Author Archives: Duška Radosavljević


About Duška Radosavljević

Duška Radosavljević is a dramaturg, writer and lecturer in Drama and Theatre Studies at the University of Kent. She is the author of Theatre-Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the 21st Century (2013) and editor of The Contemporary Ensemble: Interviews with Theatre-Makers (2013). She also writes for The Stage newspaper and Exeunt magazine.

Barrel Organ: Nothing

Barrel Organ - NothingThere is nothing more satisfying in theatre than a number of recognisable traditions filtering through and cohering into a completely fresh and new artistic sensibility. Discernible influences on the young company Barrel Organ include Forced Entertainment, Sarah Kane and possibly some representatives of the current trend of interactive theatre pioneered by the likes of Tim Crouch and Ontroerend Goed. Nonetheless, they do produce something completely authentic and compelling, on their own terms.

This is yet another piece at this Fringe happening on a bare stage and blurring the line between the stage and the auditorium. As I’m sure the word has gone around already, I’ll start by saying that this is a show in which the performers are dotted around the auditorium throughout. They will have inconspicuously queued together with you, carrying their own coats and bags (and even, in some cases, fringe passes), and they’ll catch you by surprise at any point during the hour by suddenly speaking to you from a seat nearby. The eight-strong ensemble have all got a monologue each, but the way they work together is by tuning in with each other anew each day to produce what they call a new ‘cut’ of the play. The charm of the piece therefore is mostly in the interplay between the pre-rehearsed and the spontaneous, although clear rules of the game which are not known to the audience are evidently at play. The way it usually happens with companies emerging from university courses nowadays, this young ensemble are driven by a strong sense of familiarity, complicity and shared working ethos, rather than, say, commitment to training or acting excellence. But they have a strong artistic core consisting of writer Lulu Raczka and director Ali Pidsley, who have deservedly won two of the company’s four awards at the National Student Drama Festival this year. Another unexpected plus is the way in which this piece offers a deep and honest insight into the concerns of the youngest generation of British adults. Teetering between frequent references to psychological distress, disaffection and thrill-seeking, the play’s central themes are well encapsulated by a character who at the end of today’s ‘cut’ introduces himself as Nobody – a university graduate, who has never been in love, never been angry and, as he says, never really done anything. A different day may well have yielded a different reading, especially as one of the characters dropped out of the game this time without giving us her story. Perhaps this is a way this piece provides us with some hope before it lets us out. What is certain however is that these young people are doing something worth keeping an eye on.

Lyric Hammersmith Secret Theatre Show 5

Lyric Hammersmith Secret Theatre: A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts

Lyric Hammersmith Secret Theatre Show 5Secret Theatre – the Lyric Hammersmith’s ensemble project – has gone from strength to strength since its launch in the autumn 2013. They have recently received additional funding which will enable them to continue and in the meantime they have also made it to Edinburgh, with not one, but two shows. The other is a new play by Mark Ravenhill. This one, though it began its life as a writer-led project, has ended up being devised by the ensemble and, in true European fashion, dramaturged by writer Joel Horwood. Sean Holmes directs, and his ensemble is young and exuberant and growing in confidence.

Dressed in gym gear, the actors are lining the back of the stage, a list of shorthand notes on each side reminding them of what the running order of their scenes will be. Presumably they have a variable repertoire. The rehearsal room spirit pervades the general format and aesthetic of this piece and there is a whiteboard in the background where show after show, the actors try to ascertain what the piece is about at two particular moments in each show, which seems to consist of two roughly symmetrical halves. Past attempts which remain recorded on the whiteboard have included love, honesty, being kicked in the balls, exhaustion (more than once). The latter might be the result of the methodology deployed in defining the show’s theme – a wrestling match between the protagonist and his/her colleagues, with the aim of taking off as much of each other’s clothes as possible.

Cara is our protagonist tonight – there is an element of chance here too, as the protagonist is picked out of the hat by the audience each night. Attempting to work her way through the obstacle course of a show, Cara decides that her own wrestling match is about survival in the first half, and exhaustion and friendship in the second. Although the show is evidently a string of rehearsal room games put together in order to create a rhythm and showcase the inner chemistry of the group rather than tell a story or make sense in any way, it is hard for us to ascertain what the rules of the games are and so we are kept at a slight distance from what is going on conceptually. This is a pity, because the charm coming from the stage is so infectious, we want to be more involved. But our patience is eventually rewarded in one simple way. The initially fragmented group of people comes together in perfect harmony, showing us that the title of the piece is both a literal description of the protagonist’s journey and a metaphor for the kind of artistic endeavor devoid of the benefit of collaboration. Ultimately, this is a timely celebration of the ensemble way of working and a fitting tribute to the achievements of Holmes’s project so far.

Little Dog Barking Theatre: Duck, Death and the Tulip

Peter Wilson, Nina Nawalowalo and Capital E National Arts Festival present DUCK, DEATH AND THE TULIP, 18 - 23 March 2013.The word death in the title of a children’s show may well seem out of place, but let this not deter you from giving this story a chance. It is after all based on a book which, when it came out in Germany in 2007, became a critically acclaimed best seller. Working in the best of his country’s tradition, the writer and illustrator Wolf Erlbruch evidently believes in a no holds barred approach to children’s literature, and this bears results too. He is also the illustrator of a now well known children’s story The Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business which deals with the sometimes difficult and yet inevitable subject of faeces.

Duck, Death and the Tulip was initially published in English by a New Zealand publisher and is brought to Edinburgh by the Wellington theatre company Little Dog Barking, founded by performer and director Peter Wilson. Wilson plays Death and puppeteers together with Shona McNeil in this simple but well defined production directed by Nina Nawalowalo. Judging by the episodic narrative flow, the piece seems to follow the prose version very closely which does not always work in its favour dramaturgically, but Gareth Farr’s subtle musical score helps to keep us suitably engaged throughout. Modelled on the original illustrations, the puppets too are simple and stark yet entirely heart-warming in their interactions with each other and the visual world they are a part of.

Even if he didn’t get any of the philosophical content of the story, my seven month old was immediately captivated by the rising sun against the black backdrop, he loved the protagonists frolicking in the pond, and like all of us he too seemed swept up by the story’s theatrically effective finale – of a duck floating away in the silky river of eternity. Older children too would probably respond well to occasional humour and the more complex narrative content dealing with the natural life-death cycle. And here’s of course an ideal opportunity to deal with their questions about death without the painful context of losing a pet or a family member. I wished for a bit more audience interaction and a slightly more playful approach to the piece. A close adherence to the text made this difficult, as did as the fact that the only character played by an actor was Death itself. I fear the theatre version of the story loses more than it gains from this approach, but if it intrigues you to buy the book, as it has done for me, it has had some sort of a lasting effect after all.

Paines Plough - LUNGS - Photo Thomas Doyle

Paines Plough: Lungs

Paines Plough - LUNGS - Photo Thomas DoyleA new production of Duncan Macmillan’s 2011 two-hander forms part of a repertoire of four plays to be toured by Paines Plough’s pop up venue Roundabout. The shows, all performed by three actors and in the round, open in Edinburgh before they start their autumn itinerary.

Directed on this occasion by George Perrin, the production features Sian Reese-Williams
 and Abdul Salis, a pair of consummate performers who seem to rise to the task of delivering temperamentally juxtaposed vignettes from a life of a couple with remarkable skill. Though I cannot compare it to the original much-lauded production, I can safely say that the strength of the writing itself shines through once again with a dazzling brilliance, especially as it gradually draws out what begins as a mundane ‘conversation’ into gut-wrenching poetry of completely timeless significance. This is the key that Perrin has taken to the play as well, brushing off various references to the ‘here and now’ of the characters in the play – so for example, when they are in the restaurant, all lines referring to the food and the eating are played down as obviously less significant in a non-naturalistic rendition of the play. It is as if we are listening to a radio play being spoken by actors who move through a series of seemingly insignificant but carefully choreographed spatial configurations within a circle. Deliberate decisions which are possibly more illustrative of the subtext than the text are made about whether the actors are both standing or sitting or crouching, facing each other or not, and their grey and blue clothes seem to leave enough scope for us to invest the visual world of the piece with our own imagination. Nevertheless Perrin’s production stops short of proposing any of its own stage metaphors – this is still a director at the service of the text, though the refreshing aspect of his approach is that it seems to treat the text as spoken word material rather than a piece of realism.

There are a few more things to be said about the play itself, which although evidently written by someone with an ear for dialogue, is actually great because it manages to translate into a dramatic idiom the deeply familiar conflict situation of our day: the head vs. heart argument for and against having a baby. Thinking vs. feeling is the running theme within the play – she is an overthinking phd student, he is an impulsive musician – and the play also draws both its humour and its poignancy from this particular conundrum, and the characters’ in/ability to articulate themselves at a particular moment in time. Macmillan’s play is ultimately well served by the production as a whole, but especially by the actors who deploy very limited resources to deliver nuanced, dynamic and memorable performances.

Skagen - Small War - Photo Jeremy Abrahams

SKaGeN: SmallWaR

Skagen - Small War - Photo Jeremy AbrahamsFor those who did not see the Belgian theatre maker Valentijn Dhaenens’s 2012 take on verbatim theatre, BigmoutH, it seems important to mention a few things about it here first. As an actual in-depth study of oration, BigmoutH consisted of a selection of texts from the mostly western history of public speaking, from Socrates and the Grand Inquisitor to Muhammad Ali and Osama bin Laden. Dhaenens’s treatment of this sort of material was not to simply reproduce it on stage using the skills of mimicry ordinarily deployed in verbatim theatre; instead his approach could be described as that of a vocal artist creating a sound installation. Using a selection of filters, BigmoutH eventually became a piece of a capella singing with Dhaenens harmonising multiple recordings of his own voice. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

Similarly SmallWaR is a piece of testimonial archeology focusing on documented experience of war, specifically the First World War, but quoting a range of historical figures from Attila the Hun to participants of the wars in the Crimea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan (though surprisingly omitting the Balkans). By comparison to BigmoutH, however, SmallWaR features several additional layers attempting to put the found texts into a dialogue with each other, and most significantly, adding a strong visual and even dramatic dimension to his presentational format. So, in collaboration with his designer Jeroen Wuits, Dhaenens sets the mise en scene up to allow for an interaction between himself on stage playing a World War One nurse and multiple video projections of himself playing an incapacitated soldier who, having lost his limbs and his voice, exists largely within the liminal space of his own hallucinations. Physically, therefore, there are three planes of depiction on stage: the actor in front, a bed which contains a plasma screen with a mostly still projection of a dying soldier in the middle, and a cloth screen in the back giving an imagined voice and body to the soldier. This allows the creators to engineer some uniquely powerful scenes, for example the spirit of the soldier on the big screen whispering into the ear of the nurse a letter for his unborn son. Or a conversation about the purpose of war and the meaning of democracy with his own father.

Threaded through the show are a number of songs ranging from Riders on the Storm (yes, it does work in the context!) to Silent Night, which Dhaenens renders with charisma and charm. He is a strong performer, a theatre maker with a clear dramaturgical sensibility, and although his overall composition could be a bit tighter, the main strength of his work is contained in its integrity and originality.