Friday, 29 March 2013

Tanzverbot: No dancing, its Friday

Welcome to Good Friday everyone!

 Today is an opportunity to celebrate; at base you've probably had the day off work and Spring is just about springing (through the clouds and the cold). Those of you with religious convictions might be celebrating your freedom and the salvation of Christ. Whether you fit either or neither of these welcome to a truly Good Friday.

Did you know that in most German states it is illegal to dance today? Yeah, you heard me right. It is illegal to dance; because Good Friday is a sober occasion and one for reflection. In previous centuries Germany was joined by most of Europe in this observation; and whilst some Irish pubs shut for the night, they're on their own in the main, on this one.

I think that times for reflection and seasons are good. I think its interesting that most German states also observe the ban on Memorial Day as part of their contemplation on the tragedy of war and conflict. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own busy lives we can forget to be grateful, or remember that the way we spend our money and time, that our lifestyles have an impact on the world around us.

As for me I went out last night, until it was a fair way into this morning and I feel no guilt about it. Whatever your reasons for marking the day I feel like you should be able to do that freely. When I am happy and grateful I dance, for joy giving it all I've got - with the sincerest of reverence. I will also be up on Sunday morning to see the sun rise.

Space should be made for people to think and to pray.

But space should also be made for people to dance; for joy, in gratitude, to forgive or forget, to let go.

Welcome to Good Friday.

(Maundy Thursday Zumba session. Photo Credit: Steve Ground Coy, Attitude Credit: 3 wonderful women <3 )

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Good things come in threes

It seems I am doing everything in threes at the moment from ideas to hobbies. After watching People I watched two more live shows in 24 hours this week. Herewith an introduction to Cardboard Citizens Forum Theatre Piece, Glasshouse.

Cardboard Citizens are a travelling theatre troupe, set up in the early 1990’s as a proactive response to homelessness in London. The troupe are primarily made up of people with experience of homelessness and that focuses the content of their work. The shows they run tours both in schools and hostels, and also in mainstream theatres. Despite serving social aims this troupe does not run on pity, but on excellence and professionalism.

Glasshouse - Copyright: Cardboard Citizens

Cardboard Citizens are pioneers of forum theatre. A style Shakespeare would have recognised. During Glasshouse the players present one story through the eyes of three different characters and it doesn’t end well. The audience’s job is first to watch and listen and then to suggest how different decisions and actions could change the outcome for the character of their choice. Your words of course are not enough; to change it for the character you literally step into their shoes, taking their place and experiencing what the scenario  feels like from their perspective. Some of the tactics work, and some of them just seem to make it worse.

This forum-style was really effective for me as an audience member. It made me reflect on the way that I respond to conflict and to difficult life circumstances more generally. It was a style I remembered from Sex-Ed and Crime-Stoppers at school; but that doesn’t stop it being an effective way to challenge people and make them think. More than that, it didn’t feel like school because these guys were professionals, they were highly polished entertainers as well as educators. And the work of Cardboard Citizens clearly goes beyond teaching drama, to getting people back on their feet in really practical, humanising ways!

Glasshouse is touring, its in Southend tomorrow and then in East London, at Richmix on Saturday, as well as numerous venues in between. See it if you get the chance!

Monday, 4 March 2013

People: Alan Bennet's Play

One of the first plays I saw at the National Theatre was an Alan Bennett play, The History Boys featuring the original cast; Corden, Cooper, Griffiths and in my opinion the best, Parker.  Having also performed in Talking Heads and seen other Bennett material staged, when People was announced I was excited. My well-worn Entry Pass got another airing for Bennett’s new play.

People, is the story of a country house and its destiny as lived by an elderly dowager, called Dorothy. It questions the immutability of time and the necessity of organisations like the National Trust. It was a particularly interesting play for someone with an interest in heritage because it always comes back to ‘what is worth preserving? And why?’.

The play opens with two old ladies in a big country house and the entrance of a young man wearing only a military jacket. From that point on Bennet both amuses and informs; especially when his play was furnished by such a stellar cast, De La Tour (who knows about timely delivery of a line), Jupp (playing a stereotypically dower and slightly slimy salesman) & Cadell as the Deacon of Huddersfield. He marries church and state, humour and a very serious agenda, porn and country houses.

(De La Tour & Linda Bassett in a light hearted moment)

National Trust as auctioneer & little England
In People Alan Bennet is evidently very critical of the mercenary attitude he considers the Trust to have taken on. As a reflection of changes in society, anything is for sale; Bevan claims his group even ‘bought Anglesey recently’. When asked about his evident objections in interview Bennet said, ‘‘Less and less are we a nation and more and more just a captive market to be exploited…That a Methodist church in Bournemouth has been bought and re-opened as a Tesco is hardly worth mentioning…My objections to this level of marketing are not to do with morals but to do with taste’. And this attitude comes out time and time again in his play. These objections often find their voice in the character of Dorothy who would rather have an ensuite bathroom and a porn film filmed in her lounge than leave her house to the National Trust. The reaction from the National Trust as voiced by Ivo Dawnay is as follows, ‘It’s sad that the world is very commercial but we need money to do our conservation work and if we are going to save beautiful places, we need to have the funds to do that.’

What is worth preserving?
The key question this play seeks to ask is, ‘What is worth preserving? And at what cost?’. Is the shell of a well-loved house in a state of disrepair really worth saving, when all Dorothy wants is a ‘non-arctic bathroom’, when the house is anything but unique, when it doesn’t really have a narrative to ‘sell’ it, when Dorothy must pay in order to donate her house to the Trust. As Dorothy notes ‘not caring is what has preserved them’. The young man representing the Trust raises a question even of what is worthy of saving, regarding Mazer prison he asks, ‘Do we…save them? Do we restore the patina? I think we do. I think we must’. It seems that for Bennet there is too much interference with the passage of time and decay which according to one character in the play ‘is a kind of progress’.

National Trust as church
During my Masters I was obsessed with the issue of how space becomes place. What imbues a location with meaning? What might be too sacred to touch or interfere with?

This is a question Bennet asks quite deliberately by staging a porn film in the house and running it up against the visit of a bishop and the more savoury clientèle of the Anglican church/ National Trust. The metaphor of church and National Trust is made explicit ‘The Trust is a church too and in the piety and devotion of its members one that would rival the Anglicans…the cars boast their pilgrim badge, the stickers the holy houses where they have paid homage and the sacrament they have received of coffee and walnut cake’. Not only is this hilarious, and true, it is also not a new metaphor, see Burch 

The sacred items in this secular church are also a little bit odd. He highlights the way in which National Trust properties land on anything that will create a story, even pot-pans used in the Billiard room by famous people in this case. Along with the servants quarters and the old croquet set, even Dorothy is coerced into being part of the visiting experience, she ruminates on the way people process museums now, ‘And not even looking. Snapping it. Ticking it off. I don’t want to be ticked off’. The National Trust man responds saying, ‘there is nowhere that is not visitable. That at least the Holocaust has taught us’. The horror implied in Bennet’s narrative of the fact that everything must be sacrificed to the mass consumer on the altar of ‘The Past as Experience becomes truly evident’.

Whilst Bennet is flippant and occasionally represents his subjects in a way that is truly farcical he has a point to make. What is really worth sacrificing for the good of ‘England’ if there really is such a thing? Is it worth the unhappiness of two women in their dying days, the sacrifice of ‘reality’ for some imported story, ‘Country houses are window dressing. They mitigate nothing’. His point is that they mean, nothing. Access to country houses for the masses changes very little. ‘The Trust wants to get people in, we want to keep them out. Either way the house is preserved.’

PST (people spoil things)
Early in the play Bevan, the auctioneer introduces us to his little saying, ‘PST: people spoil things’; he advocates not the democratisation of heritage but its siphoning off. Dorothy makes the point that whether people are included or excluded, ‘either way the house is preserved.’ The great irony of this play is the title, ‘People’ and the ostensible plot-focus, ‘a house’. Maybe the play isn’t about the house after all!

See this play at the NT, and if that’s too far to go see it in your local cinema, where its being streamed live on 21st March.