Friday, 2 May 2014

Refreshing The Robben Island Bible.


I’ve just had two very interesting days working with actors Jack Klaff and Jeffrey Kissoon on a revised version of my colleague Matthew Hahn’s play The Robben Island Bible. We prepared a rehearsed reading to open the 20 Years of South African Democracy conference at St Anthony’s College, Oxford and then had a follow up gig in front of the deputy President of South Africa Kgalena Molanthe at South Africa House, as part of his country’s freedom day celebrations

Matt’s play focuses on a banned edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, owned by the then prisoner Sonny Venkatrathnam which was surreptitiously passed around the cells on Robben Island camouflaged as a Hindu religious book.  Sonny asked each prisoner to sign next to their favourite passage. The choices made, with hindsight, reveal the thoughts, fears and hopes of the men, many of whom would go on to take leading political roles in the formation of the new South Africa.

Matthew spent several years traveling to Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg to interview the surviving signatories about their choice. The raw verbatim material gathered in this process has formed the core of the work.

The first sharing of this material happened at St Mary’s. RSC actor and former St Mary’s lecturer Ian Hughes led a student and staff reading here, in the theatre.

A few weeks later the great South African actor John Kani, who was, at the time, playing Caliban in a touring RSC production of The Tempest, agreed to take part in a further reading at the Richmond Theatre. Matt and I travelled up to Stratford upon Avon to meet John in-between shows and talk through the project and we were amazed by the additional biographical detail he was able to give us about the prisoners, many of whom he’d met through his own participation in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Since then the play has had several readings at The British Library as part of the Cultural Olympiad Restless World exhibition, at the Festival Hall as part of the London Literary Festival and at the Folger Shakespeare Institute in Washington DC.

Matt himself has just returned from directing a production at Montana State University and there are further plans afoot for a reading in Glasgow as part of this summer’s Commonwealth Games celebrations and a tour of South Africa.

It’s been a while since I worked on the material and I’d not met Jack or Jeffrey before we hooked up to rehearse in Oxford on a glorious spring morning. They knew each other of old, Jack played Iago to Jeffrey’s Othello at the Bristol Old Vic in 1990 and they worked together again on The Free State, Janet Suzman’s South African take on The Cherry Orchard, which I remember seeing at the Birmingham Rep in the late nineties.

We spent the morning clarifying the text and finding the rhythm of the new version. Jack’s knowledge of his native country was invaluable and he prompted us to dig underneath the literal meaning of the lines to help grasp the emotional context of the men’s stories. Jeffrey was superb with the Shakespeare - thoughtful, methodical and always looking at the passages with a fresh, almost forensic eye.

They have contrasting approaches. Jack was full of broad brush strokes, keen to demonstrate the men behind the stories. He attacked each section with guts, fury and an impressive range of native accents. Jeffrey’s work is more internalised, he draws you to him and makes you listen carefully to each word. Early on I wondered if I’d be able to pull them into the same play, but as the day developed they began to complement each other, bringing colour and texture to the exchanges and creating the necessary variation in pace needed to keep an audience engaged for the full forty five minutes.

By the afternoon we’d settled down, making final decisions over line readings and working with more precision to try and communicate our understanding of some of the meanings behind the men’s choices.

We began to see that often a contemporary English understanding of a key passage transforms completely when it’s juxtaposed with the biographical detail of the Robben Island prisoner who signed next to it. The most remarkable example comes in Wilton Mkwayi’s choice of the forged letter used to trick Malvolio in Twelfth Night. A traditional reading of this letter would focus on Malvolio’s gullibility and naivety. We laugh along because we’re in on the trick and want the steward’s Puritan pedantry revenged. However, when you realise that Wilton became engaged just before his incarceration and had to wait 23 years before he was released and could finally marry his fiance the end of the letter - ‘Farewell, She that would alter services with thee, The fortunate unhappy’  - takes on a completely different poignancy.

The last words of the play are Nelson Mandela’s choice from Julius Caesar 

‘Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.’

Instinctively I’d given these to Jeffrey, based partly on the fact that he brilliantly played Caesar in Greg Doran’s acclaimed East African production at the RSC two years ago. When it came to it he was uneasy about picking up the lines again and gently protested that he’d find it very difficult to deliver them in any other way than he’d learnt for that run.

Jack was happy to take them up and delivered a pitch perfect Mandela impersonation which was spookily life like. For a moment I wondered whether the impact of having a bearded white man voice, so accurately, the former president might surprise the audience to such an extent that the prophetic impact of the lines would be lost in astonishment but both Jack and Jeffrey were, perhaps for different reasons, enthusiastically endorsing this new ending with wide grins. We kept it in. In the theatre it’s sometimes a very thin line between parody and goose bumps.

The reading itself was strange. Jeffrey worked deliberately, but, in the limited time we’d had to prepare, struggled a little to find some of the lighter touches. Jack tried to compensate for this and, towards the end, began to speed up. The balmy evening made the lecture theatre airless and the delegates, straight from an agreeable College dinner, seemed attentive rather than enthusiastic. Afterwards in the Senior Common Room everybody was incredibly complementary and several of the audience seemed genuinely moved by the work. In truth, I think, it dragged a bit.

Next day we met early in the sumptuous library at South Africa house. Overnight I’d made some cuts to try and streamline the narrative.

The prisoners who signed the bible fall into two main categories. There are the original Rivonia trialists and their associates who came onto the Island in the mid-sixties and a second wave, the black consciousness prisoners, who were incarcerated after the Soweto uprisings in 1976.

The cuts fell mostly on the passages nominated by the former group who tended use their choice to outline a philosophical or even metaphysical position about life as a prisoner. The new version I presented to Jack and Jeffrey focused instead on the more overtly political readings chosen by the second generation. Sadly, some of the humour went too.

As always there were some well-meaning  grumbles of favourite passages lost but, in the main, both actors embraced the streamlined text and set about renegotiating the transitions from section to section.

The reading itself went very well and was warmly received by the Deputy President and the hundred or so invited guests, esteemed South Africans now resident in London.  The play had a special resonance for Molanthe as he was sentenced to  ten years on Robben Island in the late seventies and early eighties, under the terrorism act. It’s the first time we’ve played the show in front of a former prisoner.

In the Q&A afterwards Dillon Woods, the son of the legendary campaigning anti-apartheid journalist Donald Woods, noted that the prisoners highlighted in the play had come from a range of political organisations, some oppositional to the now ruling ANC, he wondered whether the time had come to recognise that the struggle for democracy in South Africa involved many different voices and opinions beyond Mandela and Molanthe’s own party.  Amazing that twenty years on from the first democratic elections in South Africa we’re sitting in the High Commission listening to these conversations take place.

What greater value can a piece of Drama have than to provide the stimulus for a debate of this nature, asking difficult questions of those in power, keeping authority in check, whilst reminding us of the sacrifices and battles that have allowed us to be here in the first place?

 

 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Are You Ready?


 
Today sees us launch our pre-induction website for students heading to Drama St Mary’s in September. It’s a new initiative that we’re trying out to try and ease our new recruits into the way in which we think and work. We hope that if students engage with the website they’ll feel slightly more familiar with us on arrival and hit the ground running. The link is here.


It’s part of a bigger project to overhaul the whole of our induction process, moving away from the idea of the induction week, with days spent between long meetings of information overload and nights of hedonistic revelry, to consider the process as starting when a student first accepts a place and continuing on until they’re safely established on the course. This might be at the end of the first semester, it might be longer. The work here is very important, so anything we can do to help students focus on being in the rehearsal room, motivated and moving forward, we will. 
 

 
Graduation is only a couple of weeks away now and inevitably that means we’re beginning the process of looking for new students to join us in September 2014. This year we’re taking a pro-active approach and taking our auditions out beyond campus, visiting, schools and FE colleges to try find the 100 or so most talented and exciting young actors in the country. We’re also looking to expand the international aspect of our work. Former student Leone Hanman is touring the States in the Autumn looking to find the best American students to attend Drama St Mary’s auditions in New York in November.

Our campaign is running under the slogan ‘Are You Ready?’ and already we’re receiving some pre-UCAS applications.

Drama St Mary’s will only ever be as good as the students we recruit and we know that the synergy of a really powerful group of young actors, working alongside the excellent staff here, can lead to remarkable work. We’re ready for that to happen at St Mary’s.

 

Monday, 18 March 2013

A Life in the Day of Drama St Mary's.


 
 
We’re at the business end of the academic year and that means most days for both students and staff are pretty full on! 

For our third year students the week starts with group tutorials at 9am and a chance to plan through the week ahead and discuss the dissertations which are due in next month. Most of the cohort are close to completion and eager that staff should read through the revisions and redrafts completed over the weekend.

At 10am the tutorials come to an end and the third years move off for the first practical sessions of the week.

The Applied Theatre students meet up with Keith Palmer, the CEO of The Comedy School, who have a ten year track record of using stand up comedy as a rehabilitative tool. The group are organising a conference after Easter exploring the uses of Drama in helping ex-offenders back into work and spend the morning devising the workshops that they’ll offer to the delegates. It’s a busy time for these students, ten days after the conference they’re flying out to Durban to work with trainee teachers in looking at the ways in which Drama can be used to in sex education with a particular focus on gender assertiveness and HIV/AIDS prevention.  

Matthew Hahn, who leads the trip, has a growing reputation in South Africa based partly on his play The Robben Island Bible, which tells the fascinating story of the influence Shakespeare’s plays had on Nelson Mandela and the other political prisoners during their captivity.

After South Africa Matt will jet off to Washington DC to direct an American version of the play. This morning he’s on the phone in his office talking through the casting with the producer. The work began as rehearsed reading with the great South African actor John Kani on stage at the Richmond Theatre and co-produced by Drama St Mary’s. It’s very exciting to watch its evolution.

Meanwhile the Theatre Arts students, under the watchful eye of Trevor Walker, have a morning working with a professional photographer sorting out their head shots in preparation for their fast approaching showcase event at the Soho Theatre in May. Duologues are rehearsed in the corners of the room as each young actor waits their turn.

Next door Kasia Zaremba Byrne, our director of Physical Theatre, leads her students through a warm up, before a first full run through of their short self-devised shows which open at Jackson’s Lane Theatre in Highgate next Monday.  It’s a critical moment as the students know that Kasia won’t be slow to point out any problems with the pieces; but there’s great excitement as well a sense that the work is nearly there.

Elsewhere in the building things are just as hectic. I start my teaching week with a lecture to the first years on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. We look at the contextual history of the work as well as considering how different directors have chosen to depict Prospero, Caliban and Ariel and end up in a fascinating discussion about the play’s apparent lack of plot.  Although the aim of our degree programmes is to train young actors for the profession, all of us on the staff believe that the practical work students undertake needs underpinning with a sound knowledge of theatre theory and history.  It’s vital our students know how to read and understand plays.

For the second years this semester has been all about working on shows. Theatre Arts are currently in our main theatre, fitting up for a production of Lorca’s Yerma, directed by Katie Henry.  Our vocal coach Patsy Burn leads a singing call to get the week started, whilst backstage in the workshop the technical crew begin the final stages of the set build, which will transfer into the space later in the week.

In Studio 2 Applied Theatre are working on a site-specific piece, which is going to be performed on an island in the Thames towards the end of April. Chris Baldwin, who’s leading the project, works mostly abroad in Poland and Spain. He’s been away for a fortnight co-ordinating a festival of culture in Wroclaw and is eager to see what progress has been made on his return. Tina Bicat, our senior technician, sits in to make sure the new material can work logistically. The main problem is to do with rowing an audience of potentially over a hundred out safely?

Physical Theatre too are working hard, on a production of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, which will follow Yerma into the theatre. They still have a couple of weeks before they come off book so this morning director Anna Healey runs a focused session on ensemble playing.

At lunch the students pile into the refectory, full of stories form the morning’s rehearsals and keen to find out how the other companies are getting on. The box office, run by the third year students, opens up.   

The Yerma posters have come back from reprographics so the company finish their lunch early and spread out across campus to pin them to the noticeboards.

I have a brief catch up with our production manager Alistair Milne who tells me that he’s had an email from third year Tim, currently on placement at the opulent Burgtheatr in Vienna.  Al tells me that Tim’s first job on arrival was to mic up the Austrian President when he came to give a lecture at the venue last week. Not a bad first gig!

In the afternoon the students return to rehearsals and I have some time looking at schedules for next year with our administrators Jess and Lou. We try and plan at least a year ahead and anticipate changes early.  Today, though, we finalise the technical schedule for the MA festival of devised and directed work, which will play for two weeks at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden this summer.  From the studio below we can hear the first years running through their vocal exercises with Patsy. We focus a great deal on technic here, especially with our first years. If we instil good practice early then hopefully they’ll be equipped with the necessary skills to support them through their three years here and , more crucially, beyond when they begin to look for work.

We’ve got an interview day on Friday and so Lou takes Kasia and I through the applicants. There’s a healthy competition to get onto our courses and so it’s really important to try and learn as much as we can about each student who applies.  

By 5pm classes are over. Trevor pops his head round the door to report back on the afternoon’s collaborative provision meeting. We’re hoping to reach a franchise agreement with a Performing Arts academy in Hong Kong. Among the several benefits the partnership would potentially enable our students to access work placement opportunities in their growing culture sector. The agreement is a little way off but Trevor seems upbeat about our chances of making something happen.

Tonight we’re hosting the wonderful Cardboard Citizens who are bringing their touring show, Glasshouse, written by wunderkind performance poet Kate Tempest, to the theatre.

Al meets the van and aids the get in whilst Jess makes sure the company have all that they need.

Cardboard Citizens are the country’s leading forum theatre company and their work, inspired by the practice of Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal, offers the audience the opportunity to swap in for the protagonist and change the course of the action.

Kate’s play, focusing on the troubled relationship between an eighteen year old girl and her step father is brilliantly constructed and it doesn’t take long for the students to take over, offering different ideas and strategies for how a brighter future might exist for the family.

Afterwards the actors are persuaded over to the SU bar for a quick pint, which gives the students a chance to quiz them about their practice. These lively discussions push on towards closing time and are only brought to an end when the stage manager reminds the company that they’ve still got to get the set back to East London.  We cheerfully wave them off before making our own weary ways home.

But we’ll all be back bright and early to begin again tomorrow.

 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Meetings at the IAA and some Mysterious Letters.


An early morning session meeting the staff of the IAA and a chance to talk about the Applied Theatre work that we've carried out at Drama St Mary's over the past six years. It's bizarre that in all the time the degree has been running this is the first time I've had a chance to present a retrospective of the work we've achieved.

There's always been two distinct sides to the programme. One is an engagement with theatre as an educational tool, looking at the way improvisation and role play can imagine possibilities and explore alternative ways of thinking, behaving and being. The other is to look at the communal act of bringing people together to create or share something - a story, a problem, a meal etc. Implicit in both forms of theatre making is the notion that the aesthetic comes from and through the participants.

When I do talk about the work that we do at St Marys the moment that always seems to raise eyebrows is when we talk about how much of the work is produced by the students. We don't really believe any more that there is a secure theatre industry ready to open its arms to the hundreds of Drama students graduating each year and so much of our focus is on developing the entrepreneurial skills needed to create new opportunities. Most of our students still come to us at 18 and it's such a narrow window of time before they're leaving again at 21 or 22. In that time we need them to become industrious actors, discerning critics, intelligent directors, crafty writers, imaginative designers and problem solving technicians, but most of all we need them to able to do all of that without fear. There's not much time to wonder if it's the right kind of life for you.

The Academy run a similar kind of programme, but focused much more on live art than on community engagement. One of the hallmarks of the artists, actors and directors I've met in Iceland is an enhanced understanding and sensibility of the nature and texture of things. I guess it comes from growing up surrounded by fire, ice and water - but it's always striking that at the heart of much Icelandic art is a desire to capture a moment of dynamism and hold it frozen in time. Some of the work done by their students in this field represents a new generation looking for the simply beauty of a weather worn bird skull, the purity of a pebble or the expectation of a hanging raindrop. There is calmness and breath to everything here. On one level it feels like a polar opposite of what we're trying to achieve, on another it seems very closely aligned.

The IAA team seemed to enjoy the morning and we spent a lovely lunch break talking about possibilities for future collaborations. It'd be great to find a way to work with them.

This afternoon back with the students we did some further exploration of verbatim work, focusing particularly on found texts - letters, diary entries, newspaper reports. We talked about piecing together evidence to create a new story. The day after tomorrow we're going to try a mini-assessment.



Back at the house Vigdis revealed that when the family had first moved in they'd discovered boarded up in a cupboard a stack of hidden letters written in the fifties that had been lovingly placed there by a previous owner. They were sent to him from a lover who'd sailed away on the SS Gulfoss, which regularly plied a route between Reykjavik, Edinburgh and Copenhagen. The woman eventually got to London, staying first in a boarding house in Bow before moving to Hampstead. There was a photograph of her sleeping peacefully sent in one of the early ones.



As time went by the letters grew more distant and eventually after a couple of years stopped.

Vigdis doesn't really know what to do with them. It's clear that the man had placed them carefully, but did he want them to be found quite so soon? What became of the woman? Are either of them still alive? And if they are would they want to be reacquainted with the correspondence?

My instinct was to do some more research. Vigdis' is to let sleeping dogs lie. Still they are too precious to destroy and so they'll sit in the house until a clearer plan emerges.
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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Reykjavik Love Stories.


Back to the IAA this afternoon for a session on verbatim theatre and story telling. We started with some warm up games to get the group comfortable at telling each other stories and listening to them before setting up an exercise in pairs.

I asked the group to decide on a theme that they'd like to share stories about. After a brief five minute discussion the group decided to focus their work on love. In half of the pairs I asked the listener to watch carefully and replicate the story with as much physical and vocal accuracy as possible. In the other half the listening partner was given a recording device on which to capture the story. I explained that the stories could be personal, philosophic, fictional or familiar, but whatever angle chosen the stories would be told publicly later in the session.



The pairs found somewhere private to tell each other the tales. For ease I suggested we should work in Icelandic which meant I was left to follow the authenticity of the rhythm and behaviour of the actors, rather than understanding the content of the story.

Vigdis M went first and was magnificent in performing Alda. We paused briefly afterwards to ask Alda how it was to hear her words retold and whether this act of recreation was honouring or exposing.



Vigdis J went next, but found it an impossible job to be Luca. She false started two or three times and although she finally gave us the performance she made it clear how uncomfortable she found the act of 'parodying' somebody else. We talked about the ethical implication of taking on somebody else's story and Vigdis highlighted the dilemma of having Luca in the room. She agreed that had he not been there it would have been much easier to 'approximate' his story. She just felt all she could do, in the circumstances, was to diminish Luca's words. It's interesting that we feel this. Should we not be able to honour somebody's story in performance whether that person is in the audience or not? Once a story is told who does it belong to?

We turned our attention to the recorded stories. Maria put on a pair of head phones and, repeating the recorded story out loud retold the story of Vigdis G's parent's first meeting on a cruise ship, including the romantic tale of her late father asking her mother to dance.  Thora then channelled Svala's, occasionally sceptical philosophy of falling in love using the same technique. The group noticed how the very act of re speaking the words resulted in both actors reshaping their bodies to become physically more like the original tellers. Each body has a different relationship to language.

The two monologues seemed to at times to challenge each other, at times underscore and at times highlight and at times reveal. We ran them alongside each other, as an overlapping conversation. The result was fascinating and occasionally very moving, Once we'd taken off the head phones neither actor had any idea of what they'd done.



To end the afternoon we talked briefly about how we might use these Reykjavik love stories. Maria came up with the idea of collecting more and then arranging for a 'love bus' to pick up tourists from the hotels and drive them to sites  all over the city, in each instance choosing the most appropriate for the telling of the story. Passengers could also be encouraged to give the driver instructions and take the bus to a place where their story might be told. These in turn could be recorded for actors to tell later. Over time a whole archive of love stories could be developed.

Each tour would be unique with actors being picked up and dropped off en route. It sounds a plan. I hope she'll follow up.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Harpa and John Lennon's Peace Beam.


A day off from teaching and a chance to reconnect with Reykjavik. In many ways the city has changed little over the last decade. The shops on the main street seem as quirky as ever, it's still tough to get a seat in a coffee shop. Some development has taken place downtown however. The lonely statue of two sailors looking out across the sea has been rather swamped by an extended car park built to support the Harpa, a new concert hall built overlooking the bay.

Behind it a new kind of tourism has replaced the bobbing fishing boats. There are cafes, burger bars and whale watching tours. A new hotel filled with tiny, but warm boxed rooms over looks this revamped commercial centre.



The crash affected Iceland very badly. Possibly as much psychologically as financially. In my visits here ten years ago I'd always been aware of a basic level of prosperity, particularly in the city. A snug insular world of warm home comforts designed to provide protection from the huge wilderness of the rest of the island. Now there seems to be a slightly a more outward looking approach. Iceland is less a place for tourists to discover much more a centre catering for their needs and the Harpa itself which sits so prominently on the shore makes a bold statement that Iceland is open for business and keen to attract investors. Beyond the glass fronted exterior are spacious foyers, welcoming cafes, several beautifully proportioned concert halls and an expansive sense of possibility.

Perhaps there are some lessons here. The centre was planned before the slump and the decision to push ahead with it's building even during a time of rising unemployment and a devaluing of the currency - at one point the Krona lost 80% of its value - was controversial to say the least. But as Icelanders were faced with the need to reassess their own values and concerns (a process we in the UK may still have to face) it appears to have been a master stroke. Rich countries always believe that an ability to consume is a mark of prosperity - but Icelanders were forced to re prioritise and increasingly turned to culture and art, to look both for solutions and solace. It might break up the flat horizon of the seeming unlimited shoreline but the Harpa does stand as an optimistic symbol, attracting international musicians and audiences to Reykjavik.



At nightfall the Imagine Peace Beam shoots up vertically from the tiny island of Videy in the bay.  Designed by Yoko Ono, it's lit every year on John Lennon's birthday 9th October and shines heavenward until December 8th, the day of his assassination. Lennon never visited Iceland, but Yoko chose to base the installation here because of the countries position on the tectonic fault line between Europe and America. It makes a powerful statement in the unpolluted night sky.
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Monday, 29 October 2012

A Nordic Saga.


The second day of workshops and a chance to explore the role of actor/ teacher in Drama based work. Often in Applied Theatre work the relationship between the stage and auditorium is blurred. Boal uses the term Spect-ACTING for the dual role of participants in an interactive event. With the Joker being the conduit between the world of the play and the real world. In a Drama in Education session the teacher themselves will very often act as the guide.

Increasingly I've been interested in looking at what performative skills are needed to be an effective actor in work like this and, more importantly, how can we train you actor/facilitators to be good at it.



Many practitioners will argue that charisma is at the root and as such cannot be taught. You either have the personality for it or not. In this sense does being a good teacher or a good actor or a good facilitator rely on talent?

We began the session by using an old teacher in role narrative borrowed from some of Jon Neelands and Dorothy Heathcote's early work. I played Beowulf - a role I've taken on in many workshops at St Mary's, but never in such a Nordic setting.

The work begins with me welcoming my warrior brothers and sisters from the four corners of the kingdom. I explain that I have called them to the great hall because I have received word from my cousin the King of Denmark that the evil monster Grendel has been attacking Danish villages, raising the buildings to the ground, killing the citizens and taking the children into slavery.

Although there are normally initial giggles the group are quickly into the story, at my prompting reminding each other of former exploits and debating how best to defeat Grendel. I ask them if they are resolved to fight and, on this occasion, receive unanimous backing.

The students are split into four tribes representing the North, South, East and West and each is invited to devise a task or game that will teach us something about the culture of the region they come from and help us train in preparation for the challenge ahead.

Maria led the warriors of the north with a very energetic game which needed quick reactions. She explained that the special quality of the the light in the North meant that people from that region are renowned for the clarity of their vision, often over large distances. They are a voyaging people, who have built up their wealth by looking beyond the immediate horizon to trade with other lands.

Luka introduced the warriors form the south with a counting exercise. The rest of us noticed that it was tough to play the game if  you thought too much about what you were doing and Luka confirmed that the people of the South lived life in a very fluid and relaxed way, not worrying too much. Many great musicians had come from this part of the Kingdom.

Vigdis greeted us as the Queen of the West with a boisterous game of chase, where warriors had to work together to keep a monster from catching his prey. She explained the rugged, direct nature of the West, a land of mountains, where people worked hard and played hard. It was common for  the people from this region to share the little they have with each other. Everybody in the West works on the land and understands how important it is to cultivate and respect it. They are a fiercely loyal people.

Rakel introduced the Eastern warriors with a medative exercise designed to improve our attentiveness and watchfulness. Hers are a spiritual people who often live in solitude. Stone is a vital part of this culture. They build their houses from it, create jewellery, ornamentation and furniture from it and worship at the quarry.

We're only about half an hour in, but already the group are generating a huge amount of material to take forward.

We run several more improvisational tasks. I ask each warrior to return home and explain to their loved ones the nature of the task ahead. The short scenes that this generates are very moving. Maria has to ask permission from Thora, who is the Queen of the North, and then explain to her teenage daughter Thorinna that she will be away from her for many years and may not return at all.



Luka finds it impossible to say goodbye, tries to write a song about how he feels, fails and ends up getting drunk with his friends. Vigdis throws a big party and tells the rest of the warriors in the West that they should live the evening as though it were their last whilst Rakel takes her sister Alda to the furthest quarry in the East and performs a self mutilation ritual where she sacrifices her right eye for an all seeing stone that will, she believes, act as a powerful charm to protect her from danger. Alda in a sacrificial ritual of her own cuts off her left hand and replaces it with a glove full of sacred stones. This she assures us will give her the strength to defeat Grendel.

Although we break for coffee, the group are reluctant to come out of role and so the work continues.

in the main studio the warriors from the North and East begin using all available furniture to build a beautiful boat. Thora finds a piece of drain pipe and fixes it to the bow. This she explains will be used to call up the sea goddesses who can help to calm storms.

 In the kitchen the warriors of the West and South prepare the drinks whilst working together on a song for us to sing on our voyage.

With the washing up in the sink, we're on our way again. The song works beautifully as a round with each warrior given a separate phrase to sing, one that most befits the job they've been allocated to on the ship we soon reach Denmark.

The final part of the workshop sees the group split in two. The warriors of the North and West form a tableau of the great battle verses Grendel. The actors who have played warriors from the East and South time traveller forward to the twenty first century. They are now archaeologists who have uncovered the great hall of Beowulf. Much in the hall has been destroyed by time, but carefully preserved high on one wall are is the outline of this magnificent painting. They quickly decide to call a press conference and interpret their findings to the world.

We're been working now for three hours and it seems an opportune place to bring the story to an end. We talk a little about the joy of the work, the constant active creativity. Svala is interested in the focus I provide stepping in and out of the main role. I point out that all of them have done exactly the same. At once fully committed to the action and fully aware of the audience.



This is the essence of the Applied Theatre actor. There is a script and a performance to deliver which this should be done with as much conviction and belief as possible. This is the same as for the actor playing Hamlet at the National. But alongside this, in the course of the Applied Theatre play's action, a thousand other small improvisational interactions might occur with the audience, shaping and deciding on the action and ultimately the narrative. This is the same for the teacher in the classroom encouraging questions and observations on the topics presented.

Applied Theatre actors merge these two roles effortlessly, knowing when to push the action on and when to allow the sect-ACTORS the opportunity to make a change.
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