Author Archives: Carran Waterfield


About Carran Waterfield

Carran Waterfield is a performer, writer and teacher. As artistic director of Triangle Theatre she has been making devised work since 1989, winning awards including Fringe First, Independent Theatre shortlist, Best Actress (Volgograd Festival of Experimental Theatre) and the Museums and Heritage for Best Educational Initiative. She is currently based in the north west where she is a visiting theatre practitioner and honorary research fellow at the University of Manchester, teaching and directing devised theatre courses and projects. She has been a visiting director at Salford University and movement tutor at ALRA North. Details of her practice can be found at and

Coney Early Days of a Better Nation

Coney: Early Days (of a better nation)

Coney’s Early Days (of a better nation) –  inspired by the 2011 UK riots, the Arab spring, Iceland’s crowd-sourced constitution, and the rise (and fall) of Occupy – is set in a TV studio/balloting station/European Congress meeting hall and it is participatory.  Coney propose ‘to put the audience at the heart of their work’; ‘to blur the boundaries between performance and real-life choices’; and to ask the bold question ‘can a piece of immersive theatre change people’s minds about politics?’ It promises to be an inspiring evening.

While I am in the foyer an excited and bemused usher gives me a postcard with a message addressing me as ‘Dear Child’ Disconcertingly he signals that he is giving a different card to my colleague.  We are to be split up. He explains that we will all be met in the large hall before we are split up; that the actors will move us to other rooms; and that we will know more when we get in there. Then he confesses in a tone that suggests this kind of show is a tricky one to usher, ‘It’s all a bit last minute; we’re not quite sure how it works.’ Is he unknowingly breaking some rules and giving the game away? Is he unfamiliar with playing outside the black box, or is he in on the act?  I hope it is the latter. So here I am on the threshold of meaningful engagement at the first stage of induction looking for clues; searching for meaning in anything and everything, even in the theatre foyer.  I am a willing participant.

We are split up. In the small group I’m in,  I am told I am part of the war ravaged fictitious country of Dacia. A dictatorship has just been overthrown and we as a group are to take part in rebuilding the nation. To do this we are prescribed the role of city people, islanders or plains people. Each group has different concerns and experiences of the war.  My group is the city group, the short straw, the smallest group with a strong leader who it seems has had something to do with overthrowing the dictator, but was also part of the dictatorship, somehow. She is at pains to be inclusive and some of us are already dreading that ‘what do you think?’ moment. We are temporarily let off the hook while we watch the telly. Then, back to the interrogation of the task. I feel like I am in school having not done my homework, and now I am quite hot under the collar. Let the rest of the class answer the teacher’s questions, I think to myself.  I feel stress for the actor/facilitator and responsible for not wrecking her game. But this only adds to my inability to go any way towards caring about Dacia and its dilemma. I tell myself it is only a game. The awkward group work over, we move back to the bigger group of audience/participants and I am relieved that there are more people to sort this thing out.

The theatre setting and design for this part is visually and aurally impressive.  We are sat on three sides with a large screen upstage, which is used to punctuate the events with reports, messages and updates. Each group sits under the appropriate banner. We are like the United Nations. I begin to feel thrilled. Facilitated by actors in role/character in each group, together with some apparent company plants and supporters who are definitely in on the act, we are confidently steered through almost two hours of negotiations punctuated by theatrical moments that are reminiscent of the TV’s previous night’s coverage of the election. Then curiously, breaking the spell, we are given an interval and encouraged to get a drink at the bar, as one does at the theatre.  Herein lies a problem.

Coney have prepared a tightly stage-managed numbers game that controls our groupings, our storylines, the limited time we have to do the tasks, the coin we are eventually given to spend rebuilding the nation and, to a considerable extent, our thinking processes, thus limiting the freedom thoughtful democratic decision-making can offer. All this is in the service of a gameplay that has to be performed according the rules set, and which within the time constraints cannot possibly facilitate deep engagement. The time slot that conventional theatre scheduling allows frustrates this piece to some extent. This all throws up curious behaviour that is a mixture of play-acting, playing up to the gallery, and what seems to be some brave attempts to stop the clock.  Several audience members are clearly up for the game and enjoying the sport, egged on by facilitators – I feel my thrill draining away.

Throwing caution to the wind and really allowing your audience free rein may sometimes require the actor to pay attention to where the participants may wish to go or some deeper listening to the questions they are asking, as opposed to expecting them to simply go along with the actor in order to make it work for the scenario. There was a moment within the first round of whole-group negotiations when a genuine and crucial question coming from one of the islander/participants was overlooked and appeared to be trampled on by the actor/facilitators. It was a moment that, had it been fully engaged with, may well have steered the activity in a more imaginative and perhaps, for the piece, unexplored direction.

It is this not being in the moment, this getting on with it, that is in danger of not raising the stakes of the gameplay to much more than the murder mystery experience where everyone has a really good laugh at themselves in role, and a nice drink halfway through. I felt odd with my plastic cup of wine when supposedly we were starving to death.

To return to the company’s own question: can a piece of immersive theatre change people’s minds about politics?  When education and theatre are more explicitly integrated in a radical applied context, maybe it can and maybe it does.

Magnetic North: A Walk at the Edge of the World

A Walk at the Edge of the WorldFar away from the fray of the Fringe is a little refuge in the gentle hands of performer Ian Cameron. He waits for you in the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art for A Walk at the Edge of the World. He is a distant figure with an orange umbrella standing, most appropriately, near Charles Jencks’s land art Landform.  You are standing on the steps of the Gallery being given quiet health and safety instructions and a badge. It’s been a rush to get here. Of course it’s raining and you’re kitted out for it.  You walk towards the figures forming a ragged circle around Cameron who is wearing a grey overcoat and brown corduroy trousers.  He checks you’re present and listening, then tells you about his recent hip operation that has caused him to have to learn to walk again and how he dreamed of walking while he was in hospital having his operation.

You are then invited to accompany him on a walk in silence and advised to give your senses full freedom. It’s a long focusing exercise that gradually resembles a short pilgrimage. Time does a strange thing while you walk. The terrain is moderately challenging in the rain, drawing you away from the gallery, across the road where you are conscious of traffic noise. Then you go down some steps and along the river, over bridges, through archways and eventually up steep steps towards the site of the performance, a quiet place away from the main gallery.  It’s Sunday so it feels like going to church.  The physical act of walking has succeeded in focusing the mind and helps to make you responsible for your experience of this piece.

You cross the threshold that becomes the second beginning of the piece.  You enter the performance space, time to take off wet clothes and find a seat.  At this moment of intermission you become part of a community and get to see again who else has come on this journey you shared as one within a silent community of walkers.

What then transpires is an illustrated talk – like any gallery or educational talk in a public space that might relate to an experience you have just had.   Cameron breaks the silence in a change of gear, more upbeat.  The talk is accompanied by Cameron’s/the character/the guide’s slide show.  We don’t know his name but through his talk we begin to learn about his life, in particular his mother and father’s religious fervour, his mother’s love of walking, and the strange unspoken tensions that lie within his family. So for 45 minutes we roam through terrain trodden by our guide and what emerges are fragments of a story about this very lonely man who has walked alone it seems almost everywhere.  He tells us that he might have walked to China at the time when Britain was attached to the continent.  We are a quiet attentive audience and it is quite lovely to witness the subtle expansion of our vision as the simple slide show crossfades back and forth between his screen and a larger screen, which gives a different scale to the material shared with us.  Unfortunately the white wall of the gallery space tends to wash some of the clarity of this, which is more tangible on the show’s trailer.

One senses mostly an awkwardness in this enthusiast’s sharing of his journeys fuelled by an almost obsessive need to unravel and trace the roots and journeys within his family history, an obsession fed perhaps by an unspoken and knotted grief at the loss of his mother.

In terms of form, Magnetic North, a company known for work that seeks to place the writer at the centre of the play-making process, is asking bold questions about the nature of theatre and A Walk at the Edge of the World also asks questions about narrative and truth. Is what we hear Cameron’s story? Whose story, or stories are these and how have they come together?   Director and writer Nicholas Bone keeps the form loose and open.  You can make of it what you want: these narrative sequences, non-sequiturs, dead ends, and short cuts may trigger associations and memories for its visitors/audience. This is work so far away from the sound bites and bold summaries typical of the Fringe. Both the walk and the talk offer a chance to quieten the mind and consider the proposition that sharing the life of another human being may consist in wandering through otherwise overlooked detail and irregular but infinitely rich pathways.

Slip of Steel: How Does a Snake Shed its Skin?

Slip of Steel - How Does a Snake Shed its SkinIn the wake of several recent and highly successful biographical films about women performed by high status actors (Streep – Thatcher, Mirren – The Queen and less recently Woolf – Kidman), it is interesting to see Susanna Hislop here working within that genre with her collaborator Anna Ledwich and seeking her own autobiographical story within the biographical and historical accounts of these iconic women: Margaret Thatcher, Marilyn Monroe, and Virginia Woolf. These three muses serve as the stimulus for this devised piece, which has gone further than much devised work, which requires many drafts and lots of throwing away. There is still more to throw away here concerning the stimulus, especially when in this case you are eventually drawn into the performer’s own personal story of mental illness which is far more interesting than the stories of her celebrity helpers.

The piece begins with a voiceover introduction from Susanna explaining that this is a play about her making this piece. So we know where we are: very firmly in process and, as it turns out as the piece progresses, within Hislop’s therapy. She enters in a costume reminiscent of the game of Consequences: head is wig of Marilyn Monroe, upper body is jacket and rosette of Margaret Thatcher, lower body, knickers, and wellingtons of Virginia Wolf. The stage is carved up similarly: stage right Monroe’s terrain, stage centre Thatcher’s platform, and stage left, Woolf’s kitchen, later denoted by a washing pail and stones.

After a self-deprecating apologetic introduction about a wasp sting, nothing to do with the show – she says – but everything to do with procrastination, revealing a performed reluctance to get on with it, Hislop finally dives into the piece, taking on and imitating the three muses with confidence and conviction, with asides to Streep and Kidman. She is an accomplished actress with strong skills (she’s very good at accents) and an assured confidence with this very small audience. But it’s performed in a state of panic and the physical sequence allows little time for her to work with the objects on stage. What ensues skates over the eating habits, obsessions, and fears of the three subjects, for instance Margaret Thatcher’s invention of Mr Whippy ice cream. Food obsession seems to be the main theme here. There is a long sequence about food where all the food references relating to each character mix and match (again the Consequences motif). We finally get to the crux of the piece: Susanna Hislop’s mental state and how she became diagnosed with a mental illness, demonstrated through her obsession with weight, her paranoia about lacking a boyfriend, and her obsession with connections. She reveals an intricate research flowchart pinned to the back of one of her many filing cabinets that could be construed as the scribblings of an obsessive but is the thought processes that have informed the development of the show, harking back to her introduction. As a young Anne Frank fan one understands her reading from her young adolescent diary, but I would have preferred insight from the older woman rather than a loose and unsustained allusion to a fictional character, in this case, Adrian Mole – again evidence of the need to weed out some extraneous material. The women she is obsessed with are projected onto her relatives, and we learn about her alcoholic grandmother and ultimately her personal desire to be a good and successful actress. Through this confessional monologue we forgive her and are even complicit with her in choosing her final fantasy, the Oscar acceptance speech. One of the most powerful moments I felt was her exit which, like her entrance, was protracted – but the sound of her voice over the microphone in the corridor made me think she has a creative fever which never lets her go.

Lynn Ruth Miller: Not Dead Yet

Not Dead YetThere is nothing better than sitting at the feet of an elder telling you the story of her life. This particular elder, Lynn Ruth Miller, is a wonderfully natural storyteller. A person’s life is unique and you know you are getting a unique experience here. She enters the tiny space with the audience forming a right angle around her, and a shiny-faced young keyboard player plays her in. The diminutive figure that is Lynn Ruth Miller is carrying a suitcase and wearing an elegantly flowing kaftan-style top over royal blue leggings. She sings the title of her piece, which is funny and totally engaging. She has caught you immediately. The 60 minutes contains the fascinating story of her life so far in chronological order. She tells us of her Jewish mother who controlled her as a very young child by refusing to let her do anything until she finished her milk. Needless to say she stayed stubbornly in her high chair for an interminable time until an auntie rescued her, chastising her mother for giving her sour milk and inviting Lynn Ruth for a chicken supper that would conclude with her favourite – tapioca pudding. Food is the major feature in these yarns and one is astounded at the scale of her food consumption.

There’s a lovely sequence about sending numerous valentines to every boy who had ever shown interest in her, to no avail. As you listen, you realise you are getting nigh on a century of anecdote and therefore historical transition here and that is interesting as you see that time has also written itself on Lynn Ruth’s body and face – you are so close to her that you cannot help but look at her with this kind of curiosity. You realise too, that you are listening to someone actively and joyously relating stuff from as long ago as the 1930s and that she remembers clearly enough to embody and revisit that little girl of that very different time. At this moment older woman and little girl mix in a way that is impossible for younger actors to achieve.

Lynn Ruth Miller: Not Dead Yet is as delicate as it is heart-warming. Thank goodness Lynn Ruth Miller is not dead yet and she promises more from where this one came from.

Back to Back - Ganesh vs the Third Reich - Photo Jeff Busby

Back to Back Theatre: Ganesh Versus the Third Reich

Back to Back - Ganesh vs the Third Reich - Photo Jeff BusbyIf you are going to represent a sacred religious figure-head, re-enact aspects of the most contested historical episode of the twentieth century, and interrogate changing attitudes towards disabled people, more specifically actors who ‘nominate themselves as being perceived to have a disability’, then Ganesh Versus The Third Reich must be one of the bravest and most honourable examples of how to go about it. Back to Back Theatre from Australia have only four performances to make their mark at the Edinburgh International Festival and I was lucky enough to witness the second one.

We see Lord Ganesh’s quest to prevent Lord Shiva from wreaking havoc on mankind by returning the Swastika symbol, appropriated and corrupted by the Nazis, to its original home within the lexicon of Sanskrit and Indian mythology.  We begin with an arresting semi-comic opening set within a pop up picture book space: a shadow theatre and live action enactment of an exchange between Lord Shiva, Parvati, Ganesh and Lord Vishnu. Then we cut to the rehearsal room of the production and its four actors: ‘Brian’ (Brian Tilley), ‘Simon’ (Simon Laherty), ‘Mark’ (Mark Deans), and ‘Scott’ (Scott Price), led by what may be understood as their director, facilitator and carer, ‘David’ (David Woods), who, in this role at least, appears never to identify himself as having any intellectual challenges and in this instance is driven by a particularly and singularly unshakeable vision.   We are in the fantastic world of meta-theatre here in which the ‘real’ rehearsal process is inflected with the moral and ethical dilemmas represented within the constructed play, the embodied mythology. At one point David throws any doubt about the capability of the actors to create such complex work back at an imaginary audience. He goes further and dares to accuse the hypothetical audience of coming to watch ‘freak porn.’ The conjecture is harmless and hilarious but potentially real and thus he illustrates a point to both the cast and the audience daunted by the scale of the ethics confronted in this piece.

Brian has written a play and of course he has the main part as Ganesh and gets to wear the elephant head. He plays the part in a tone of speech that is dramatic and sonorous.  Simon, very slight and elegant, is to ‘do the Jew stuff’ and so he is in stripy pyjama bottoms.  He operates as a peacemaker between the writer and one of the actors who initially appears to be ambivalent about the project, the mysterious and self-absorbed Mark. Scott is to play a German soldier, dressed in a woollen uniform with elongated and stretchy feet reminiscent of a fairy tale character. At various points the prospect is aired that one of them may be ‘promoted’ to take on the role of Hitler.

As the Hindu god journeys to Berlin, through the woods of Germanic folklore and notoriously efficient trains of Switzerland, we experience the uncomfortable conflation of actors with disabilities performing both as the protagonists and targets of Hitler’s project. For Simon this means embodying the subject of the experiments of Dr Mengele, also played by David Woods with a volatile combination of charm and menace. What ensues explores the dangerously fine line between strong leadership and malicious control as the director augments his vision regardless of the feelings of his cast. David, performing the role of Director, has an amazing capacity for patience: ‘There’s no I in team,’ he chants, dancing an exquisite cheerleader routine whilst his shambolic team drift about the stage. Only Scott seems willing to challenge him, stubbornly refusing to roll over and die correctly ‘as if’ shot in the back of the head. Here the filmed documents of Hitler’s murderous regime may come to mind, but David’s vicious persecution of Scott is playfully disrupted by echoes of chase sequences from Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

The production alternates between epic journey and rehearsal room realities as cleverly executed scene changes are created by the cast swishing five ceiling to floor transparent curtains back and forth. With clever lighting these create a multi-layered backdrop reminiscent of graphic novels and silhouetted children’s illustrated storybooks such as The Ramayana.  The production values are sophisticated and very effective, including the subtle use of layered vocal sound that allows the actors to augment their voices and personae with terrific rumbles and screams.

Bruce Gladwin has facilitated this amazingly skilful team of performers and artists to create a tight and beautifully structured latticework of scenes that dodge between mundane rehearsal, mythology, and play whilst unpacking the complexity of the relationships between the five players and of broader society. This is a kind of theatre that gives permission to laugh in the face of taboo, to question the limits of reality and fabrication, and to revel in the potential and pitfalls of creative representation.

At the haunting ending David walks out on the group leaving Mark hiding under the table, alone but engrossed in a game of hide and seek.  The head of Ganesh rests above him on the tabletop.  As the figure of Mark shifts and turns in this tiny table frame reminiscent of Hitler’s bunker, within the vast black space of the theatre, it seems to evoke – in a magical and breathtakingly simple image – the loneliness and fate of humanity, the long history of cruelty against the vulnerable, and the temporary distraction of play.