Being a composer and an actor, I love both music and acting and often the two are interlinked. Here’s a blog-post discussion about Bertolt Brecht’s MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN, and also some of Brecht’s techniques. I actually discussed Brecht and some of his techniques in my PhD on avant garde music. This is how strongly Acting and Music are interlinked. It’s all art! (Don’t quote me on that).

Brecht in Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre

I went to see Brecht’s MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN in the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester. It’s a beautiful building: as soon as you walk in, you’re greeted by high impressive ceilings and pillars and archways (and that’s just the lobby area!) The main stage is circular, and the audience are seated around it in tiers. The stage’s floor rotates. This allows every audience member to see various parts of the show without the actors having their backs towards the audience throughout a whole play. It’s always interesting seeing how the performers and directors and stage design team and so on navigate it. As a side note, I went to see Beckett’s HAPPY DAYS in this theatre. If you’ve seen it, you’ll be aware that the main actor must be buried in a mound of earth throughout the whole play. When this was performed in the Royal Exchange theatre, they had the mound of earth rotating slowly and continuously throughout the whole performance.

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Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot

I went to see  Waiting for Godot in Sheffield’s Crucible last night. It was energetically mesmeric and I was gripped. Below is my review of the event:

Samuel Beckett’s minimalistic and thought-provoking play Waiting for Godot was brought to life once more on Saturday 13th February, 2016 in Sheffield’s Crucible in Yorkshire. According to the artistic director Daniel Evans, ‘this is the third Beckett production to be performed at the Crucible since 2011’.

Receiving its British première in 1955 in the Arts Theatre, London, Beckett’s play creates a bleak and limbo-like world in which the dwellers are neither inhabitants nor simply passing through. Waiting for Godot questions the absurdity of everyday life as its protagonists become caught up in a repetitive series of acts with no apparent point and which result in discussions about killing time and committing suicide (one is reminded of Albert Camus’s philosophical writing The Myth of Sisyphus). Adam Piette, professor of Modern Literature at the University of Sheffield, explains that ‘contemporary readings of the play concentrated on the existential bleakness, the philosophical nihilism: and zeroed in on the question of God.’

The set of Waiting for Godot in Sheffield's Crucible Lyceum Studio in Yorkshire

The set of Waiting for Godot in Sheffield’s Crucible Lyceum Studio in Yorkshire

All who witness this production will no doubt sing the praises of director Charlotte Gwinner and her production team. The play was well-choreographed and all actors complemented each other in this Sheffield Theatres production. The whole show signalled the efforts of the production team. As an audience-member, it was hard not to empathize with Beckett’s four main characters: Pozzo, Vladimir, Lucky, and Estragon were executed with aplomb by Richard Cordery, Lorcan Cranitch, Bob Goody, and Jeff Rawle. Rawle successfully opened the play and drew the audience in with his portrayal of Estragon, described by Piette as ‘a creature of mime and body who plays with his feet’. Rawle’s acting was soon complemented by Cranitch’s engaging and quasi-realist portrayal of Vladimir, described by Piette as ‘idealistic, rational, a head man (watch him play with his hat).’Once immersed within the story of this comical double-act, the audience experiences a second: the characters of Pozzo and Lucky, described by Piette as ‘master / slave, tyrant / subject, sadist / masochist.’ Cordery was mesmerizing as Pozzo, and Goody demonstrated immense stamina in depicting the silent suffering of tormented Lucky.

The opening atmospheric soundscape of this particular production was ambient and, together with the scenic design, presented a captivatingly picturesque yet bleak sense of “nowhere-ness”. The scenery and lighting added to Beckett’s experimentation with the perception of time by being able to present night and day and different seasons with seeming minimalistic effortlessness. Costume design and makeup were both detailed and understated, both adhering to the minimalistic overview and bringing the plot to life. Designer Simon Daw successfully designed this scenery of Waiting for Godot, originally written to be performed in a Proscenium arch, to fit the specifics of Sheffield’s Crucible. He explains that he draws visual inspiration from surrealist imagery such as Yves Tanguy’s painting who ‘creates these amazing, very empty, almost apocalyptic landscapes with some very defined and detailed objects within them.’ When asked by assistant director Charlie Kennedy how one creates a ‘sense of infinity within an enclosed auditorium’, Daw explains that ‘the depth that you can use is fantastic but at the same time you have that intimacy that you don’t get in other spaces, and this brilliant sculptural relationship of having the audience on three sides.’ This brilliantly sums up the sensation one experiences when seeing this production of Beckett’s play in Sheffield’s Crucible: the set is both vast and portrays a lost place, yet the audience is very close to the characters and at once immersed within the plot.

 Overall, this performance of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was captivating, thought-provoking, and effective. It is hard to imagine this play written for any other production team. It will inspire in anyone the desire to engage with more of Beckett’s work.

Highly recommended *****

All aforementioned quotes can be found in the programme note, available on the door for £3.50.

Waiting for Godot is being performed in Sheffield’s Crucible until 27th February. Tickets can be booked here.

August Strindberg (1849-1912): Preface to *Miss Julie*

Some of my current research has led me to acknowledge a comparison between what is realistic/unrealistic and realist/non-realist drama. According to Egil Törnqvist and Birgitta Steene (translators and editors of Strindberg on Drama and Theatre) Strindberg’s preface to Miss Julie is ‘often hailed as the manifesto of modern drama’. I personally find it interesting because it highlights a turning point in theatre practice that has led to the developments of realist and naturalist drama.

In his preface to Miss Julie, Strindberg talks about his “modernization” of plot, character, dialogue, monologue, improvisation, action, technical aspects, scenery, lights, and make-up. Before I summarise the salient points, I must emphasise that the preface to Miss Julie was written before the modern realist dramas we know today were established (Miss Julie was written in 1888!).

Strindberg starts by explaining his motives for modernizing drama: according to him (at the time when this was written), theatre has become too unbelievable, only suitable for those susceptible to such illusions. He writes ‘[l]ike art in general, the theatre has long seemed to me […] a bible in pictures for those who cannot read what is written or printed.’ According to Strindberg, ‘the middle classes, which form the bulk of the audience, without too much mental effort can understand what it is about.’ (p. 62) Strindberg argues for a more naturalist theatre, something he explains is a modernisation of theatre’s initial form. He writes that he is not trying ‘to accomplish anything new, for that is impossible, but merely to modernize the form according to what [he] believe[s] are the demands a contemporary audience would make.’ (p. 63)

Strindberg claims that too much in the theatre of his time utilises scenery and lighting stage layouts that prevent the play from being believable. He longs for the when theatre will mature enough for his imagined ideal, intended, works. Amongst his other suggestions, he writes, ‘if we had a small stage and a small auditorium, then perhaps a new drama might arise […]. While waiting for such a theatre, we shall have to go on writing for our desk drawers, preparing for the repertoire to come.’ (p. 72)

In terms of plot, Strindberg explains that there’s a ‘multiplicity’ of motives surrounding any one outcome; events are multifaceted and not two-dimensional, and it is this notion that fueled his writing of Miss Julie’s character in Miss Julie. Claiming this is an almost revolutionary discovery (for his time), he writes that ‘[e]very event in life – and this is a fairly new discovery! – is the result of a whole series of more or less deep-seated motives […]. I have motivated Miss Julie’s tragic fate with an abundance of circumstances…’ (p. 64)

It’s weird that a preface has had such an impact but there we go: don’t underestimate a preface.