Posts tagged "reviews"

Bientot l’été

This isn’t the first time Belgian indie studio Tale of Tales have asked probing questions about what games can be. They appear to adopt a similar approach to thatgamecompany in wanting their games to provoke particular moods in players, rather than giving them something they can beat or complete. Bientôt l’été may be their most radical (non)game yet and, while you’ve got to admire and value their tireless experimentation, I didn’t feel that bientôt l’été finds enough to replace everything it takes away…

Read full review on Beefjack.

The Genius of Enda Walsh

Enda Walsh is one of my favourite playwrights but my reaction to his work has always been one of adoring bafflement, of inexpressible infatuation.  Seeing the revival of his 1999 play Misterman at the National Theatre on Monday night reminded me how much I love his writing and provoked me to try to force that feeling into some of coherent analysis.

 Photo: Sarah Weal

There are always themes and preoccupations that any writer will come back to time and time again.  Some create a very particular atmosphere in their work which instantly makes us recognise the territory as theirs (Martin Crimp, Philip Ridley, EV Crowe).  In Walsh’s case, there’s a sense of claustrophobia that every play of his that I know contains and which becomes both the theme and the engine for the narrative.  This is as much the case for those set in urban environments (Disco Pigs, The Walworth Farce) as it is with those set in small, rural communities (Misterman, The New Electric Ballroom).  You could even say that the claustrophobia is emphasised in the ‘urban’ plays as it tends to be self-imposed: Pig and Runt’s intense relationship (Disco Pigs); the small flat in South London where three Irishmen frenetically recreate the story of their last days in Ireland (The Walworth Farce).  


Seeing it now, Misterman seems to be a particularly defining play for Walsh and perhaps this is why he wanted to return to it with a large-scale production of this kind, starring the extraordinary Cillian Murphy who first worked with Walsh on Disco Pigs in 1997.  While there’s no doubt that Pig and Runt’s relationship is an unhealthy and unsustainable one and that they are trapped in a pattern (defined largely by a shared language) that can only be broken through with violence of some kind, they are not actually physically restricted.  In Misterman, Magill is physically trapped in the playing space we see in front of us.  He is compelled to recreate the events that brought him to that point.  He performs his story with absolute conviction and single-mindedness.  The act of performance feels like a matter of life or death or maybe it is something more than that. 

 Photo: Catherine Ashmore

It’s significant after all that he plays it all out in front of us.  We feel he’s done this before but the question of whether anyone else has been there to witness it until now remains open.  Almost everything we are seeing and hearing has been directed, designed and performed by Magill (played by Walsh himself in the original production), except, it would seem, for two elements: the dogs outside and the song that seems to play from the tape recorder which he smashes up at the beginning only to find that it keeps playing.  The dogs torment him.  They act as harpies but they are also recognisable as the “real-life” dogs of Inishfree, who hate Magill for what he did to one of their kind.  If anything belongs to the outside world though, they are it.  The song is disembodied, again a kind of torment but an ethereal one, the sound of the other world threatening Magill with never ending torment.    


The character is trapped inside their own narrative, condemned to play it out night after night in front of an audience who can temporarily, at least, release them from this purgatory, as we release Prospero from his island at the end of The Tempest.


This has become the structure for almost all Walsh plays subsequently.  In Bedbound, father and daughter tell each other the story of how they came to be stuck together in this small bedsit with the father in the state of the title.  With both The New Electric Ballroom and The Walworth Farce, family members come together to tell and re-enact the stories of how their lives came to be what they are now.  In both these cases though, there’s an attempt to rebel against the tyranny of these repeated narratives.  Even when the rebellion is met with violent suppression, those plays contain a sense that there is the possibility of change, the possibility of resisting the forces of inherited narrative.


In Penelope, Walsh’s last play to be seen here, we meet the mythical Penelope’s ill-fated suitors on the eve of Odysseus’s return.  Not only do those of us familiar with the myth know that the characters are facing death at the returning hero’s hands, they know it themselves through a prophetic dream.  They know they are going to die and they are performing for us and for Penelope in a quest not for self-preservation but for self-justification for how they have lived and who they have become.  All they have left is a chance to show what they are taking with them from this life.  In Burns’s final speech about love, he accepts death by transcending the self and talking to Penelope about love not as a force by which he can be delivered from death but as a force by which we can all live better and in doing so accept the inevitability of our mortality.  The ability to mix profundity and futility is what makes Walsh a unique and important writer because it is genuinely tragic in its gesture.  What is more though, in a time and culture saturated by irony, he is unafraid to show us characters on stage speaking with utter and eloquent sincerity.  This is truly rare.

"maybe if you choreograph me, you will feel better" Forest Fringe, Edinburgh

I am reluctant to reveal too much about Tania El Khoury's performance art piece because I think that not knowing what to expect is part of the delight and the impact of the experience.  From the Forest Fringe venue of Bristo Place you are taken by an usher, a volunteer and also, it emerged, a performer to the first floor of Blackwell’s bookshop on South Bridge.  It’s in the anatomy section she points out mysteriously and then tells me to go and stand behind the screen. Behind the screen is a window on to the street facing one of the main buildings of Edinburgh University.  There are also speakers, a dictaphone and three pieces of paper that have been turned over: a letter and two photos.  There’s a voice coming through the speakers.  It’s a young woman’s voice.  While the words are the performer’s words, it isn’t her voice. She has disguised herself behind someone else. She tells you to find her in the street among the passers by.  You do this by issuing her with instructions. Once you work out who she is, you are given a series of choices about how what you want her to do, what you want her to be, etc.  I won’t reveal what all these things are. Some are binary choices, others are more complex and open. It is interactive performance in which the spectator/participant is given a degree of control over the performer but you also form a sense of your own role in this brief relationship so in a sense you create a character for yourself.  Just this in itself would make “maybe if you choreographed me…” a fascinating piece of performance art but it’s all complicated yet further by the identity politics that come into play and this is where it starts to get really fascinating.  

Tania El Khoury, the performer, is a young Arab woman and the spectator has to be male. On a basic level, of course, this means that there’s an implicit comment about the male gaze and the gender roles of who is looked at and who is looking.  El Khoury manages to integrate the global political into her performance though by having you read a letter to her, which she says she has written herself as a kind of therapy, while she smokes a cigarette. The letter’s author acknowledges his wrongdoings and asks the woman (you have chosen her name) for forgiveness. The identity of the letter’s author seems to shift through the letter from the woman’s husband, her father and the state: the various manifestations of patriarchy that have dominated and defined her life.  At another point, you are asked to choose between two looks for the performer: a Palestinian freedom fighter or a glamorous Jordanian royal.  There’s a clear satirical point here in the limited option global society affords Arab women in their representation.  The very fact that you (a man) are controlling what El Khoury does creates a political space in itself. By relinquishing her agency in the context of the piece (which she has purposefully constructed, of course), she interrogates that lack of agency in the modern world for women generally and more specifically women in the Arab world.  I initially questioned the conceit that the performance can only be experienced by men. I felt that a woman could experience it as long as she knew that her role was that of a man (like a woman taking the man’s part in a dance for example). Thinking about it though, I’ve realized how important this idea of segregation is becoming in Arab society and being strict about this is again making a political point. Of course, a woman can take up a role designed for a man, it’s not difficult, but the point is, to varying degrees in societies around the world, she can’t.  There are all kinds of roles we can play as human beings but there’s a big difference between that potential and what is allowed within a cultural system and this is a space that people are dying in order to bridge right now in Syria.  If you’re in Edinburgh and male, I urge you to see this brilliant piece of work.

"What Remains" at Anatomy Department, University of Edinburgh Medical School

I saw Grid Iron’s new show this evening, which is an enjoyable hour but maybe a little too controlled and rushed through, not giving the story or the world of the piece as much space to breathe as it could have benefited from.  It attempts the very difficult thing of making a horror film for the stage (though it is site-specific and promenade).  Our antagonist is an obsessive pianist, the Maestro, Gilbert K. Prendergast, played by David Paul Jones, who has also composed the music.  There are some brilliant moments, like when you are instructed to lie down in beds and DPJ patrols the room threateningly with a tray of surgical instruments, but the over exposure of the figure who is supposed to instill you with fear means that any potency he has to terrify has dissipated by about half-way through, so by the end he appears comically insane rather than a dangerous murderer.  It’s an endlessly inventive piece of work though, as you can expect from Ben Harrison and Grid Iron, and there are some moments of interactivity that opened up some interesting questions for me. One in particular:

We enter a room with a keyboard, a phone and a cupboard.  A recorded voice instructs the first candidate to step up to the keyboard. The dozen or so audience members know they are candidates because they all filled in application forms in the previous room.  There’s a silence.  Nobody steps up to the small spot-lit keyboard in the middle of the room.  How long can this go on for?  What happens if nobody does it?  Eventually someone approaches and attempts to play the simple sequence of notes we’ve just heard played to us by the same recorded source. It becomes clear the reason for the hesitation.  Nobody in the room can play the piano or read music. Several candidates approach and though, with the help of a small clue, we start to get closer to success, everyone is told that they have failed to achieve perfection.  This education by trial and error is interrupted by a phone call and by a “body” tumbling out of the cupboard wrapped in black plastic. We are asked to believe this is the body of a student who, like us, failed.  We then leave the room and move on to the next stage of the show.  What happens though if someone in the audience can actually play piano?  Is the outcome any different?  I have a feeling that the answer is no but I’m fascinated if anyone has had a different experience of seeing the show.

Accent theme by Handsome Code

Venice as a Dolphin is William Drew. I am a writer and game designer. Here you will find information about my latest projects in the field of live games and interactive theatre, a blog about theatre, performance and gaming. I will also post links whenever possible to other sites that I write for.

view archive






Ask me anything

People I Follow