Tag Archives: performance

Theatre Scratch Night—sharing of new student work

This post was contributes by Jennifer Wilson, a student on Birkbeck’s MA Text and Performance.

Birkbeck’s yearly Arts Week brought both staff and students together to watch the presenting of new work devised, written, and acted by students of Birkbeck College. This event was to celebrate the opening of a theatre space, Room G10, which was previously used solely for the purpose of lectures, classes, and workshops. The night opened with a piece by four students from the MA Text and Performance programme. Using Thomas Middleton’s The Changeling, the group intertwined spoken words by Fred and Rose West, two notorious British serial killers. The second part of the evening’s performance showcased 10 excerpts of new plays written by Birkbeck’s BA Creative Writing students. The pieces presented were directed and performed by Birkbeck’s own MFA Theatre Directing students. After the final performance, the night ended with drinks, snacks, and lovely conversations amongst everyone; an official “kick off party” for the new theatre space. The future of theatre lies in the hands of the current generation of students and their voice were able to be heard in each performance. A round of applause goes out to everyone involved in Theatre Scratch night. A job well done!


Shakespeare and the Senses

This post was contributed  by Jessica Barrett, a student on Birkbeck’s MA Shakespeare and Contemporary Performance.

On Tuesday evening Birkbeck arts students attended a successful presentation on Shakespeare and the Senses with Mr Simon Smith, Dr Gillian Woods and Dr Derek Dunne as part of the 2013 Birkbeck Arts Week.

The evening began with Simon Smith’s talk on sound within and without of the theatre. Attendees listened to clips of music from the early modern era. One clip, called The City Cries by Richard Dering, gave examples of the street noises one might hear of people selling their wares at the markets in Elizabethan London. Also, Mr. Smith called attention to the measurement of sound by comparing the decibels of applause, a human shout and moderate surf, all noises that would have surrounded the Elizabethan playhouses. Lastly, Smith highlighted a 1596 petition to the Privy Council by 31 Blackfriars’ residents, which prevented Shakespeare’s theatre company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, from moving into the city because of fear of noise pollution. Smith’s lecture was an interesting exploration into the sounds of early Modern England, adding a three-dimensional quality to what life surrounding the playhouses might have been like, as well as reminding us that sound is one sense that can happen to you without you actively or purposely taking part.

Dr Woods followed with an insightful look at George Hakewill’s The Vanitie of the Eye, focusing on how sight was considered the most dangerous of all senses to many Elizabethans (especially anti-theatricalists). Sight was compared with types of sin alluding to how, like sin, theatre spectators can become trapped or fixated on what they are gazing upon. Woods exemplified her points by focusing on The Winter’s Tale and its plot of deception. Leontes thinks he sees his wife, Hermione flirting with his good friend Polixenes, which leads to Hermione’s arrest, and trial. Woods ended her talk by deconstructing the last scene, where Hermione’s statue comes to life, a moment of idolatrous wonder from her daughter, Perdita, and a transformation, which confuses audience members’ seeing it for the first time.

Dr Dunne closed the night’s talks with a discussion on sound deprivation in relation to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and the judicial system of Rome. The play’s many instances of deafness, dumbness, and blindness were seen as a loss of metaphor for a judicial system that does not listen. Dunne goes further in his analogy by examining how tears are a result of the blindness and dumbness and are instrumental in obscuring meaning creating ambivalence in the thoughts of the characters.

Those who attended the talks were keen to ask questions at the end and further explore the final scene in The Winter’s Tale as well as commenting on sensory overload in Shakespearean films which contrasted nicely with the presenters’ topics.


Handel’s Cross

This post was contributed by Dr Fintan Walsh, lecturer in theatre and performance studies in Birkbeck’s Department of Enghlish and Humanities.

Thursday night saw a production of Handel’s Cross take place in the recently launched G10 performance space in Birkbeck’s School of Arts. Directed and performed by Birkbeck lecturer Andrew McKinnon, and written and also performed by Martin Lewton (his partner in Theatre North), Handel’s Cross stages one man’s recurring sexual fantasy involving the 18th-century composer.

The performance begins with Lewton removing his clothes and being bound to a St. Andrew’s cross by McKinnon. He directly addresses the audience, sharing a story which takes us back to 1751, on the night of the premier of the then 66-year-old Handel’s cantata ‘The Choice of Hercules.’  The leading role is performed by renowned 22-year-old castrato Gaetano Guadagni.

Few details are known about Handel’s personal and especially sexual life.  Historians tend to agree that he was over-weight and even greedy, as mocked in Joseph Goupy’s caricature that features a grotesque pig’s snout (see right). Lewton takes the ambiguity surrounding Handel’s imitate life, and the notion (based on his rousing music) that he must have been a passionate man, to imagine a relationship between Guadagni and the composer, and to imagine himself as a subject of his brutish desires.

As Lewton speaks from the cross, acting as a kind of Handel substitute, McKinnon steps in at various points to attach nipple clamps, spray his chest with hot wax, and whip his body. With Handel’s music intermittently flooding the space, the S&M scenario combines with historical fantasy to powerfully suggest a link between artistic pain, Christian suffering, and homoerotic desire.

‘What are the attractions of fantasy in a world where bodies are bombarded and oppressed?’ Lewton asks towards the end of his 45-minute performance. It’s not a question he answers, but it’s one that lingers after his dismount.