Asphyxiated beauty

Thrust is 10 next year, but this August will be the first time we’ve played at Edinburgh Fringe. We’ve been waiting for the right play at the right moment, and William’s new play papercut– is exactly that. It’s an urgent play that reads like a panic attack. Will told me he wanted to write a play that imagines what the end of the world might feel like. Well, look around. Now’s the time.

When I tell people that William Bowden wrote the play, I’m often met with surprise. Those who know Thrust will know William as an exquisite director, whose rich and complex productions such as Request Programme and Dinner balance out the rawer, more austere shows in our back catalogue that I’ve directed, like Pornography and Inheritance. This is the first time one of Will’s plays has been produced in full, but it’s certainly not his first play. In fact, the first day we met he showed me powerful and angsty play which instantly gripped me as exactly the kind of text I wanted to be directing. It was never produced, but we came quite close. Secretly, I am glad, because looking back the circumstances weren’t right to do it justice.

Since then he’s kept writing, and we scratched a few scenes from an otherwise unproduced play called Photographs at our first More Storm night in June 2014. All of Will’s writing, that I’ve seen (he’s very guarded with his writing), bears his distinctive hallmark imagery of classical beauty and nostalgia – jazz bands and cigarettes, hotels and home baking, references to Tennessee Williams and The Great Gatsby – placed in stark contrast with emptiness, disconnection, decay and destruction; as if the beauty is being asphyxiated by something more powerful and urgent.

papercut– is grander and more ambitious. It tackles apocalyptic themes on an excruciatingly intimate level. To read it (which, the first time, was a slightly overwhelming experience) is like turning a camera onto a TV screen, and watching the image expand and distort into infinity. The same feelings of disconnection and erosion are revisited but differently each time. As the play continues, language decays and eventually collapses into grunts and gasps. By that point, it doesn’t matter. You get the picture.

Our production, exquisitely performed by Harriet Wakefield (The Bell JarDinner, On Chesil Beach) and Henry Martin (The Bell JarPornography, On Chesil Beach), lit by Ryan Funnell (The Bell JarPornography) and costumed by Ester Mangas Fernandez (6 Characters in Search of an AuthorInheritanceOn Chesil Beach), equivocates the end of the world as a catastrophically failed relationship. This allows us to shift focus nimbly between the universal and the domestic; from the end of life as you know it, to the end of life as we know it.

We’re about halfway through the process – which has moved more quickly and proved more enjoyable than I could have hoped. Your first chance to see papercut– (very deliberately named in lower case with a dash; the name of the show isn’t “Papercut”, it is a papercut) is at our preview at Middlesex University on 28 July, before the show heads to Edinburgh to play at Theatre Arts Exchange (with whom papercut– is a co-production) from 15-21 August.

I’m wearing two hats at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, as I am also hugely privileged to be leading the programme at Theatre Arts Exchange, which sees a remarkable season of work appear in a brand new temporary theatre on Gayfield Square in an exciting project led by Middlesex University. papercut– is just a small part of a groundbreaking line-up featuring work from emerging companies we’ve long admired and seasoned professionals whose reputations precede them!

Rehearsals go up a gear this week so keep an eye on all the usual places, there’ll be plenty to see.


papercut– plays 15-21 August at Theatre Arts Exchange.
Preview: 28 July at Middlesex University.

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More Storm Festival

Blimey. Our groundbreaking scratch event is back at the Ravensfield Theatre, bigger than ever before. For two days we’ll be filling the whole building with the most exciting artists, companies and theatremakers we can find, all of them sharing their latest experiments and works in progress.

16502115635_79b35caaca_zMore Storm is Thrust’s unique space for scratch, short form and experimental theatre. It’s a platform for emerging and evolving theatre artists to share ideas and material, as well as enquiries and approaches. Scratch lets artists test out their newest and boldest ideas in front of an audience, and the audience, through their feedback, have a chance to directly impact on where the work goes next. It’s a meeting point and a departure point: a creative playground that encourages risk and innovation without the pressure of a finished product.

Since our first event at Middlesex University in June 2014, we’ve had 2 sold out shows and met dozens of awesome and exciting artists. Previous contributors include Janice Perry; hailed by the BBC as “one of the world’s most respected performance artists”; apathetic cartoonist Chris Sav; emerging companies PurpleGibbon and Black Shoe, who audiences called “superb” and “quietly brilliant”; and the irreverent, “funny and compelling” performance artist Johnny O.

Now we’re turning More Storm into a two-day festival, taking over Middlesex’s entire Ravensfield Theatre and filling the building with the most exciting, daring, risky and inventive scratch we can find in two curated spaces, plus a bar and more surprises around the building.

Curious? Keep checking our website for line-up announcements and to book tickets!

Want to take part? We are looking for artists and companies with works in progress and/or experimental short-form work to programme across our two performance spaces. We want to attract work from makers of all backgrounds, disciplines and experience. This might include (but absolutely isn’t limited to!) theatre companies, solo performers, performance artists, installation artists, immersive practice, stand-up comedians, cabaret performers, storytellers, puppeteers, writers, workshop practitioners, digital artists, dancers, musicians, etc. Head on over to our Take part page.

More news as and when we have it!


More Storm Festival takes place 2/3 October 2015 at Middlesex University.
For more information visit www.morestormfestival.uk

A weird act of being

We’ve been in Brighton since Monday now. Actually, I’m in London as I write this, but I’ll be heading back pretty soon. We opened yesterday, had some good press and divided opinion, but all week we’ve found ourselves saying the same thing to each other over and over again: “What a weird thing we’re doing”.

When you look at it objectively, it is. We’ve all taken time off work, stumped up some money, rented a flat on the Brighton seafront, moved into it for a fortnight, and every night – twice a night – sometimes three – we go around hiding things in cupboards, setting the clocks to the wrong time, staining the windowsill, before inviting in a handful of strangers to follow one of us around for an hour.

Why aren’t we at our desks? Why have we come to this lovely city to do this strange thing? Why aren’t we at least in a proper theatre doing the kind of thing you might normally expect from a company like us?

I think all of us will have slightly different answers to those questions, but here’s mine.

Request Programme has been on our to-do list for about two years now, and right from the start Will was keen that the play should be site-specific – not on a stage set. I was dubious, but we looked at a few hotels, read the script a few times, I had a stab at re-writing it; then we pushed it to the back burner for a while.

Then, in January, we brought it to the boil rather quickly (if you’ll permit me to extend that metaphor a bit), and by early February we were announcing a 26-show run in a site-specific production for Brighton Fringe. The rest, you know.

Despite the three months which have passed since then, it wasn’t until Tuesday that I first saw the play in its true form. I knew the text, I knew that it was formally and structurally a fascinating artefact from the dramatic canon, I shared Will’s conviction that work like this is difficult to stage, and thus rarely seen, in this country – which demands innovation and intervention (which we happily raise our hands to). But it was only yesterday, watching the dress rehearsal, that the true extent to which this play absolutely belongs here; in this place, in this way, at this time; became apparent to me.

DSC_0082 Yes, the play is voyeuristic. It is, on the surface, a hyper-naturalistic portrayal of a woman’s evening from the moment she returns from work to the moment she decides, in the dead of night, to do something about her loneliness. She says nothing and does little of interest. That’s not the point. The point is the act of looking in – the transformation of the audience from passive spectators into fly-on-the-wall voyeurs. But it goes further than that. By staging it in this way – live in a shared 3D space, rather than behind a proscenium arch – it does more than push your nose up against the window. It pushes it through.

All of a sudden we are confronting ourselves through Miss Rasch; we can choose to experience her actions as our own through the simple act of acknowledging “yes I behave or exist in this way” or “no, I don’t, I would do this instead…”. Suddenly, the play evolves from an act of outward voyeurism into an hour of inward meditation – if you are willing to let it.

It is remarkable that a play that is 44 years old can retain this power almost half a century after it was written. The key to this is Kroetz’s acknowledgment of its limits. His first instruction is that the play, set in a Bavarian bedsit in the early 70s, must be altered for contemporary and cultural equivalencies. For us this is a fascinating exercise in dramaturgy, filtered through Katharina Hehn’s translation. Life does not function in the same way that it did in 1971, but the feelings are absolutely the same. By resisting the ease with which Request Programme could have quickly become a period piece (which I admit for some would be a more interesting visual experience but at the expense of its more powerful contemporary resonance), Kroetz has future-proofed his work. So we can say that our production, though much changed in detail from the original text, is very much the same play.

The author gave a fascinating introduction to the play, in which he explains how it was inspired by police reports about real people living under similar circumstances, and says “if the explosive force of this enormous exploitation and suppression did not target, alas, the suppressed and exploited themselves, the situation would be ripe for revolution. Only in this way is it possible for the inhuman order in which we live to be sustained“. He gives voice (ironically) to the voiceless thousands who live behind closed doors, trapped in the routine of social and economic immobility. With this interpretation – and our new government’s plans – in mind, the timing for a British production seems like remarkable foresight on our part! (Unfortunately it’s a coincidence, but theatre does have a habit of turning up in the right place at the right time.)

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Already, after only one day, the production has highlighted our ability as a company to divide opinion and to ask our audiences to shed their passivity, if only inside their own minds. Many left in tears, some were struck by Rachel Wood’s skill as a performer (myself included, and this is my eleventh production with her!), others commented on the novelty of the experience. Meanwhile one audience member commented online that unless you want to feel bored, irritated, trapped and depressed, you should avoid our production. Actually, we quite agree.

How else are we to give Kroetz’s voice to the voiceless if we are not prepared to ask you to experience those same feelings, which his text – and our production (of which we are immeasurably proud) – explores so poignantly?


Request Programme plays until 24 May. Tickets from Otherplace Brighton.
Production photos here. Read an interview with William Bowden in The Argus here.

Rehearsals begin for Request Programme

The clock is well and truly ticking for our return to Brighton Fringe with Request Programme, and rehearsals start today with William and Rachel locking themselves in a room to work out just how you go about rehearsing a site specific play without any words, 50 miles away from your site… (Don’t worry we’ve got some ideas.)

Stay tuned to “teh social mediaz” for the inevitable rehearsal updates!

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William & Rachel outside our intimate venue

Last Sunday we went on a field trip to beautiful Brighton and spent some time in our venue – which we’re all completely in love with. When we say the play is going to be an intimate experience, we really mean it – the flat is tiny. While this is completely appropriate (Franz Xaver Kroetz originally set the piece inside a bedsit in 1970s Bavaria, but he calls for each production to transplant the action into a more appropriate context – though most productions still make use of a real theatre!), it does throw up some questions about the best way to place and involve the audience. For them, the play must be a fly on the wall experience: observational, not participatory. That’s a careful balancing act for us to explore.

We had some disappointing news this month when the Arts Council turned down our application for funding. The silver lining to that rather large cloud is that ACE have a statutory obligation to provide feedback to companies when their applications do not meet their rigorous standards. We had no feedback, which means we would have got the money if there was enough of it to go around.

So we hit the beach, filmed this adorable video, and launched an ambitious crowdfunding campaign. We need £2,500 by the end of April. This will help us minimise the impact of this disappointing news from the Arts Council and make sure Request Programme is still the big statement we want it to be.

Visit our WeFund page to find out how you can help us, and check out the sexy rewards we have on offer for those who dig deep!

Announcement: Request Programme at Brighton Fringe

13-24 May 2015
Otherplace Brighton

She comes home. She makes her dinner. She does her chores. She doesn’t say a word.

We’re returning to Brighton Fringe after our “unmissable” (FringeGuru) 4-star #DINNERANDPORN season in 2013 with an intimate, site-specific encounter with loneliness in a city filled with life.

Join a small audience inside a private flat to witness a portrait of quiet desperation, in a new production of Franz Xaver Kroetz’ play without words Request Programme, to be directed by William Bowden. The rest of the creative team will be announced shortly.

Will you give us £10?? This show will be like nothing we’ve ever done before. It’s performed by one woman, with no words, in a site-specific setting. What we have done before is take ambitious work to Brighton Fringe and come back with 4-star reviews! A small donation from you will make a massive difference to us. Click here to give what you can.

2015

We might have had one cocktail too many and spent the day foraging on leftover crisps, but we’ve still got just enough strength left to lift the laptop lid and wish you all a very happy new year!

Our 2014 was pretty cool with loads of exciting things happening for us both on and off the stage – like launching our scratch night More Storm, and playing Inheritance at the King’s Head, and going on R&D roadtrips, and stuff like that…

As for 2015? We’re getting started as quickly as we possibly can, because More Storm is back on 2 February! Here’s a first look at the line-up (in no particular order):

PurpleGibbon: An Unhealthy Obsession
A playful performance about unhealthy obsessions. Particularly when those obsessions are over Crunchy Nut, boiled eggs and Singin’ In The Rain. Not that there’s anything wrong with obsession, you just might get caught up in it…

Chris Sav: Quarter Life Crisis – The Musical
A piece about being in your mid-twenties and lacking the skills or emotional willpower to cope with reality. When you depend on double bills of Gilmore Girls to ease the pain of yet another job rejection, you begin to think, “if only this were a Broadway musical…”

Adie Mueller & Mike Carter: Sandman
Inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s gothic horror story The Sandman, expressive physicality, the use of objects and puppetry, the collapse of time and narrative structure and the performer’s intimate and direct relationship with the audience immerse you in an unnerving and thrilling nightmare world.

Beautiful Confusion Productions: things that happened to me on the street
Stillness, noise and lipstick converge in the space between public and private. What happens when we cross the threshold?

FATLiPBMYTHICAL: Lost Boy Sketches
Using storytelling, mixtapes, trainers and lo-fi beats, Lost Boy Sketches explores what it means to “grow up” through the diary scribblings of characters Robin and Blake.

Theatre Arts Performance Research Group: A Trial
A collaboration between staff, students and graduates of Middlesex University’s theatre programmes, led by Des Truscott. Beginning with a story structure inherent in Franz Kafka’s The Trial but common to many works of literature, the collective explore that structure within a contemporary idiom.

Thrust: Untitled
A study in tea-making and solitude.

Tickets will be on sale in the next few days, so we’ll be seeing you very soon! Until then, friends, fans and colleagues, thanks for all the fun last year, have a very happy 2015.

When the storm broke

Last Monday was a great day for us, with the launch of our new scratch night More Storm at Middlesex University. Right from way back when we started imagining it, we wanted it to be more than just a scratch night – we wanted it to be a way of foregrounding risky and innovative approaches to making theatre: we wanted to prove that you can scratch a design as much as you can scratch a script, or a concept as much as you can a performance.

Fortunately it didn’t stay an idea in our heads for very long, thanks to the awesome contributions of the artists and companies who performed: they were all fantastic on the night but they were equally brilliant throughout the process. It was a lot of fun to be surrounded by people who were as engaged with the idea as we are.

Although the day itself (for us anyway) wasn’t without stress and hairiness, that didn’t stop a sell-out crowd enjoying Johnny O’s anarchic work in progress Welcome To Rehab, Tom Hendry’s beautiful and meditative sound installation Cassette 1, Experimental Houses’ exciting exploration of masculinity in performance Muscle, a confessional half hour with Black Shoe in Ineffable, and legendary performance artist Janice Perry who shared an exclusive glimpse of her retrospective work in progress Naked At The Met in a rare appearance in London. Plus we scratched one of our own works in progress, Will’s new play Photographs, which kicked off the evening.

Probably should mention that the audience also enjoyed the copious amounts of free wine provided by Middlesex University and selected by Zakk, our artist sommelier in residence.

Audiences said of More Storm:

A wonderful coming together of artists at different stages of their careers.

A hugely important platform … More please.

And here are some things we learned:

  • John is the only person we know who can sink a bottle of red wine on stage and get away with calling it art.
  • There is an art to concealing boobs without properly concealing them.
  • We are hurtling into a future over which we have no control and to which we have no answers.
  • If you feed certain academics enough free wine they might end up locked in the building and set all the alarms off.
  • Black Shoe have a lot to do in the next five-to-seven decades.
  • You cannot move an actor into a spotlight through willpower alone.

Thanks for coming. If you did come, please, please tell us what you thought by filling out this quick and anonymous questionnaire – the whole point of scratch is to get feedback on the work, so your responses are crucial. And then we’ll see you in the autumn for the next one! (Date to be announced soon, but if you’re interested in taking part you can email me now and let me know what you’re thinking.)