Telling stories with imagination.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Metta likes... Site specific theatre

This week - site specific theatre!

I have to admit that I still sometimes get lost in the terminology here. We have site specific, site sympathetic and then site responsive. Since the vagaries of the term is not an original gripe, I'll brush over it and quickly define what I'm talking about. What Metta really like at the moment is theatre performed where it is set.
Last night I saw Tom Littler's production of T.S.Elliot's Murder in the Cathedral in, well, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, which was produced by the Oxford Playhouse. This is at the extreme end of placing theatre where it is set, but, by gum, it was effective. The story is that of the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.
Littler used much of the building as his stage, and he played with it well. There was a particularly effective moment when, having had the focus on Becket in the pulpit for some time, a balcony behind him was lit up. Not only had I not realised that there was someone standing there, I hadn’t even realised that there was a balcony there. Lots of spaces may be able to pull that trick, but here it all served to reinforce the context as well as drive the story forward.
And the context made that story more powerful. When the soldiers burst in, after the terrifying banging at the doors (the sort of effect that would normally take a sound designer, several technicians and many well-placed speakers to properly replicate), I found it genuinely shocking to see them brandishing swords in a cathedral. The setting thrust the full impact of their actions home.
Right at the other end of the spectrum, but equally effective, was the recent production of Jim Cartwright’s Two by Dispense Theatre at Dirty Dicks on Liverpool Street. Downstairs in a traditional, wood-panelled, ale-serving pub, Simon Pennicott and Nicky Diss introduced us to over thirty regulars. They pulled pints and argued amongst themselves, greeting people and thinking aloud and they wander among tables and collected glasses. As I sat back and sipped my drink, it felt much more like I was people watching than I was at the theatre. It’s just that the people were particularly interesting with a clear narrative arc running through the chatter.
It’s something that we’re playing with in our next show – The Man with the Flower in his Mouth. It’s set in a café and we’re performing it the London Particular, a bowl food café in New Cross. It’s always hard to tell how a something like this will feel until it has an audience, but I hope that the people who come feel the intimacy of the setting, and get the same satisfaction from it that these shows gave me.

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