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From 10th-15th July 2016 over 500 medievalists descended upon Queen Mary for the 20th biennial New Chaucer Society Congress – you can read more about the society and the congress here. This lively and engaging conference provided medievalists with the opportunity to hear hot-off-the-press research and working papers in a range of diverse fields – from manuscript studies to ecocriticism.
However, it was also a great forum for discussing pedagogy. Many researchers are dedicated to improving their teaching style and practice – and medievalists have the extra tricky task of convincing students unfamiliar with the time period that Chaucer and Marie de France are just as exciting as Shakespeare and Joyce.
Opportunities for forging international dialogues about pedagogy – and for discussing honestly and openly the successes and the unforeseen hiccups along the way – are relatively limited. With that in mind, I wanted to share some thoughts inspired by a roundtable I attended: ‘Medieval and Modern in the Classroom’, organised and chaired by Katharine Breen from Northwestern University in the States.
The panel was interested in considering how modern literature and media can be productively brought into dialogue with medieval literature and a number of scholars were invited to share their teaching models and practices. At her university, Stephanie Batkie tackles the inevitable ‘narrative of progression towards the modern’ which a survey paper can produce by inverting it – rather than beginning with Beowulf and ending with Paradise Lost she now begins with the Renaissance and works backwards. Kara Crawford regularly pairs Frankenstein with Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, to help students engage with questions about multiplicity of voice and unreliable narrators.
Sarah Townsend urges her students to identify the parallels between medieval mystery plays (which focus on events from the Bible, particularly from the life and death of Christ) and modern retellings of the Passion of Christ, such as the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Her students only start to perceive the energy and comedy of the mystery plays when she encourages them to verbalise the language and perform the plays with gesture and props. This year, her students performed ‘Joseph’s Troubles About Mary’ with some modern updates to help communicate the play’s message across time – Mary, it was decided, should be reading a bodice ripper when Joseph confronts her about her pregnancy.
Whilst all these ideas had me scribbling furiously, there is one common worry amongst teachers of medieval literature, particularly at undergraduate level: will the modern supersede the medieval in such models? If you teach Frankenstein alongside The Canterbury Tales then will students leave the seminar room believing that the medieval can only be interesting if read through the lens of the modern? Modern books, films and TV series are a tried-and-tested hook for getting students more interested in medieval modules but will it create the impression that the modern, in some sense, does the medieval better? A number of potential solutions became clear during the roundtable presentations and subsequent discussion.
First of all, transparency is key if the modern is going to be successfully brought into the medieval classroom. It is worth checking in regularly with students – to find out why they think you are asking them to look at the modern alongside the medieval and to get a litmus test of their attitude towards the older literature. This can help pinpoint any potential problems early on, so that the necessary tweaks can be made.
Secondly, the medieval should always be given room to breathe, even when the modern is an integral component of the course. This model is demonstrated effectively at Queen Mary by Alfred Hiatt and Jaclyn Rajsic with the module Arthurian Literature from Geoffrey of Monmouth to Game of Thrones. Whilst a number of post-medieval manifestations of Arthurian literature are considered on this module, the first chunk is dedicated to the medieval. This gives students a chance to fall in love with the original Arthurian legends – and maybe even to miss them when the course moves forward in time.
Finally, ‘relevance’ needn’t be overstressed. Whilst it is always worthwhile to consider the parallels between past societies and literatures and those of the present day, the weird and wonderful aspects of the Middle Ages can be just as engaging. Millions of viewers tune into Game of Thrones for the dragons and white walkers as much as for the human relationships and politics. Similarly, the werewolves, demons and superhuman saints in the Middle Ages are sure to make for exciting seminars.
And we’re back with more fascinating insights into the themes and nature of performance made right here at Queen Mary during Festival 41 from 17-20 May 2016.
Below you can read the written responses by from our finalists; Hattie Long, Georgia Bate and Franciska Ery to the final batch of performances.
Reminiscence by Keita Ikeda (pictured above)
Ikeda’s digital installation, an expression though light, sound and smoke, makes for a mesmerising and enveloping experience. From the clamour of the Hackney Showroom bar, stepping into ‘Reminiscence’ is like stepping into a mind that is in a trace. The studio space is transformed by and filled with shifting light and sound. Transfixed audience members sit, stand and lie silhouetted against the constantly changing and sculptural light. Moving through a spectrum of colours, beams fall down through the space onto bodies, then evolve into semi-translucent walls in which smoke marbles – triggering a need to reach out and attempt to touch what I know is intangible. This is technology that prompts interaction, evokes mental processes and produces a calming and almost magical environment. The artist is behind the tech desk and present in the calibration of the technology, illustrating how the digital can be used to tap into and effect human experience. – Georgia
Welcome to AA by Daniela Hirshova
What if you could attend a support group to treat your addiction to art? Daniela Hirshova’s satirical piece invites a circle of participants (including two lecturers from Queen Mary) to discuss their toxic artistic passions. Due to the audience participation, the piece requires some degree of improvisation, but that does not seem to be a problem to Hirshova, who successfully follows the structure of her performance while keeping it highly entertaining. The audience laughs without hardly any interruption, but underneath the comedy Welcome to AA might be hitting close to home: pursuing the arts has many risks and does not offer financial stability, and Hirshova successfully presents this issue in a comedic manner. – Franciska
When Death Us Do Part by Peter Walker
Peter Walker waits for his audience on top of a balcony in the Hackney Showroom’s main space, looking down on them with knotted eyebrows. This opening image perfectly sums up When Death Us Do Part, in which Walker portrays Peter A. Goodman, a man who believes he is the best man in the room, which is why he is so baffled that he is still single. On his quest to happiness, his plan is to conform and get married right there and then to an audience member. Walker’s aggressive tone and rush to get married are used to explore the concept of marriage and the desire to reach ultimate happiness. Using a harness, melodramatic music and unexpected audience participation, Walker’s piece is highly intense and uniquely engaging. – Franciska
Story of a refugee by Milica Opacic
Upon entrance the audience is separated – half of the spectators can sit with Milica Opacic in a candlelit tent, while the rest of us are left to observe from the outside. Opacic rocks tiny figures of refugees with a hypnotic energy, occasionally spraying them with water and abruptly cutting them off, letting them fall unceremoniously to the floor. The selected few can look at photographs and read letters to gain some context, but all the outsiders can do is watch, unable to prevent the cruel cutting of the tiny figures’ strings. – Franciska
Soul Spacing by Cain McCallam
Cain McCallam presents a durational piece featuring projection, music, and wall art that is continuously growing throughout the performance. The established aesthetic is constantly changing, resulting in a colourful chaos in which McCallam dances in a trance-like state. – Franciska
Bamboo Senses by Sojourner Hazelwood-Connell
A ritual is made palpable, incense burns, a bell rings, piles of bamboo canes encircle open space into which the performer steps. The audience sit around the edges, on the outside of the circle, in the centre Sojourner Hazelwood-Connel undertakes her own sensory ritual. Water, smoke, sound, sand, matches and movement are all used to enliven the space and open it out to the audience. Sojourner spins around with bamboo canes in hand which swish through the air extending and accentuating her movement. She pours water over herself which christens the audience as it is flicks out from the spinning canes. Sojourner makes and breaks the space in dynamic movements, thrown down, the canes clatter on the concrete floor. ‘Bamboo Senses’ is a vigorous and exciting piece, the use of objects and the commitment to movement by the performer serving to intensify how motion is witnessed in performance. – Georgia
Reality Check by Dominika Visy
On entering the studio space at Hackney Showroom, we are given a flyer for ‘an evening of poetry’ typed in ornate affected characters. A woman recites a poem onstage, then looks up at us in surprise. Framed as if we have stumbled upon her preparation for a poetry recital, Dominika Visy goes on to lampoon the conceited and sentimental love poetry of some ‘Dominika Visy’. She reads it in farce, drawing attention to the limitations and evasions of words and providing us with an antidote – experiences of love are performed through the domestic. Here are relationships realised in tissues, in blowing up balloons and trying to iron a fitted sheet. The realm of princes and images of abundant and gushing nature are confronted with metaphors which are created through the interaction with everyday objects. The ingenious simplicity and honesty with which Visy pits her experiences of love against the kind of love that represented in poetry results in a funny and refreshing performance, as well as a wry and self-deprecating interrogation of the reality of aesthetics expressed in art. – Georgia
I Did It Because I Wanted To by Martha Pailing
Gutsy, voluble and grotesque, Martha Pailing’s piece is a wonderfully unseemly and weird outpouring of speech. ‘I did It because I Wanted To’ sees the performer in white towel, hair dripping wet as if she has just stepped out of the bath that is projected behind her. Reading from a towelled diary, Pailing traverses a terrain of people in all their messy and vulgar brilliance. Different voices and faces move in and out of focus throughout the performance and it’s hard to know where the personal stops and other people begin. The language of the piece has a strange distinctive poetry with an insatiable and greedy cadence. The pedestrian nature of the performance slides into the surreal, however in its strangeness it taps into some truth. It is a piece which takes delight in shirking the pleasant and the polite. A look behind the façade of decency which unearths a kind of invigorating confessional brutality, an embrace of the uncouth truth, of what we might want to say but don’t. – Georgia
Exposed by Clarissa Blake
Over the course of an hour Clarissa Blake pushes herself as she undertakes an exercise routine. Accompanied by three screens which show her performing archetypes of women which can also be read as versions of herself. In the dark, neon shapes painted onto her skin stand out and highlight muscles. This luminous circuit training brings to mind exercise fads, a workout sold as rave – the new ways which the possibility and need for a flawless body are sold to women. But there is no music and no instructor, instead there are tablet computers on the floor, the technology dictating Blake’s movements and how long she does them. The audience are dotted around the edges of the space but the performer is isolated in her effort. Her face obscured in the dark, it is in her body, in the amplified sound of her efforts which emanate out from speakers and in the slap of feet against concrete floor that we witness the transition from energetic to exhausted. The performer’s increasingly drained body placed alongside the three versions of the performer on the screens, draws attention to dissonance between the real and ideal. The actual effort of exercise on the one hand, and the unassuming, poised and performed exercise on the other. The action of wearing out the body feels like a way to release it from the pressures of the specific kinds of representation that are shown on the screens. In this disquieting piece of endurance, the drive to ‘perfection’ or ‘success’ is realised in the action of movement and its effect on the performer. – Georgia
Artpocalypse: Zut Alors! by Becky Rourke
Becky Rourke cannot do magic, and she knows it. Her performance is concerned with the failure to entertain, featuring anticlimactic reveals and magic tricks that don’t work. Her eagerness to create something magical builds up to a sweet ending with confetti, ABBA, and a celebration of finding an audience member’s card. It is truly an optimistic and playful performance. – Franciska
THE RISEFALLRISEFALLRISE OF AJAX MCFURY [or HOW I LEARNT TO STOP WORRYING AND BECOME A LEGEND] by Reece Connolly
Ajax McFury enacts a resurrection right in front of us, only to be finished off again. He is a man who courts death and driven by a desire for immortality. With his performance Reece Connolly investigates the figure of the living legend. However, there is never any real danger displayed, and Connolly intentionally mocks iconic stunts to place the emphasis on the presentation of bravery, rather than bravery itself. His cardboard, DIY aesthetic seems to imply that all of this is a facade, and the quest to become forever remembered is, in reality, futile. – Franciska
They Speak by Mira Yonder
An intriguing umbrella creature blinks bright lights, peering out at the audience arranged on the tiered seating in Hackney Showroom. In the light, the creature is revealed crouched, with limbs covered in tights extending out from the black umbrella – making hands and feet into something more like paws. Strange noises emanate from it, as if it is playing, encountering, and working something out. It flirts with, but doesn’t relegate itself to a recognised language, but its noise is not nonsense either. The audience find something and respond to the modulating sounds which seem to be approaching language from afar. The creature is vulnerable but cheeky, discovering the world and putting its feelers out. There is something, not only of being foreign, but being an outsider which comes through in the piece. ‘They Speak’ was a peculiar, eccentric and absorbing piece which made me consider how we approach what is alien and how the alien might approach us. – Georgia
Photo credit: Sojourner Hazelwood-Connell
hours of hair by Vimbai Gavure
Vimbai Gavure stands unmoving, her eyes obscured and body draped in black cloth she is elevated like a monument in the centre of the studio space at Hackney Showroom. She is lit by the flicker of television screens stacked upon one another and on stands which make a semi-circle around her. Braids of hair stretch out from her head to the screens, mapping and connecting up the space, like a web or the roof of a tent. The looming and impassive version of the artist is surrounded by yet more versions of herself, each involved in the labour of pulling twisting brushing, braiding, doing and undoing hair. An amplified straining and creaking sound of hair-work, repeats unabated throughout the piece. The sound creates a tense atmosphere, infecting and shaping the artists movement whilst conjuring up the pain and effort involved in achieving hairstyles. As the audience tentatively make their way around the space, ducking under braids, the figure begins to slowly move her head from side to side, like an automaton. As she picks up speed the movement ripples out along the braids and coins drop from her hair, then cascade onto the floor. ‘hours of hair’ highlights the supreme effort and cost which goes into haircare by women of colour serves as an interesting frame to examine the effect of the white-washed ideals of beauty perpetuated in western society. – Georgia
The Quest To Find: The Richard Curtis Quality by Laura Pegler
Laura Pegler is determined to find the ‘Richard Curtis Quality, and worryingly determined to find the man himself. With the help of audience members and the ‘celluloid-time-Curtis-inium’ machine our buoyant host stages chaotic realisations of moments from Curtis films before our very eyes. But when everything doesn’t go to plan, our host realises we need to look for magic elsewhere. ‘The Quest To Find : The Richard Curtis Quality’ is a fun and affirming performance which ponders what it is that we are searching for and suggests that it’s okay to ‘not feel okay’ all the time. – Georgia
Re-Tale by Monique Geraghty
Heels are clicking in Hackney Showroom’s main space. Monique Geraghty enters and steps into a spotlight. Her performance is about obedience and endurance using three workers in retail to frame her context. Geraghty’s piece almost operates as a short one-person show, allowing her to embody different characters but ultimately point to the same message. – Franciska
Something I Want You to Know by Joshua Young
Joshua Young’s intentionally explicit piece features a white, glowing closet. Young’s shadow playfully moves around as he invites an audience member to join him in the closet; repeats the word ‘gay’ over and over again; and tucks a gay flag into his pants. His whimsical piece is paired with elaborate technical elements such as live feed, projection, and several sound effects that successfully aid the humorous, light tone of his performance. – Franciska
Ya Mam’s Ya Dad by Maria Hunter
Maria Hunter enters the stage and starts tapping, singing along. From the very first moment to the last, her performance is absurdly entertaining, featuring two performers poorly lip-syncing to Hunter’s words, a short sequence about nervous breakdowns, and even an interview with a blue papier-mâché toe. And while you might find yourself asking from time to time, ‘what am I watching?’, the performance is unquestioningly unique and grotesquely funny. – Franciska
Women and War by Dinara Chenuka Punchihewa
Dinara Punchihewa does not speak, instead we hear her telling a story through voice over. She stands firmly on the almost bare stage, using a sequence of movements to illustrate the horrific nature of sexual assault. The haunting lighting illuminates her face stern with commitment and stamina, almost expressionless, even when she opens her mouth to release a silent scream. Her piece is difficult to watch, and yet you cannot look away. – Franciska
The Shqipdon Osmani Show by Shqipdon Osmani
It is really what it says on the tin – Shqipdon Osmani presents The Shqipdon Osmani Show, a game show including questions about performance, art, and, of course, Shqipdon Osmani. Using three contesters who are audience members, Osmani is an intentionally insulting and narcissistic host, successfully triggering laughter with self-referential parody questions that never let the contesters win. And while many of this self-aware comedy might be considered a commentary on performance and art, the highlight is really a twist ending that concludes this game show with a final punch line. – Franciska
Summer is a great time to discover London’s beating cultural heart, make connections and get involved with an international ocean of culture, so why not dive in.
Brave the unpredictable summer weather for an unforgettable night under the stars at Shakespeare’s Globe at their Midnight Matinee (next up Macbeth on 22 July). If you’re looking for an alternative take on the old Bard why not try Shakespeare Burlesqued (14 July) at Senate House Library.
As we enter the world of Brexit, the radical movement of PUNK seems very relevant indeed. This year London celebrates 40 years of punk with institutions like Roundhouse, Museum of London and Design Museum all offering free events to get under the skin of the radical subculture. Our favourite activities include Jon Savage and Viv Albertine on Punk (14 July) and Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer at the BFI (7 August) .
LITERARY HAVENS & ENTHRALLING EXHIBITIONS
The mighty British Library is thriving this summer with events including the rather excellent Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition.
Discover the amazing stories of East End Women (until 9 July) who have shaped the area for future generations or go on some interesting walks with Walking Women (11-17 July).
Head to the Southbank Centre for an array of literary talent including politics meets poetry with Jeremy Corbyn and Ben Okri (15 July), comedy/gameshow Literary Death Match (25 July) and discover powerful stories from Britain’s Homeless at The Homeless Library (until 18 September).
4 days, 41 shows and 2 locations. From 17-20 May third year drama students performed their final Practice Based Research Project performances in ArtsOne on Queen Mary’s Mile End campus and Hackney Showroom.
Below you can read the written responses to the performances from our finalists; Hattie Long, Georgia Bate and Franciska Ery. There’s more to come in a second blog post too so be sure to keep an eye on @qmulsed for when it’s published.
Atlas: A Finale by Atlas
You, a member of the public, of the unwashed have the privilege of attending a retrospective of one of the greatest artistcelebritydivas of the 21st century. Poised staff, all in black with eye make-up running down their cheeks curtly tell me where to go, and promote an atmosphere that asks that you conduct yourself with due reverence. On display in the space is material from the artists career including videos, outfits and wigs. I am directed through to the gift shop where minimalist t-shirts stamped with the artist’s emblem are on offer alongside vials of hair and perfume. But this isn’t the Tate Modern, and I haven’t spent 4 hours queuing to be here or bought a ticket as soon as they came out at £20.00 a pop. This is QM on a Tuesday evening and the Artist in question is Atlas. The realisation of this exhibition makes for a great exploration of the myth-making that takes place around the ‘artist’. We are made into fans without even giving our consent, perhaps without even having encountered Atlas before. I am told, that for a donation I may enter the ‘tomb’. Of course, not wanting to miss out, I dutifully deposit a donation and enter. – Georgia
Grandpapi’s Pleasure Palace by Lily Davis-Broome
Unsure what to expect, we followed the malevolent doorman through into the film studio. UV light bounced off our skin, our tickets were checked and we were ushered into the extravagant confines of Grandpapi’s Pleasure Palace where the scantily clad Lilita was stood in the corner waiting. She danced for us, her long plaits flying as she twisted and turned between titillation and inner torment. She moved to the private room. She took off her clothes for us, she forced herself to drink special concoctions and then she put her clothes back on, taping her body into place, and danced once more. All for our pleasure of course. – Hattie
Mind the Gap between the artist and the platform by Roya Eslami
Appropriately staged in the Hitchcock Cinema, Eslami wittily explored whiteness in film. Recreated versions of film scenes from classics like Pulp Fiction, Pretty Woman and Breakfast at Tiffany’s were shown side by side with the originals and the white actresses that starred in them, creating a humorous tension between media whiteness and the artist’s non-whiteness. It was stark, it was funny, but the livestream footage of the audience never allowed us to forget that this was a spectacle. – Hattie
Abled/Disabled by Elise Lamsdale
‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York’. So begins Richard III and Elise Lamsdale’s exploration of perceptions of disability, Abled/Disabled. Inspired by her own experience with cystic fibrosis, Lamsdale uses one of Shakespeare’s most infamous villains to emphasise her point about the associations surrounding the words abled and disabled. Words are at the forefront of the piece, lying crumpled around her on the floor as she picks her way through definitions. Yet the projected image of a pair of healthy lungs next to those of a person with cystic fibrosis reminds us of the emptiness of these words in the face of the hidden physical disease. – Hattie
Words at 51 by Shafiq Nsubuga
Listening in on the conversation of the two on stage, it’s clear that this is a familiar set up. Two friends together making music, their chat encompassing popcorn and pop hooks, it would be easy to forget that this is staged. It felt remarkably natural and intimate, an insight into a private space. It was a shock when the lights flashed up on the audience at the end, breaking us out of the illusion that this was something hidden. The lights fade and so do the voices, our insight dwindles once more. – Hattie
A Theatrical Nudity Structure by Laura Graham Anderson
Laura Graham Anderson adopted and adapted staging and performance constructs of naturalistic performance, creating something hypnotic and compelling to watch. Typical box set items reminiscent of Ibsen, an armchair, a standing lamp, a tea trolley, were marked out on the floor by tape, emphasising the artificiality of their presence. They made the space feel intimate, as Graham Anderson’s repetitions and set track around the space provided a sense of containment within the structure. Layers of cardigans were removed and gestures added, repeated or dropped as the audience watched mesmerised. The theatrical structure was left bare. – Hattie
Laura Graham Anderson’s A Theatrical Nudity Structure is an exploration of repetition and the gradual exposure of the female body. Using theatrical texts heavy with tradition, Graham Anderson successfully presents a study of the female body in a theatrical context, resulting in a pleasurable collision between theatre and live art. Although her setup and actions might seem elegantly simple, she is in full control of her structure and nothing in her space is arbitrary. – Franciska
Photo Credit: Moa Johansson
Trial 32: G.R.A.C.E. by Sydney Goldsworthy
Take your seat. In front of you are two buttons, a red and a green. The options are on the screen. Press the corresponding button to make a choice. It’s a concept many of us are familiar with through video games and choose-your-own-adventure books, but here the choices were in front of us as we dived through and tried to destroy the malevolent force of M.O.T.H.E.R. We didn’t last long. I’m itching for another go. Perhaps that’s the point. – Hattie
I I I I will dI I I by Franciska Ery
The one certainty in life is that one day it will end. You will die, I will die, we will all die. Franciska Ery’s performance explored our inevitable demise, raising issues of mortality and finality. Ery, transforming into a death figure, moved along a red line in a middle of the space as she changed into a sensual black clad being. She pulled on strings, causing pairs of sunglasses to rise and fall around the room before cutting the threads, leaving the glasses to crash to the ground. Owning the black space around her, she danced moving back and forth along the glowing red thread of life. Gradually derobing and changing back into her original self, she returned slowly along the line, leaving us alone in the darkness. – Hattie
Photo Credit: Liv Johnson
Happily Never After by Paulina Musayev
We lay down on blankets and pillows ready for our bedtime story. It is the tale of a girl, the jewel of her small fishing village, who travels to find the dollmaker. Journeying alone, the little girl encounters great danger to buy a new doll. What she does not realise is that the dollmaker’s price is her life. We awaken to find the girl, transformed into a doll, seated before us ready to be dressed up. We leave her dressed, decorated and completely still. Not all fairy tales have a happy ending. – Hattie
Edible Beginnings & Messy Endings by Catherine Palmer
Catherine Palmer presents Edible Beginnings & Messy Endings, a bittersweet mixture of whimsical celebration and direct commentary on the relation between consumerism, pleasure and the body. We are invited to her party filled with sweets, pastry and sugary liquids. The overabundance of food and the pink and glittery aesthetic potently represent the overwhelming feeling of unquenched desire. Palmer’s humorous and satirical piece is filled to the brim, but all is stripped away when she stops the music, destroys her towers of food and undresses to wash herself clean. – Franciska
Over Her Dead Body by Fia Hacklin
Low rumbles and the distorted screams of a female voice permeate the experience of looking at the photographs in ‘Over Her Dead Body’. In the sparse space it is as if there is a ghostly presence hovering over my shoulder. Fia Hacklin is the subject of the three sets of photos, her body positioned as if deposited unceremoniously, limbs at angles, with flowers strewn over her. Beauty and death, life and lifelessness sit alongside one another, drawing attention to the aestheticisation the dead female body. Fia’s work destabilises the relation between subject and observer. The subject gazes out from the photographs, her stare like a challenge, reproaching the viewer from underneath a Marie Antoinette wig. – Georgia
(MmM)ilk me by Beth Christlow
a) Against the metal and stone of the Hackney Showroom warehouse, with strip lighting and medical paraphernalia, there is no room for a pastoral ideal of milking. Sucking, slurping, gargling, spitting, ‘mmmm’, Beth Christlow is a vessel, consumer and producer of fluids. Moving through a sequence of stations, and interacting with the milk she encounters there, the performer seems at once insatiable and overflowing, she is greedy and trapped in a repeated process. (MmM)ilk me examines our needs and wants. Moving between woman, baby and animal, sloshing and dripping through the space, the performer crosses borders to examine the human intervention into, collision with and consumption of animal lives. – Georgia
b) (MmM)ilk me shows a peculiar creature’s experiments with milk. She is animalistic, yet grotesquely human, as the milk simultaneously revolts and attracts her. In Christlow’s clinical, white space the texture, taste and sound of milk is explored in a durational piece. She is the consumer and the producer of it, the baby and the mother at the same time. Her fascination prompts her to repeat her actions over and over again, re-visiting three different stations where her sucking, slurping and spitting give a unique rhythm to her actions. With full control and mindful endurance, Christlow is a captivating performer to watch. – Franciska
The Cuming Out Party by Aimee Hall
Cuming Out Party entrepreneur and social specialist Jessie took us through her services, dealing with relatives at family parties convinced that it’s a phase and how best to cope with knobs in bars who demand proof that you’re a lesbian (NB there’s only so much she can do about the latter). Taking a volunteer from the audience, she embarked on the festivities of a true Cuming Out Party, concluding with a singalong to a certain Diana Ross classic. Satirical yet celebratory, we came out and wanted the world to know, you’ve got to let it show. – Hattie
Art Itch by Georgia Bate
She entered the space collecting objects painted a strange turquoise. She pulled a sheet of foil from the rucksack on her back, stuck it to the wall and stood behind it to change, like a caterpillar in a cocoon. She emerged triumphantly as a turquoise clad artiste, silently handing out wacky glasses and pulling more and more fantastical turquoise objects from her enormous rucksack. She continued to inhabit the halls of Festival 41 for the rest of the evening, playing ping pong, crawling blue snails up people’s knees and hiding inside her foil fortress. She wouldn’t let me inside, the arty so and so. – Hattie
Old Wives Tales – Karina Lucy Brown
The inspiration behind Old Wives Tales, as the name suggests, came from the stories we’re told as children, although in this case the prince does not appear to be the hero. Four dancers conveyed the story, choreographed by Karina Brown, as the music expanded and built to the piece’s climax. Bodies twirling and falling in unison, the performers danced for their lives. Don’t go down to the woods alone. A male ballet dancer might come for you. – Hattie
Performing the Performance by Elsa Grace Collingwood
Upon entering Princess Elsa’s kingdom of West Ham we were sent to different group challenges, hoping to find the mystical, ephemeral notion of the meaning of performance. Observing woodland creatures frolicking in the wild, to interviews between the Princess herself and her loving subjects in recorded in a public park, performance is clearly not as straightforward as perhaps the citizens of West Ham might have thought. After stopping for juice, biscuits and a chat with Princess Elsa, we then entered the kingdom’s dark underbelly, greeted by the most narcissistic and social media obsessed of the Princess’ subjects. Playing Truth or Dare and enacting private rituals to put on Instagram, we performed versions of ourselves for the camera. By the time we left it was clear that, as one of the Princess’ interviewees suggested, ‘everything is a performance’. – Hattie
Aum by Anu Prakash
The smell of incense weighed heavy in the air. Bowls and containers filled with liquids and objects littered the stage, milk, tampons, figurines and icons ritualistically moved and placed. An Indian song soared and looped, its repetitive melody almost hypnotic. Prakash’s slow movements and the heady yet relaxing atmosphere created an aura of comforting ritual. As she left the stage, the incense spiralled and the atmosphere slowly faded. – Hattie
my forest without echoes – Moa Johansson
a) my forest without echoes is an hour-long durational piece in which Moa Johansson has full agency. Her face covered in hair, she blindly reaches for metal bars and dry twigs to create an artificial forest. And while durational pieces tend to follow one consistent rhythm, Johansson’s movements cannot be expected: one minute she is spending three minutes to break a twig, the next she suddenly unravels many yards of brown paper with erupting energy, showing a wide range of different dynamics. Her movements and stillness are marked with her occasional “woo” sounds as she yells out into her imaginary forest. Marking her body with her materials, she ends up in an entangled nest, uncomfortable and uninviting. She lays there, creating a final image that stays with you long after her piece is over. – Franciska
b) I originally only intended to stay in Moa Johansson’s hour long durational performance for ten minutes. I emerged from the main space an hour later. Covered in sheets of paper with architectural diagrams on, Johansson scraped herself along the wall causing them to steadily fall, unveiling her naked body underneath. She manoeuvred metal poles, dropping them into place with a sharp, echoing bang, and marking herself with charcoal where the ends of the metal cylinders had pressed into her flesh. Breaking the sticks of her forest with her body, she encased herself in them, creating a nest-like structure as she and the forest became inseparable. The echoes faded and silence fell. – Hattie
Photo Credit: Sojourner Hazelwood-Connell
one of the greatest elegies in the english language – Michael Green
With no wall-text to read, the spectator is invited to Michael Green’s exhibition with openness to interpretation, prompting them to walk around and discover connections on their own. The exhibition, loosely connected to Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, is both domestic and sterile. The pieces are scattered around the room with precision, creating images that allude to the sea, the sky, and the familiarity of home. With merely a small booklet that you can collect from a shelf, Green presents a unique relationship between the written and the visual. – Franciska
Yes, London has one of the best & busiest transport systems in the world and as a student you can get 30% off travel on the entire Transport for London network. In this post Amy takes us through the tips and tricks to avoid stress on London transport.
Often called ‘the father of English poetry’ because he was one of the first literary authors to write extensively in English, Chaucer was born in London and had close connections with the city, living in a house above Aldgate for some years. His best-known work, The Canterbury Tales, consists of stories supposedly told on a journey made to Canterbury by pilgrims who meet at an inn in Southwark, just south of the Thames.
The New Chaucer Society is an international body, with members from North America, the UK and Europe, Asia and Australasia. Its 2016 Congress will bring together over 500 members for four days of lectures, papers, workshops, and discussion panels. The activities include poetry readings (Lavinia Greenlaw will be reading from her latest book of poetry, A Double Sorrow, which imaginatively recreates Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde); an evening of medieval music by Opus Anglicanum; Patience Agbabi talking about ‘multilingual Chaucer’; and a performance of a medieval play, The Pride of Life, by a theatre company from Toronto (Poculi Ludique Societas). The paper sessions include talks on torture and violence in the Middle Ages, on digital approaches to working with medieval manuscripts and texts, on Chaucer and medieval science, and on global Chaucer.
Mile End resonates with Chaucerians on a number of counts. On the main eastern approach route to London, it was close to Aldgate and Chaucer’s place of residence in the 1370s and 1380s. In 1381 it was the location of King Richard II’s encounter with a large company of Essex rebels involved in what has become known as The Peasants’ Revolt. Queen Mary’s own community of twenty-first century medievalists looks forward to welcoming Congress participants and to introducing them to a part of London rich in Chaucerian associations.
In a land where dinosaurs still roam the Earth, where the nights are stormy and the 3G slow, a grandson stays up with his grandfather as the old man prepares to pass on to the next life. Except this isn’t your usual grandparent/grandchild relationship. Throw in an immortality myth, some psychological bullying and the grotesque treatment of a pickled egg and you’ll start to get a bit closer to the twisted world of Jellyfish. Written by Drama finalist and Royal Court writing programme alumnus Reece Connolly, the play will be heading to the London Student Drama Festival (LSDF) on 5th March.
Reece is a prolific playwright within the QM community, having put on five plays since starting his degree in 2013, including selling out multiple nights at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe with QMTC venture A Fistful of Hunny. Emily Collins (English and Drama finalist and Associate Director at Theatre N16) directs, following on from successes at The Old Red Lion, Theatre N16 and Camden Fringe. With stellar performances from Jack Ridley and Sam Woodyatt, and technical and production help from Patrick Balcombe and Georgia Moorhouse, this strong team are hoping to triumph at this year’s LSDF.
Founded in 2013, LSDF is an annual event that brings together student plays from across London’s universities and aims to shed light on the wealth of theatrical talent amongst students in the capital. Jellyfish will be representing Queen Mary at this year’s event, competing for the chance of being invited to perform at The Pleasance a week later. Various prizes will be up for grabs, with the winners decided by the theatre professionals that make up the judging panel.
According to Reece, Jellyfish is the ideal representative of QM theatre to take to LSDF. ‘It’s classic QMTC in a miniature, crystallised form – darkly comic, traditional yet subversive, a little daring, a bit sweaty, and a lot sweary.’
‘I think its strength lies in its subtlety – it’s a real time straight-through locked room piece about two people talking, elevated by great performances and inspired direction, so it’s giving us a real chance to shine, gimmick-free.’
After a sellout preview in the Pinter Studio, the team would love to get the same strong support as they move away from QM turf. Follow the link below to grab tickets and make sure you book for the Saturday. The Jellyfish returns. You don’t want to miss it.
Put together by a collection of QM finalists, Re: Play showed off the promising work being created by students studying in the drama department. With two of the three performances initially created as part of taught practical modules, it proved the scope and quality of student work at Queen Mary is not meant for good grades but bigger things. Although tonight’s performance was firmly on QM turf in the Pinter, it could form a foundation for external showings of work in the future. Using the scratch performance development technique used by organisations such as Battersea Arts Centre, the aim of the night was to collect feedback for the ongoing development of each work. This proactive and practical approach to the development of a piece is key for many professional theatre companies, so getting started whilst still at university with all the resources that come with it is a potentially massive boost for the creative process.
Opening the evening were Theatre Counterpoint with Don’t Turn The Lights On, a piece exploring adolescence and gender norms through a combination of games and repetition performed by Jay Walker and QMTC production manager Mira Yonder, and directed by Dadiow Lin. Claiming to use ‘analysis of musical structure as dramaturgy for the composition of devised theatre’, Theatre Counterpoint’s rhythmic musicality proves promising and it will be interesting to see how the piece develops in the future. There are some really lovely moments aesthetically, with clever use of repeated movement, light and projection. Their message can be a little heavy handed in some of the dialogue, however with a little refining this should be a really exciting piece deserving of many a Fringe stage.
Next up was Box by Keita Ikeda, originally devised as part of the Beyond Acting final year module. Keita’s technological wonder Boxy may just be a cardboard box with an expression projected onto it, but that doesn’t stop you from feeling a bit devastated when it gets ripped into tiny pieces. ‘He can’t feel anything, he’s just a box’ says Keita as he stabs him repeatedly with a knife, but oddly enough we the audience feel something. A clever exploration of sentience and the portrayal of emotions onstage, Box has got some serious legs.
Closing the night were former GPP group FeminArt with their piece Kitchen Art. Martha Rumney, Olga Kravchenko and Mira Yonder’s grotesquely sexual housewives compete to be the most domestic and seductive. It’s comic and somewhat unsettling, their forced smiles burning into your retinas as the sexy domestic goddess stereotype becomes subversively obscene. It doesn’t seem to have changed hugely since they performed it as part of GPP last year, but it is undoubtedly strong so it will be interesting to see how they will expand upon next.
A fantastic way to show and develop creative work away from the classroom setting, Re: Play proves itself to be a great example for other student performance makers at QMUL to follow. It just goes to show, if you’ve got a piece that you’ve created within or outside of class it doesn’t have to be doomed to live on only through your grade transcript. Take the initiative and hit replay.
Upon entering the endearingly dilapidated Limehouse Town Hall there’s already a buzz of anticipation in the air. QM finalists Pussy Patrons have attracted quite the crowd for their specially curated evening of Feminist performance, a Cabaret of Cunts involving puppetry, spoken word, music and of course, the Pussy Patrons themselves.
Originally coming together as part of GPP (Group Practical Project) in second year, Pussy Patrons have continued to develop their work as a performance troupe, refining and expanding upon the Cabaret’s original form. Compered by Elyssa Livergant’s glamorous alter ego Polly Parton (sister to Dolly), the night wasn’t just about the performances on show. A series of speakers talked about the work of Irish abortion rights collective Speaking for I.M.E.L.D.A., QM graduate Emer Morris’ upcoming verbatim performance about the Focus E15 Mothers, and the activist group Sisters Uncut. All were inspiring and empowering causes, adding to the melee of brilliant women coming together to make it an evening to remember.
Kicking off the first half was poet Leanne Moden, with her witty, touching poems about sex, the female body and opportunity setting the tone for an inspiring evening of women being brilliant. Next up, Bristol’s Tight Theatre performed an excerpt of their Edinburgh Fringe piece PUSSY, exploring sexuality and sexualisation in a whimsical physical theatre style that is distinctly their own. They engage with topics of masturbation and shaming as well as with Beyonce’s more problematic lyrical past with a deftness and comic timing that didn’t compromise the sincerity of the issues they were tackling. I would definitely recommend checking them out when they next visit London. Folk duo Molly and Jess ended the first half with hauntingly beautiful harmonies and forthright lyrics about the historical oppression of women, and Kate James Moore of Commedia Puppets brought a touch of playfulness to her feminist puppetry reworking of Hamlet, Ophelia’s Garden for those who ventured downstairs during the interval.
With a focus on the female body in all its glorious messiness (fortunately they put down a tarpaulin first), Pussy Patrons took to the stage in the second half for a glorious and at times downright disgusting show of feeling like a woman. With a little help from their old friend Shania Twain and a whole host of other pop culture references, body shaming and objectification were exposed, pubes celebrated and pussies proudly patroned. Comedy, spoken word, dance, song, the Cabaret of Cunts has it all, tied up nicely with an emotive core proving why we still need feminism today. The audience reaction said it all, with half the audience giving them a standing ovation before the performance had even finished.
The night ended with a party, reinforcing the celebratory nature of the Cabaret of Cunts. Yes serious issues were tackled, but more than that, womanhood in all its forms was flaunted in a fiesta of femininity. It wasn’t just about the Pussy Patrons, it was for patrons of pussies everywhere.
For much of the nineteenth century, Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867) was a ubiquitous figure in London literary life. Sociable Sunday breakfasts at his home in Russell Square were famous, as readers of A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession know. The evening might find the bachelor Robinson at his club, the Athenaeum in Pall Mall. He would often take a very long walk to call on an old friend, such as the novelist Mary Hays in Greenwich. As he walked, he read. And whatever his destination, Robinson talked. Staples of his conversation were the rights of religious dissenters, the abolition of slavery, the genius of Wordsworth and Goethe – and the inability of these two great poets to understand each other. He had many personal memories to recount. If he was less inclined to discuss the provincial, dissenting education he had ‘suffered’ in Bury St Edmunds and Colchester, he would linger on his trip to Germany in 1800-1805. There he had studied at the University of Jena, rapidly becoming the foremost British mediator of the Kantian revolution in German philosophy. In 1804 he had given private lectures on this topic to Madame de Staël in Weimar – now rediscovered and published after 200 years. Then, as the first foreign correspondent of The Times, Robinson had reported on the Spanish Peninsular War from Altona. Travelling under a false German passport as ‘Heinrich Robinson’, he narrowly escaped capture by Napoleon’s troops. He published translations and articles, aspiring to success as a ‘literator’. It was as a solicitor, however, that he made a comfortable living, and gained the social status that enabled him to promote the foundation of the University of London. And almost every night, the indefatigable Robinson described and reflected on his experiences in his diary. Robinson took great care of his own manuscripts, leaving them to Dr Williams’s Library, of which he was a trustee.
The Henry Crabb Robinson Project will publish Robinson’s most important manuscript works with Oxford University Press, both in hardback and on Oxford Scholarly Editions Online. The series editors are Timothy Whelan (Georgia Southern) and James Vigus (QMUL). The Reminiscences, one of the great nineteenth-century autobiographies, is uniquely self-effacing: Robinson arranges the account of his life around his descriptions of the people he encountered and befriended. The enormous Diary (from 1811), including the travel diaries, will be edited in subsequent phases of the Project. The OUP edition will replace all previous editions, which were radically selective. The Early Diaries (pre-1811) are being edited by Philipp Hunnekuhl (Hamburg). A team of special subject area editors, assembled to reflect Robinson’s polymathic interests, will contribute to an edited collection entitled ‘All Our Knowledge is Reminiscence’: Essays on the Reminiscences of Henry Crabb Robinson. Editing and reflecting on Robinson’s prolific manuscript writing is necessarily a team effort.
Friends often upbraided Robinson for his excessive modesty. He spoke out on behalf of many writers and their works, but too rarely for his own. Sara Coleridge, daughter of Robinson’s friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge and one of his many female correspondents, remarked to her diary on his ‘talent and quickness’. My own path has distantly echoed that of Robinson: I worked for three years at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, and have settled in London. This experience has given me a first-hand opportunity to admire Robinson’s achievements as a polylingual producer of ‘informal’ texts. No-one better absorbed, adapted to and embodied the spirit of his age. This unobtrusively brilliant writer has left his 21st-century editors with a challenge, in the best sense.
From January 2016, the Project will be affiliated with the new Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English.
Technically underway (though with most of the shows starting this coming week) is the Calm Down, Dear festival at Camden People’s Theatre. Why is this exciting? Apart from it being an awesome-looking collection of feminist theatre work it also features some students from our very own Queen Mary!
Are You Ready for Your Close Up is a piece exploring sexism in the film industry, focusing on the experiences of female actors, and will be on during the festival at 9pm on the 6th of October. While I must point out that I am perhaps a little biased, being friends with Queen’s Others as the group are known, Are You Ready for Your Close Up is all set to be a wonderful piece of immersive theatre.
In the supportive spirit of QM Drama, I sat down with Queen’s Others to chat about the show and help get people interested!
Get tickets here!
Official statement about the piece: ‘Queen’s Others is a contemporary theatre company comprised of Queen Mary University students. As part of our professional debut, we have created an immersive theatre piece exploring the relationships of women and film. We were inspired by George Kuchar’s I, An Actress, both by content and aesthetic.’
I am constantly surprised at how old-fashioned some newspaper reviewers are. I’ve done a few cuts of Shakespeare texts, as a dramaturg, and with Hamlet it’s great because there are different versions of it printed in Shakespeare’s time, so you can use 400 year old editions of the play to help you cut it. One of Hamlet’s soliloquies is only there in one text, and because the director I was working with wanted a shorter version, that was one of the easy ones to cut. The Daily Telegraph reviewer was outraged! But given one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries thought it was all right one soliloquy down, I thought we could cut it if we liked! (And Shakespeare’s dead, so he won’t know…)
Quite a lot of reviewers have a strictly realist idea of what theatre should be like. The idea that you can’t have in early modern performances people of different racial backgrounds, different ages, different sexes, seems daft to me. If you want to be really literal, you’d have to have to cast Measure for Measure with Viennese actors only. Those plays were made for an all male company, and no one cried: “What’s that young man doing playing that young woman?”. The actors told the story; women weren’t allowed on stage, so you told the story using men. Each casting is going to produce different meanings, and that’s fascinating.
The only claim for authenticity that I would make for cross-casting is that the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries were created for what we might now think of as highly meta-theatrical spaces. They weren’t made for theatres in which you sat in the dark and shut up apart from the odd laugh, and peered into a space that was pretending to be real. These were spaces where everyone could see each other, whether by daylight or candlelight, and the actor could just turn around and talk to the audience. So the idea that somehow the actor would erase his presence as an actor is quite silly; at the Globe reconstruction today, too, if an actor were to talk to him or herself for too long, it would seem odd and dull – , because the audience are palpably there.