Only Wolves and Lions @ BAC

Deputy Editor Freya Gosling heads over to Battersea Arts Centre to join Leo Kay and Anna Smith performing their latest production ‘Only Wolves and Lions’. Red red wine, cooking, eating, music, dancing and discussion were all up for grabs during this very special evening.

Very rarely does one get the chance to munch down delicious hot food during a theatre performance…. unlike during a screening at Peckham Plex Cinema, it is frowned upon to devour nachos during a Pinter play at the National. However, theatre company Unfinished Business’ latest creation ‘Only Wolves and Lions’ is a whole different kettle of fish/meat/expansive vegetarian options. In the company’s most recent production, the preparing, cooking and eating of food as a group is at the centre of the whole performance- as well as the discussion that food and (good) wine brings with it.

Leo Kay’s production brings together a group of individuals; asks that each person brings along an raw ingredient, and invites them to share in the unique experience that is meeting and creating something to eat together as a collection of relative strangers.

Having umm-ed and ahh-ed about what ingredient to take for over a week, I plumped for plantain; a versatile ingredient used in many different cultures for many years…. and one I had never cooked with before. I did not even know how to identify a ripe one, to the wry amusement of the sales assistant in one of the grocer’s on Peckham Rye High Street. So, clutching a bag filled to the brim with strange fruit/veg that I had no idea what to do with I waited for the other members of the audience to arrive. They arrived in dribs and drabs of varying states of lateness (true to form with an arts event) and far from being intimidating and ultra-cool, everyone seemed excited, nervous and each clutching carrier bags with their own ingredients. A small amount of nosey-ing about each others choices went on, along with some laughter and raised eyebrows (I had no cause to be superior about my plantain… what even is it?!) until we were ushered upstairs into the Member’s Bar of the BAC. Here we were asked by Leo Kay and Unai Lopez de Armentia, who were leading the event, to queue up, introduce ourselves and each present the ingredient we had chosen for the evening’s performance.

Laid out before us was a huge table, complete with chairs that had clean white aprons laid over them, water jugs and glasses. On smaller tables dotted around the room were cooking stations with hobs and cooking equipment, and at the other end of the room was a table laden with basic ingredients: onions, garlic, tinned tomatoes, herbs, spices and different breads. This excited me instantly, having not been sure how much of the performance would be actually cooking- or to what degree the show was metaphorical when it spoke of cooking. I was not to be disappointed however…

The evening began with wine and several elaborate toasts to the evening ahead, happiness and general well-being. This was perfectly within everyone’s comfort zone, and there was much chinking of glass and swigging of surprisingly delectable wine. More ambivalent glances were exchanged when we were asked to stand, impersonate monkeys, shake our booties and catch the eye of other individuals in the room that you would mate with if you were a monkey with more primal instincts than cooking and toasting with wine! However, it could not be denied that these icebreaker techniques were a total success, as everyone was flushed and giggling afterwards, all pretence of aloof politeness shattered.

The group was subsequently asked to split into smaller groups of three or four, and given three minutes to examine all of the ingredients we had before us on the table, and come up with as many recipes as we could, using as many or as little of what we had available. After a flurry of tipsy group-forming we discussed food, our group deciding on guacamole, bruschetta, apsaragus and mint ristotto, and fried plantain with spicy salsa. All ideas were eventually brought together and Leo and Unai shocked us all by agreeing that we would try and cook every single dish the groups had come up with in forty minutes, adding to our list aubergine curry, sweet potato tagine, pan-fried chorizo, warm green salad,spicy kale, and cob nuts.

The next forty minutes were spent in a delightful rush of great smells, flavours, sounds from the mixed playlist that was playing while we cooked, and working as a united whole. Discussion ebbed and flowed as we concentrated on the task ahead but interest in each other’s cooking took over, with people drifting from station to station sampling one another’s dishes as they were created (my fried plantain being a popular choice as it was quick to cook and everyone was becoming ravenous!)

Finally, time was up and we all sat, sauce-splattered and very eager to eat the magnificent spread before us. Leo and Unai once again gently led discussion with another toast, and by asking us what we had named our dishes. (I went for Peckham Surprise, because I truly had not known what the outcome was going to be of my dish!) It was remarkable how quickly audience and performance directors relaxed into this unfamiliar ‘scene’, as after this initial encouragement from the members of the company, the group really began to talk to one another. As the tension subsided, a great deal of laughter, debate and flirting went on, as we really got to know one another- Leo and Unai acting as mediators to the discussions at hand. Food, relationships, family, friendship and politics were all covered in varying degrees, and the sharing of so many great dishes were a welcome accompaniment to the ebbs and flows of conversation.

I really admired the spirit of Leo’s work, because it is true that I as an individual don’t often get the chance to cook and share a meal with fifteen other people and bounce off their moods and spirits. Working a job with unsociable hours often leads to eating alone, in snatched moments between shifts or in the small hours of the morning after work. I don’t think one can appreciate the difference it makes to eat with others until you have that luxury, and then later do not. The next week, we had a lively dinner party with friends of the family for my mother’s birthday, who stated after the meal (and several times since) ‘That was just great, we should do it more often’ as the evening had been so elated and enjoyable. I hope the tradition will continue over the next coming weeks, and for years afterwards!

This kind of reaction is what I believe Leo is trying to highlight through these performances, and his others like it; we as members of society thrive from these social gatherings, as it is in human nature to be around others, especially during times of creativity, exploration and when satisfying those primal instincts like feeding and interracting. ‘Only Wolves’ really taps into said issues, and the whole experience is both great fun and socially revealing. I am sure I am not the only one who is excited to see where these guys will take the project next after such a successful reaction in London.

From November, ‘Only Wolves and Lions’ will move to Reading where it will feature as part of the Sitelines Festival in the South Street Arts Centre.

http://thisisunfinished.wordpress.com/only-wolves-and-lions-2/

http://thisisunfinished.wordpress.com/

http://www.madrugada.info/

Interview with Leo Kay: eating, performance and community

Most recently, deputy editor Freya Gosling had the fantastic opportunity of being in contact with Unfinished Business, a theatre company established by Leo Kay and Anna Smith in 2010. Little Ghost were lucky enough to first interview Leo, then later in the week went to the first London performance of the company’s latest production ‘Only Wolves and Lions’, a project involving according to the company, ‘A meal, a conversation, a performance provocation….’
1.   How many people are invited to cook at the Only Wolves and Lions performances? Is it just the 16 diners, or is there any additional audience members too?

We have performed the show for 8 people and for up to 40 people. Those who participate as audience are also the cooks. These are the only people in the space alongside the company, who also join in as participants in the cooking experience.

2.       How do you go about choosing a recipe for the meal? How important is the recipe to the nature of the performance?

The process of choosing what we will cook is an exercise in guided democracy; in listening, honouring each other’s ideas and then making strong decisions.  Weaved in to this process are philosophical and psychological ideas surrounding choice, celebration of what we have and the letting go of that which we don’t in relation to the pursuit of psychological well being.

The final recipes chosen are not as important as the consensus arrived at and the commitment of the group to future execution of cooking tasks. The process reminds me a little of one that I came across when reading about the drama educationalist Dorothy Heathcote; very much about the need to elicit group commitment to the decided course of action, even if it is not your first choice.  Intention and commitment are everything.

3.       You have often used and referred to Brazilian culture in your work. How important do you find Brazilian culture to be (and/or other cultures) when discussing community? Do you, for example, compare Brazilian communities with British community- or the lack thereof?

Throughout the past 11 years I have been influenced greatly by my relationship to Brazil.  I first went out to train in capoeira, then was invited to teach physical performance for a company In Salvador and ended up staying, teaching and directing for a year.  During this time I met a woman and began a 6 year relationship. I have been back to run several projects and research Afro BrazilIan culture and religious ritual.  My understanding of possibilities of human interaction, creative expression and ritual are heavily influenced by my engagement with Brazilian culture.  I refer lightly to it in this event, but this project is very much about the relationship that myself, Unai, Anna and the participating audience have to community and isolation.

4.       How are topics of discussion brought forward to the ‘table’ during performances of Only Wolves and Lions? Is everyone encouraged to talk while they cook?  Is the discussion angled, to make sure everyone has a fair contribution?

We feed the audience with philosophical and ideological opinions and standpoints.  We have a moment of storytelling and then we invite conversation.  We attempt to keep a relaxed and open attitude which welcomes discourse and interruption. Once audience around the table start to join in the discourse we prompt and provoke, give opinion and space for others opinions to be heard. We attempt to be  subtle hosts who are constantly learning how best to allow space for the those who find it hard to articulate and those that are shy to express opinion.  Often it is these opinions that need to be heard.  It is the less self-assured, self satisfied whose voice I want to celebrate.
The piece was made due to  a personal revelation I had, that within contemporary urban living, community is fragile and can slip away. Before you know it, you are eating alone and have no one to share your thoughts and feelings with.  Precedence being given over to production and consumption, rather than the benefits of sharing time to promote well being.

5.       Do you keep in contact with the people that attend and contribute to your projects?

We don’t keep in contact with participants unless they want to be on our mailing list.  Though any suggestions on further post process contact would be welcomed! We are aware that with a project of this nature the experience begins before the event and ends well after the meal  therefor a consideration of how people can engage with it after they have been involved would be a wonderful development. But as of yet this hasn’t been integrated.

6.       Have you noted any strong differences between the reactions to your projects when you perform them in different cities? For example, how do Londoners come across in comparison to participants from Reading?

Not so much marked difference between the cities, but there are things that effect the work.  The nature of the space effects the work. The more broken and ramshackle the space is, the more free and wild the event can be. It feels like the events natural home is Stoke Newington International Airport. A live art warehouse space in North East London.  When we perform it in this chaotic environment the event has a very special energy.  Another thing that effects the work is cultural context.  We have performed it in Greece, The Basque Country, France and England and there are subtle difference in the way people interact with the making of food and the discussion of philosophical content.  The Basques all brought meat and were incredibly proud and accomplished cooks.  The Greek and international delegates at an art symposium in Greece were very creative and free, as were the London experimenters.  But I don’t see the differences in English geographical location delineating different reactions to the work too much.

7.       Do the participants of the projects generally relax into the atmosphere of the night, or do some feel they are only part of some social experiment?

The participants usually totay relax Into the atmosphere encouraged by the night and are surprised when it is over.  It’s the ambiguity about what exactly the event is, that both intrigues and enchants audiences.  Often they forget they are in a performance and engage in the very real activities presented and needed to be achieved for the performance event to continue. These undefined platforms of expression allow the audience to feel a sense of autonomy and a creative responsibility. This context of exploration really excites me.

8.       How different do you think the atmosphere of the dining room discussions would be if Great Britain was experiencing a boom in industry and economic prosperity?

I don’t think I would have felt it a vital piece of work to make were Great Britain experiencing a boom.  I think it is very much about the cracks that have been made in the wall of capitalist success that allow for the depth of discussion surrounding where we are and what actually promotes happiness and well being as opposed to what we are fed by the media and popular culture that surrounds us. It’s the cracks that let the light in!

9.       How do you think this project is different to the others you have run since establishing Unfinished Business? Does it push more boundaries/challenge its participants more?

I think that in relation to form this project is a development in my desire to explore authentic communication with audience. I love the idea of interactive  performance but it is seldom that I believe the character or performer that I am interacting with. This performance event is also about how far you can push audience interaction and responsibility within a clearly defined performance structure. I wanted to make a living example of the central discussion point  of community, sharing and the positive effects of physical and psychological well being. The show is an example of the philosophies that run throughout it.

10.   How does the next project you are running, Life: Making a Meal of It, differ to that of Only Wolves and Lions?

‘Life: Making A Meal Of It’ is a participatory intergenerational project, so we will create the performance with a group of under 18 and over 60 year olds. It is the second project of this kind in this trajectory of work and seems to be forming an interesting project structure.  In 2009/10 I created ‘It’s Like He’s Knocking’, an intimate performance about the men in my family and their journeys through life. It focused on ancestry, memory, migration and coincidence.  Alongside this piece we developed ‘The Remember Me Tea Dance’, an intergenerational interactive performance which explored shared histories through our relationship to dancing. The performers taught the audience couples dances, told stories, encouraged the audience to write down their own memories and finally shared tea and cakes with them.  

As with ‘The Remember Me Tea Dance’ for ‘Life: Making A Meal Of It’ we are working in partnership with South Street Arts Centre. This project will look at uncovering significant memories and recipes from the lives of the participants. They will teach each other recipes alongside developing new performance and storytelling methods, as we develop a live performance, which will take place around a dinner table.  A home cooked meal around a beautiful table, cooked by the performers will great the audience. Ideas surrounding community, the importance of the act of cooking and the celebration of memory are all themes that will be explored.  Like ‘Only Wolves And Lions’ this will be an interactive performance, however the audience will be a little more pampered and the performers a little more supported, each according to their ability!

Stay tuned for the review of the Only Wolves and Lions performance at the BAC!

The Curious Incident… | National Theatre

God were we lucky to get tickets to the National Theatre’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It’s difficult to actually convey how impressive the performance was. Besides Luke Treadaway‘s ability to capture the mental complexities of the main character, Christopher, perfectly, the stage was mind-blowing in its transformations and the supporting roles were beautifully constructed. We found this little review given by The Guardian (who rightly gave the performance 4stars) and we couldn’t agree more with it:

Simon Stephens, for a start, solves the problem confronting any adapter. First he has a teacher (Niamh Cusack) reading aloud the story that 15-year-old Christopher Boone has fashioned from his Holmes-like investigation into the killer of his neighbour’s dog; then, against Christopher’s wishes, the novel is turned into a play. This not only frames the action, but also sets up a rich tension between fiction’s invention and the obsession with facts, forensics and systemised data that is a symptom of Christopher’s autism. His mathematical mind is also brilliantly reflected in Bunny Christie’s design of glowing geometric grids, and in Paule Constable’s lighting, which conveys the hero’s love of the night sky.

A remarkable performance from Luke Treadaway captures all the hero’s zeal, obduracy and terror of tactile contact, and pins down behavioural qualities all of us, at some point, see in ourselves. The movement direction, from Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, also conveys Christopher’s confusion when confronted by the bustle of London life. I flinch from manipulative touches such as miniaturised trains and a live dog: two things calculated to send audiences into swooning raptures. But this is a highly skilful adaptation, and Paul Ritter and Nicola Walker as Christopher’s parents movingly remind us of the messily contradictory human emotions that co-exist with their son’s world of perfect patterns.

The Curious Incident… on at the National Theatre until Oct 27th 2012.

Article adapted from Michael Billington for The Guardian.

Globe to Globe | MACBETH/MAKBET: Teatr im. Kochanowskiego @ Globe Theatre

‘Co się stało, to już się nie odstanie’
‘What’s done is done.’

LG’s Freya Gosling takes advantage of not working this rainy Thursday to get to the Globe Theatre on the Southbank to check out part of their Globe to Globe programme: 37 plays in 37 languages. 

Gangsters. Tracksuits. Cocaine. Velour. Gloria Gaynor. And not a word of English language spoken. Not what is traditionally expected from one of Shakespeare’s best known plays. But Polish Teatr im. Kochanowskiego’s adaptation of Macbeth signifies all that Shakespearean performances should be about: theatrical imagination.

Described as a ‘carnival of stories’, the Globe to Globe season sees theatrical companies from all over the world coming together in one venue, ‘to enjoy speaking these plays in their own language, in our Globe, within the architecture Shakespeare wrote for’. And while it is arguable that these performances cannot fully express the playwright’s original theatricality without Shakespearean language, anyone who has ever studied Shakespeare or just seen one of his plays performed can confirm that language is just one faction of the plays’ multifaceted appeal.

Visually, Teatr im. Kochanowskiego’s version of The Scottish Play is stunning, with courtly clothes of nobles interpreted through shiny tight fitting suits and slicked back hair; even the King’s crown has been replaced by sequin-spangled black loafers, and the witches caterwauling about the stage giving prophecies in full drag attire, gold platforms, feather boas and neon synthetic lingerie. The cast rapidly move between dancing, fighting, fucking, drinking, snorting and eventually, mostly, dying. One friend compared Macbeth’s dragging Lady Macbeth’s dead body across the stage to the moment of despair when Romeo dances with Juliet’s dead body in Kenneth Macmillan’s ballet.

But it is the accompanying emotional intensity that really makes this performance a spectacular success, as well as the adaptation’s modern urban style effectively– less tapping than hitting –into contemporary social issues. The hierarchies in the play are represented through modern gangster culture, where men kill for alpha-male status, women are commodities to be bought, sold and abused at will, and blaring music and class-A drugs feature in a lawless life of crime and chaos. A perfect approach to a play where human emotion features so rawly and frequently; guilt, horror, disgust, desire, fury, malice, elation, depression, despair. In short, humans living to extremes, and often on the brink of total collapse.

Even the transgender-witches, who initially seem like the modern equivalent of the Porter’s light relief role in Macbeth, are given greater depths by their continued presence in the entire performance. Their leading representative, Lola, initially lusts after Banquo and pines his murder in the second half to a mournful version of ‘I will Survive’.

Altogether this performance is a feisty, firery emotional minefield coloured by cocaine, Spadex, bottles of vodka and hits from the 80s. Little Ghost loves!

Globe to Globe season continues until June 9th 2012, so get booking!

http://globetoglobe.shakespearesglobe.com/plays/macbeth/english-95

Theatre West | Forest Fringe @ The Gate

This week, LG’s Freya Gosling has been dashing out reach of London’s pesky April showers and into Notting Hill’s Gate Theatre in order to check out some of their latest spectacles of excitement. 

Having recently been extremely lazy about blogging (sorry guys) my most avid theatre-going friend suggested that we take our free Wednesday evening not just to consume copious glasses of wine in a dark bar but to do it instead while watching some innovative fringe theatre pieces. No-brainer really.

Having endured a 3 minute, 15 second voicemail from said friend about the options we had for theatre performances on Wednesday, we plumped for the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, a tiny but well established theatre space attached to the Prince Albert pub, two minutes from Notting Hill Tube station. Large red wines in hand, we settled down for an evening which turned out to posses the great varied vibe of a minature indoor festival. This was the latest collaborative work from Forest Fringe, established originally in 2007 as a completely independent not-for-profit space in the Edinburgh Festival. The two week residency at the Gate provided a new chance for the company and artists to experiment with a more settled space while maintaining the eclecticism and vibrancy of their Edinburgh programme.

The Wednesday programme involved three main performances, followed by a small collection of archive films. The first was ‘Bird Talk’ a piece of spoken word performed by Emma Bennett, which began as a simple slide show of different breeds of bird accompanied by a speech. However, the piece developed into a subtle yet extremely humorous comment on both the frustrations that technology can cause, and how frustration itself materialises through language. The slides began to jump, stick, and repeat themselves in endless circles– indeed like a fluttering bird in a flap. This was in turn reflected in Bennett’s soft, melodic voice, which, with half-words, stuttering, fluffed lines and swearing, proved to be hilarious.

‘I try to make my voice approximate what I hear using language, non-language and half-language.’ Emma Bennett

In a completely different spirit to Bennett’s performance however, the second part of the evening was in the style of an interview after a performance. Former director of Leeds Met Gallery & Studio Theatre Annie Lloyd had teamed up with one of the co-artistic directors of Third Angel in a project to remember the space they had worked together in many times. Inspired by an incident of retrieving a lost set object from under one of the theatre’s radiators and simultaneously noticing how much debris and dust had accumulated there over the years, the collection was named the Dust Archive and was later made into a book of snippet interviews and memories which was available to view during the interval.

Finally came  Dan Canham’s contemporary dance piece 30 Cecil Street, combining movement and recorded sound sequences in an attempt to revive the experiences witnessed in the Theatre Royal (or The Limerick Athenaeum) at 30 Cecil Street. Having served as an art college, a political forum, a cinema, a bingo hall, a gig venue, and an opera house as well as a theatre, Canham had a multitude of others’ experiences to draw on. Although clearly an extremely talented performer, and clever in his use of choreography to link up to the fragments of interview playing, one couldn’t help feeling that Canham’s piece was somehow constrained by the low ceiling and limited stage room. I believe that the clash of echoey voices and high energy movement would be more successful within a larger space. However, I have since found a video of Canham performing 30 Cecil Street in 2009 in the Theatre Royal (see below), which is altogether more dramatic and captivating.

Forest Fringe are an exciting troupe of fresh-thinking individuals who come together and produce intelligent and thoroughly entertaining performances, where there is something for everyone to enjoy. Look out for them at this year’s Latitude and Edinburgh Festival!
http://www.forestfringe.co.uk/

Emma Bennett: recorded version of ‘Bird Talk’ http://soundcloud.com/emma-l-bennett/birdtalk-2

Hamlet @ The Young Vic

It may have taken two days of queuing for tickets at the Young Vic Theatre but Ian Rickson’s latest adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy was definitely worth waiting for. Most recently acclaimed for the award-winning Jerusalem, Rickson has taken the rotten state of Denmark into a psychologically-charged, Freudian dream world where the audience are thrust into a white-walled theatre ‘cell’ and tossed around as characters run, jump, clamber and fall to their inevitable demises.

One of this adaptation’s central successes lies in the choice of actor Michael Sheen as the troubled Prince of Denmark. Already big fans of Sheen, we were excited to see how the man who had tackled the roles of politicians, football managers and comic actors, would approach one of the most notorious male characters in the history of theatre. Topped with (pretty sexy) unkempt locks, Sheen weaves in and out of his fellow players with exceptional kineticism, poignant variety in mood, while bringing a consciously haphazard phrasing to the classic Shakespearean verse;

Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
Ophelia: No, my lord.
Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap?
Ophelia: Ay, my lord.
Hamlet: Do you think I meant CUNT…………………….try matters?

The play within a play is particularly phallocentric and erotic: at one point an extendable penis is drawn from between one of the player’s legs and brandished towards a blindfolded Queen.

Sheen provides a Hamlet who is most definitely turned inwards to question his own sanity, and our own, which the cold stone and metal psychiatric unit setting deeply contributes to. Indeed, Sheen also takes the part of the deceased King Hamlet; a growling bark of the urgent Ghost emerging between the Prince’s speeches while hospital alarm bells sound and harsh strip lighting flickers threateningly.

Although there have been comments that Sheen’s performance somewhat steals the show, you do not lose sight of the rest of the cast. Claudius, played by James Clyde, takes on the approach of a  suited, smooth operator head of the institution, while his queen (Sally Dexter) seems as though she is regulated by the unit’s entire supply of Prozac; unbalanced yet eerily mesmerizing. The only disappointment for us was Vinette Robinson’s attempt at Ophelia, who continuously over-articulated her lines and whose singing reminded one less of an emotional disturbed young woman than a Kate Nash impersonator straddling a wheelchair. However, this could not distract from the overall brilliance and originality of Rickson’s view of this classic play.

Day tickets are available for Hamlet at the Young Vic Theatre until January 21st

www.youngvic.org/
66 The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1 8LZ