiding of the truth, but above all an effort to be more transparent, and to try hard so that I might start to believe the hope that they have given us in their campaigns.

I left my letter proudly on the PM’s desk, and expect him to read it on his return. (Lucky for me, he might actually! All of the letters are to be taken to downing street and given to the new PM. Let’s hope they listen!)

My travels at the festival took me to watching two of the YPT groups perform the pieces that they have been working on with professional theatre makers. The first I bore witness to was the youngest of groups, aged 11-14 perform their piece Je’taime Performance. A look into what makes up a performer and how there are such a vast array of different performance areas that someone can take. The highlights for me had to be a performance artist whose love of eggs goes a little too far and ends cracking it over herself in joy.

The thing I loved most from this age group was a sense of imagination, an openness to the sublime and sheer ridiculous side to performing. From start to finish I had a grin on my face like the Cheshire Cat.

The latter part of my experiences were with the oldest of the YPT groups, ages 16-25. Their Scratch Performances took part in several different locations around the BAC which required walking in the dark depths of corridors and rooms beyond the normal public eye. I watched a mimed performance reministant of black and white films sitting in the foyer. Next taken into a claustrophobic room to watch a sinister and slightly over powering girl direct her fellow performers in a repeated sequence of love, and despair. Ordered to leave the room, I left feeling a slight shudder down my spine… and into another room to watch a game show of cards and distorted characters.

The final experience came in one of the corriders hidden around the back somewhere in the BAC. We were ushered into a completely dark holding bay with doors in front of us, we were instructed that the game would start, and we would watch. A long staircase behind the door with a girl running down and screaming. She throws herself at the door and bangs attempting to get through. We next watch as a figure slowly makes its way down the stairs. We are ushered next to line up against the wall of the stairwell to watch a truly remarkable continuation of the torment of a group of women by their captures.

The work of the YPT groups showed just how valuable they are to the BAC – their imagination and engagement in allowing an audience to step into childs play really put me on edge. Whilst I had full trust in the performers, there is something scary about a dark corridor in a theatre at nearly 10 at night being asked to close your eyes. – What a truly remarkable experience, and all made by young people.

The night becomes a celebration of being young and creative. It is empowering. It is exactly what we should be looking for in theatre. Their attitudes are free, open, expressive and joyful. We often think that young people are naive to the world, they just follow trends and enjoy being young and carefree. What If I Ruled The World… showed that actually young people have a voice, they have formed opinions, an understanding of the world, and a need not only in their political views, but also a need for a platform in theatre and the arts.

Watching Je’taime Performance and seeing the youngest of the Young Peoples Theatre group perform – it became suddenly clear. Their message was clearly shouted to us, repeated and we need to listen: “Who has the power? WE have the power!”

For more information on the festival, see the BAC website here.


Review: Made In Russia, Sacred Festival

October 26, 2009

Sacred FestivalThe Sacred Festival is in full swing now at the Chelsea Theatre, and as mentioned in my previous article here, it is one not to be missed. Bursting with contemporary practitioners, and theatre pieces from across Europe, there is hidden in the depths of Chelsea, a creative oasis.

What happens when you take two Russians, heavily involved in dance, and allow them to collaborate together on a theatre piece that both explores their own identity as performers but also interweaves a narrative of past experiences? Made In Russia is the outcome. A slightly surreal and bizarre post-modern theatre piece created, conceived and performed by Andrei Andrianov and Oled Soulimenko.

It’s hard to place my thoughts on this piece. I felt slightly disengaged by the performance at first. A purposeful detachment made by the performers stating how they wanted to start the piece with notable famous characters but failed to get them due to money. They start again. The performers stating how they wanted to start the piece with… they start again. It is repetitive, yet it is slightly addictive, the English subtitles playing comically behind the two exposed performers.

The piece shifts between small narratives delivered into a microphone, to varying styles of dance and further disengaging through recorded speech and the use of a television screen. Soulimnko and Andianov reveal small pieces of information about their lives, their careers and their various engagements with dance. They move between comic persona and expressive pieces of dance.

They speak of their relationship with Maya Plisetskaya and Jean-Luc Godard. It’s a focus point, a place that the narratives seem to always return to. Yet equally Made In Russia allows for the spectator to get lost in movements, the rolling images on the television screen and the speaking voices from the boom box. It blurs the boundaries between a dance piece and a post-modern theatre piece.

Made In Russia is a fragmented dance piece of captivating moments, of images, songs, lights, images.

It’s a body moving in space to robot styled music and a monotone voice delivering a letter to a lost friend, a lost collaborator.

It’s a moment in time expressed in a body transcended into a theatrical black box.

It is a metaphor.

It is a performance piece I do not quite understand but can appreciate.

The piece in both Russian and English also expresses the performers concerns with taking this very same piece of dance theatre to an English audience. “We must speak in English”, because apparently it is more accessible when spoken in English, yet equally the Russian language becomes slightly magical.

An hour later, as the performances draws to an end I struggle to comprehend how this dance theatre piece has managed to draw me into the depths of Russian culture and how I feel slightly compassionate towards these two Russian dancing men. I feel touched and actually proud to know that I’ve witnessed a Russian contemporary piece of theatre, that I was a witness to this happening.

The Sacred Festival of Contemporary Theatre and Performance is currently on at the Chelsea Theatre, see their website for a full listing of events.

Review: James Thiérrée, Raoul

October 23, 2009

I loath one man shows, with a passion. It’s like seeing someone you do not wish to see walking along the street and you quickly duck across to the other side of the road just to avoid them. I go to great lengths to avoid having much contact with a show or performance that lacks two people. The reason behind this is that a single person, a ‘one-man show’ just has the huge ability to fall onto its head. There is a defined make or break moment in each one man performance I’ve ever seen. That moment of, “Can this person actually keep me entertained for the whole running time… yes? No.”

With this in mind, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Raul at the Barbican Centre by the notorious James Thiérrée. For those that don’t know who this man is, (and don’t worry, I equally did not know until recently), he happens to be grandson of Charlie Chaplin, and the son of Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée. If anything, there was a lot to live up to in this performance, and I have to say, it was certainly one to catch my imagination.

A one-man show in the Barbican Theatre, that great expanse of a stage, it seemed all too surreal, or quite possibly the start of something I might regret watching. However, upon taking my seat, it became clear that this wasn’t just your average show.

James  Thierree in Roaul

James Thierree in Roaul

Huge white sheets, suspended from the flies, hung, drapped over piping, an odd assortment of shapes and sizes poking out in all directions from the stage that dominated every inch of the immense stage that is the Barbican Theatre. James Thiérrée suddenly appears running through the audience, climbing across seats before making his way up to the expanse of white sheets before him. With momentous music, and a sweeping of his arms, the sheets suddenly retract in a beautiful manner revealing a lead pipe structure. It is at this moment that I let out my first of many “wow”‘s.

Raoul is an odd performance piece, part comedy, part mime, a mixture of trickery of the eye and spectacular visual effects. Raoul is a symphony for the eyes. An oxymoron if you please. It is both spectacular in form as it is precise in concentrated details. Leading the eye to both be marveled in sheer size of visionary images and squint equally at small magical movements.

Admittedly the piece takes a while to get into, not because it is hard to watch, or tiresome. It is more understanding the way that Thiérrée moves around the space, the silent dialogue and clowning elements, it is essentially understanding the language he is using. With Raoul you have to drop all sense of intelligence, and allow yourself to be immersed inside a world of true imagination.

Thiérrée performs with strength and comic ability, but equally there is a thorough form of training and skill that he has with his body. Watching him send ripples around his body is quite fascinating, if a little odd to conceive.

Thiérrée creates a strange, mysterious world to which the spectator has to loose all senses and thought and enjoy a spectacle of epic proportions.

Breath taking stage design

Breath taking stage design

There are moments within Raoul where I was left wondering “How are they doing that?”, especially with the stage design, which is at times breathtaking.

The house made from large piping during the course of the 75 minute performance slowly gets dismantled in explosive creative ways. Towards the start of the piece the front of this structure just falls apart, the large piping narrowly missing those seating in the front row (many a gasp of horror during this moment).

There is another breath taking moment where the back wall of piping seems to explode outwards as it magically gets lifted upwards away from the stage looking like a star that has descended to earth.

The music equally plays a huge part within this performance, it shapes emotions and atmospheres, it booms across the Barbican Theatre, and tinkles in all corners. It is clear that Thiérrée’s piece isn’t just about himself, it is a much larger version of a world he is creating. The sounds that echo through the theatre combined with the stage trickery and imagination makes your head pound with chaotic excitement.

The show even features a large elephant, a strange fish that swims across the stage and a large puppet bird. The various materials and devices used is endless, and brilliantly done.

James Thiérrée

James Thiérrée

A one-man show by James Thiérrée is not exactly what I expected, that is for sure. Thiérrée is talented, and rightly so, given his upbringing around circuses and learning the tricks of the trade from his family. He is a spectacle himself, who manages to so easily switch between the clowning elements to the sheer physical ability of his body. He appears to have no limits. Throwing himself across the stage, onto piping, and even at one point flies across the stage and out into the audience.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed myself in this performance, it did take me a while to get actively engaged in this. It’s bizarre. Certainly is not for everyone. Yet equally it is challenging and works wonders for the eyes. But Thiérrée still has a way to go before I will gladly give him a standing ovation such as the one that occurred on the night I saw Raoul, but that is a pet hate of mine.

Raoul is spectacular, but how far does it go to keep us engaged?

Raoul is on at the Barbican Centre until the 24th October. See their website for more details.

Sacred Festival – Chelsea Theatre

October 19, 2009

Sacred FestivalLondon is most certainly a buzzing place, bursting full of life and events, so much so that it can sometimes be a bit difficult to focus on what might be worth a trip to and what just gets buried under the heap of other things that happening. Shamefully, theatre is one of those things that easily saturated with new shows, events and even festivals, meaning a lot gets missed.

Festivals, bringing together artists, shows, discussions, and generally speaking a whole excitement of culture are not to be missed. Especially that of Theatre Festivals, so let me draw your attention to the Sacred Festival being held next week at the Chelsea Theatre. It’s well worth a look.

The Sacred Festival has been running since 2006 at the Chelsea Theatre and has magically passed under my radar each year. However with the sort of line up within this years festival, I struggle to see how it’s not the talk of the town… yet. The festival focuses on Contemporary Theatre and whilst this is quite a broad spectrum, 2009 see’s the Chelsea Theatre linked with leading Austrian venue, Brut in Vienna and a whole host of leading and well known contemporary theatre practitioners.

The festival has so many promising events and shows that its hard to know where to begin, but here are a few highlights that should be noted in your diaries:

The Merry Widow by Cezary Tomaszewski

The Merry Widow by Cezary Tomaszewski

First comes Cezary Tomaszewski’s new production, an operetta called The Merry Widow. What is most intriguing about Tomaszewski’s production is that it uses four real-life Polish cleaning ladies. Taking the piece into quite an interesting dimension which promises to “free the genre from the dusts of simplicity and naivety and succeeds in placing into the centre of attention those who are otherwise almost wholly excluded from cultural creative processes.”

I'm Thinking Of Your (Version 2) by Franco B

I'm Thinking Of Your (Version 2) by Franco B

Franco B, a well known performance artist for using his body as a canvas for performance will be presenting his new show, I’m Thinking Of You (Version 2). Seeking to “present a surreal, dreamlike image… a romantic vision of childhood fantasy and abandon. The body is central, but we are also presented with objects and music, which converge to take the viewer through a contemplative, personal experience.” It will most certainly be one of the highlights of the festival for me, having heard of Franco B through many methods.

Other performances I’m eager to see include Action Hero‘s contemporary version of A Western, who are turning into a well known company on the contemporary theatre circuit. Originally from the depths of Bristol, I first heard of Action Hero last year during May Fest and since then the likes of Lyn Gardener regularly praises them. Including in the must see performances are Gob Squads show Live Long and Prosper, although a video instillation it will certainly prove to be just has fun, whacky and promising as their earlier work.

Sacred Festival isn’t just about performances though. There are a number of post show discussions with the various artists who are performing, which are completely free. Also there are several workshops that you can attend with some of the practitioners including ‘Writing for performance’ by Lone Twin, and ‘Art, Sex and Politics’ by Franco B.

For more information on the festival, see the Chelsea Theatre website… and if anything, get yourself down to see some of Europes best artists in a small but delightful theatre.

The Sacred Festival runs at the Chelsea Theatre from 21st October to 22nd November 2009

The Dance’s The Thing [Part 1]

July 24, 2009

An Experiment: What happens when you take someone so rooted in theatre and ask them to spectate upon dance. Not just any sort of dance for that matter, but a Dance Festival… well, it certainly proved interesting when I took the plunge into a contemporary dance extravaganza of a weekend just gone.

The first on my list for inspection came to me at Jackson’s Lane, where the Cloud Dance Festival was taking place. Having been invited by the organiser of this festival, I was welcomed with open arms to allow my critical eye to linger over some of the participants.


The Cloud Dance Festival is at it’s current state a three day events which takes place at ever changing venues. The simple idea behind this festival is to allow younger and up-and-coming dance companies to showcase their work in 10 to 20 minute slots.

The festival is run and managed by Chantal who along with her dedicated team manage to run this festival on no funding, bringing amazing talent of dance to one location. I can’t help but to raise my praise for the team behind this festival. The ability to continue to bring all of this 3 times a years, with no money, it’s fantastic. It shows a true dedication to an art from which I can easily relate to with my theatre obesesions.

So what did I learn from witnessing this dance festival?

Firstly, you don’t have to be fully appreciative of dance as a genre of art to not enjoy it. Nor do you have to be an expect to be able to write about it. So, I might not have years of experience, nor can I quite deliver the technicalities of dance positions and manovers but what I can do, or rather see is the experience of the event. To witness, to enjoy, or to scratch my head asking, “What’s going on?”, either way these are all experiences that I undertook during the festival.

There are many parralles between dance and theatre, made even more clear when you get some of the performances classed more as dance theatre than dance itself.


Jackie O'Toole and Dances in 'Eve'

Narrative – whilst some of the performances I watched, contained narratives, dance allows for a freedom away from the normal conventions of theatre, with plot, narration, dialogue. That is not to say that they don’t exist, which was made very clear when many of the performances contained speaking to enhance the work. What is great about dance is sometimes you do not need to follow the action, attempting to pick apart the relationships between the ‘characters’, nor must you always pay attention to the ‘plot’ in order to understand the outcome of the piece. No. With Dance, there is this fluidity for the performance to just be witnessed. To just watch bodies moving within a space. Watching the shapes, patterns, repetitions, movements that the dancers make – that alone is joy to the eye.

Music – The emphasis on music used as a dramatic device within dance is outstanding. I think I was rather taken aback when I watched the festival. Every performance included the use of music. Even now I’m questioning if a piece contained silence at all… possibly not. Music and dance are therefore entwined together, the choreography feeds off the rhythms, off the style of music, and at times sets the tone of the pieces. I’m a sucker for music, it’s a secret obsession of mine, so to be able to listen to such rich volumes of music during these pieces came as only another way in which I felt this overwhelming sense of calmness within me.

Honestly – to watch a body that is trained in moving around a space – to have the freedom within the body to fall, to jump, to spin and turn over and over – coupled with music for the ears… you momentarily get transported into another world. It all seems too simple. Whilst theatre attempts to completely immerse the spectator into the world of the play or action, dance almost throws itself in the opposite direction. Admittedly with the bare stage of the Jackson’s Lane it is difficult to see past the dancers and explore what the story behind them might be, but this isn’t a negative point at all. It enhances the ability for you to truly see what you want from the dancing.

Henry Fry and Riccardo Buscarini with their 'Places of Non-Belonging'

Henry Fry and Riccardo Buscarini with their 'Places of Non-Belonging'

Energy – One thing I’ve noticed is the sheer amount of energy which is needed for a performance of dance. I think at times it can be quite easy for an actor to give it half of his attention during a play without getting noticed of this. However in dance it becomes blindingly obvious when a dancer lacks energy. I saw this several times in the festival, more from the younger companies. However on the flip side, with this came a whole abundance of energy. If you have it – you’ve got it, and also have the audience too.

The Face – This might sound like a strange thing to state but I became increasingly fascinated with the dancers face. For at times, some dancers showed nothing, not a flicker of anything flashed across their face. Others allowed for countless emotions and amusements to flow freely whilst they danced. But where is the distinction between these two different ideas. Are dancers allowed to show their emotions on their face? Or should it only show the physical exertion that they are going through? I wish I knew the answer.

These are some of my observations from a ‘critical point of view’. I’m sure I could write many more, but I’ll save this for another time.

What I admire about the Cloud Dance Festival is the vast selection you get from this festival. It’s not a matter of going and experiencing world class dancers, it is more venturing into an unexplored territory. Some of the dances I watched truly caught me by surprised and I honestly enjoyed. Others I admired for the sheer effort that went into them. I didn’t quite expect there to be such a vast array of talent and ages too. On the night I went, there seemed to be a younger feel to the participants, but this made it even more enjoyable because you can certainly tell that some of them are bound to go on and produce some amazing work in the future.

The Cloud Dance Festival is about potential. It showcases an array of talent – giving opportunities to those that need it. I see this festival as a melting pot of talent, boiled down, distilled for several days and then unleashed upon a stage.

My advice? Even if you aren’t too keen dance, or know nothing of dance, as is the case with me. Sometimes it is worth exploring for an exciting adventure into the unknown. [And how many conventional theatre shows have you seen which have included a bit of dancing… quite a few I imagine!]

End of Part One of my discussions upon dance.

For those interested in Cloud Dance Festival, visit their website here. Please support this worthwhile festival by joining their mailing list or going to their next festival in November

A Wider Coverage: London Theatres

June 24, 2009

I was recently asked by one of my followers on Twitter an interesting question [and for those wishing to, you can follow me here]. She had been debating about theatre’s in London that deserved a wider coverage. Her boyfriend believed that the two most in question were that of the National Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre.

What stuck me as rather odd was that of all the theatre’s, the two chosen were ones that already have a wide coverage, in my opinion.

The National Theatre being our country’s National theatre, the theatre that is meant to represent England and the finest theatre that we have to offer. [Here I’m sure some people are possibly thinking otherwise, and yes I would also agree at times.]

The Royal Court has certainly built it’s name into the theatre history books, with them being one of the leading theatre’s to commission and encourage new writing and who we have to thank for Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill being introduced into the theatre world.

But these theatre’s have their place within our society, within the industry and truly within our hearts, but what about other theatre’s that deserve a wider coverage and appreciation? Perhaps it would be fair to state that all theatre’s deserve more audiences, more money and more praise for the work that is put into them, but this isn’t beneficial for anyone. Therefore after careful consideration I’ve listed a few theatre’s which I believe deserve a wider audience:

Battersea Arts Centre

Battersea Arts Centre

The Battersea Arts Centre [BAC] – Perhaps I’m biased because I truly love this venue. Run by a vibrant team. The BAC is a beautiful grade two listed building that was once Battersea Town Hall. There are multipe rooms and chambers in which a whole variety of performerances take place. What I really appreciate about the BAC is its commitment of delierving a diverse program and scheduling. Even down to the flyers and season brochure, the BAC just screams creativity.  Finally one of the reasons why I truly am taken with this venue is the vast array of opportunities that can be grabbed. The BAC is well known for it’s Scratch Nights where new performers / writers / directors can put on small showings of their work to a willing audience to test-drive the work. Lastly, the BAC’s continual commitment in hosting numerous festivals which bring together some of the most defining contemporary work from around the country into one place: The Burst Festival and The Graduate Festival being the hightlights.

Camdens Peoples Theatre

Camdens Peoples Theatre

The Camdens People’s Theatre [CPT] – There might be a theme building in relation to the theatre’s that I am picking and this can certainly be seen between the BAC and the CPT. Contemporary, new, bold and challenging work seems to be key in these venues and the CPT is great for this. A rather unknown venue when it comes to the grand scheme of things, it features a rather delightful small black box studio. What I love is just how small this venue is, there is a real sense of excitement where new experimental work really finds it home here. The CPT is a place of opportunity for new emerging theatre companies and practitioners to find their ground and allow magic to take place. Another highlight is the Sprint Festival which is currently underway, allowing a whole months worth of experiemental theatre to take to the limelight.

Both the BAC and CPT without a doubt deserve more attention, a wider coverage of audience and appreciation amoungst industry proffessionals and spectators.

What I hope people will appreciate here is that it’s not always the big theatre’s that are funded nationally by huge organisations that deserve constant praise – it’s the smaller, less funded companies that really offer some of the most exciting theatre. These are the theatres that deserve a great appreciation and coverage.

There are many, many more, and it will be interesting to hear your views on which theatre’s you think deserve that little bit more, so do feel to comment or get in contact.

I would even say that ALL fringe based venues and theatres deserve more everything, audiences, money, and so on… So if anything, why not visit one of the small more contemporary theatre places around London? You might just find that you’ve been missing something rather special.

For out of small spaces come some big ideas.

BAC Website – http://www.bac.org.uk/

CPT Website – http://www.cptheatre.co.uk/