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Features Published 23 December 2014

Exeunt’s Highlights of 2014

Our writers pick their personal high-points of the past theatre year.
Exeunt Staff

William Drew on Mr Burns: 

I want to write about laughter and wry smiles. The audience comes knowing the idea behind the show. They are presented with characters taking seriously something that they, in their own lives, would not consider to inhabit the realm of the serious. It’s the exact opposite of the audience’s reverence for the classic texts. Radical reworkings are popular only because the baseline assumption is one of reverence. The Simpsons isn’t Medea nor is it the Iliad. It’s, you know, for kids. Certain episodes though are so much part of our culture that someone who has never seen them could still have a passing familiarity with the characters if not some actual plot points, just as people know the story of the Trojan horse without having read Homer’s text.

The initial intention of the source material stops mattering. The drive to create rituals is shown to be something absolutely fundamental to sustaining ourselves. It’s too simplistic to describe it in biological terms. We need to eat. We need to reproduce. We need warmth. Yes. As long as we are a group of humans together though, we will capture some essence of who we are as a collective amd somehow we will paint that on the wall of our cave. This is culture. This is how we know who we are. This is how we say “we are here now” and ask our children to remember us and the things we said and did.

These are all the things that made Mr Burns such an extraordinary play. It’s central protagonist is a story and it theatricalises the narrative of culture.

Catherine Love on This is How We Die

A desk. A microphone. A spotlight. A skinny guy with a shock of hair. A relentless assault of language and sound. Even typing the words there’s a shiver curling its way up my spine. This Is How We Die feels imprinted on my muscle memory as much as on my brain; just thinking about it I can almost feel the ripple of vibration that cascades through the audience in the final moments. It’s rare that your whole body, every last fibre, feels quite so engaged in a piece of performance. If asked, I’d probably say that I go to the theatre to think. And it’s true, the theatre is where I do a lot of my chewiest thinking. But This Is How We Die has stayed with me, and will do I suspect for a long, long time, because it’s theatre that forces its audience to feel.

Tom Wicker on My Night with Reg

Good theatre can make you feel like punching the air, gnashing your teeth or despairing of the world. But I was scared of seeing My Night with Reg in August. Going to review it – unexpectedly, at the last minute, after someone else dropped out – came along at a weird time for me.

You see, I’d just recorded a short video for I’m From Driftwood, an online LGBT archive of people’s stories, about my experience – as a gay man – with depression and anxiety and, specifically, the way that crippling paranoia about my sexual health had overshadowed much of my 20s.As a child of the Eighties, HIV/AIDs lurked in every dark corner, from the near gothic horror of televised government health warnings to playground threats and ignorant newspaper headlines. It lurked malevolently on the horizon of my adolescence.Of course, as a typically horny teenager, I was drawn to anything with nudity and – the Holy Grail! – gay sex.

That was how I discovered My Night with Reg, which was adapted by the BBC and screened when I was 16 or 17. I recorded it, but, while I fast forwarded between the naked bits, I couldn’t actually watch it properly. It terrified me.I like to think I’ve made progress since then. But I was apprehensive when I took my seat at the Donmar. I’ve rarely felt as close to my teenage self – his finger hovering fearfully over the pause button to block out the dialogue – as I did that night. And if I hadn’t been reviewing the show, would I have gone? Or made my excuses, been too busy? I don’t know.But, fuck, I was glad I did.

I could jaw on about what a wonderful piece of theatre Robert Hastie’s production is or how effortlessly Kevin Elyot plays with genre – but I’ve already done that in my review. Connected to all of that was the most profound sense of personal recognition.Thankfully, science and social attitudes have evolved since the play premiered. But what Kevin Elyot captures is that enduring fear of the unknown – those doubts that gnaw away at us in the early hours of a lonely morning. Unlike one character, I’ve never wanked wearing marigolds (promise), but that dread of every cough, of every bout of flu? Of what it could mean? I know about that.That’s where My Night with Reg is so brilliant – it’s about real people in real relationships dealing with death and loss in a real way. It’s funny and sad and true. There isn’t any false sentiment or didacticism.

And as much as it’s about HIV/AIDs, it’s also about friendship and ageing – and what keeps us going as the world changes.Theatre has made me cry or laugh before, but rarely has a play – whether through a coincidence of timing or writing – left me feeling so powerfully connected to other people or reached back through my years with such force. And I am immensely thankful for it.

Devawn Wilkinson on The One

The brutal/brilliant The One was highly praised anyway but I keep coming back to how appalled I was. At my own illicit, near-involuntary laughter at all the gut-stab, glorious one liners – like when someone’s tickling you and you’re really laughing and saying ‘stop!’ but really, you really mean ‘stop!’ and feel furious at your body for betraying you?  Then more disgust at my natural pathetic need to empathise, justify, romanticise this toxic central couple with their weird tenderness and casual violence.

In one of the play’s many false climaxes, Harry chooses girlfriend/captive/captor Jo over his smitten, sincere ex Kerry and, despite every horrific thing we’ve seen and heard, we still half-hope this is the final, redemptive proof that Jo and Harry really are each other’s ‘one’, that at the very least they have each other, until – “If that was for me, you needn’t have bothered..” says Jo, “I’m pissed and I won’t remember it in the morning.”

I feel like Vicky Jones took the usual game – ‘playing with the audience’ – to its logical extreme by playing the audience at its own audience-game, fucking with the audience’s attempt to play along safely, drip-feeding revelations then reversing the flow, letting us in on it then pushing us out again and all the while, withholding catharsis, blocking recovery.* It was so unforgiving though, that, even appalled, I was strangely exhilarated – to be simultaneously so required (like..jury duty) and completely abandoned.

*must mention that similarly painful, liberating and exciting audience-work happens in Lulu Raczka’s Nothing.

David Ralf on River of Fundament 

It wasn’t a play, but it contained theatre. It wasn’t an opera, but it sang and growled and we watched it in an opera house. It was a film – a Paul Giamatti and Maggie Gyllenhaal film, even – but it also extends beyond the film presented at a specially-prepared ENO, as part of the work is also a series of sculptures featured in, changing during and created through the creation of said film. We didn’t see them at the ENO. Did we miss the whole work?

With RIVER OF FUNDAMENT Barney took Norman Mailer’s difficult and derided workAncient Evenings and made it more difficult and (at least according to Richard Dorment of the Telegraph) more derided. Packed full of incredible music from Jonathan Bepler, rawhide percussion from Milford Graves, reincarnation, Pharaohs, docks, marching bands, turds encased in gold leaf, all-american muscle cars, molten metal and with appearances from Dick Cavett, Salman Rushdie and porn performer Bobbi Starr, its six-hour mass was nevertheless unerringly focussed, driven, and powerful, even when it was frustrating, elusive and objectionable.

It seems absurd to draw such a comparison, but approaching RIVER OF FUNDAMENT felt like reading Ulysses – you appreciated it while wishing it would be more accommodating to you in your oblivion. They are also both completely filthy.

Duncan Gates on Mugs Arrows

Scruffy and oddball and imperfect , but quite happy to be as it was. It’s not even like that was a constant thing. It changed as you observed it, from Philip Ridley farce to an episode of Father Ted written by Conor McPherson. In an industry that spends so much time reaching out for approval like a dull lover, it was an absolute joy to see something that would rather be itself than ‘more relevant’.

Rosemary Waugh on Dido and Aeneas

On the closing night of the Bristol Proms the Old Vic registered their biggest ever ticket sales in modern history for its finale performance of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. The removal of chairs at the front of the studio pit to create standing room re-created how audience members would have been able to the watch classical music performances back when Niccolò Paginini played live.

All at once we had this perfect combination of looking back to a proud history, with staging a show in a setting more people wanted to attend than anything else the Old Vic had put on in living memory.So you know the way some people look out for the John Lewis one each year so that they can feel some sort of semi-nostalgic yearning along with a sense of ‘I was [insert place/event] when they aired the one about the [thing] in [year]’?

Well yes, the last night of the Bristol Proms was actually just like that; half about re-visiting Purcell’s tavern-filled England and half about feeling wonder at being there in 2014 when the Bristol public defied any notion of what was cool, accessible or relevant and just gave themselves up to enjoying the beauty of classical music and performance.

Stewart Pringle on Men in the Cities

Finally! I get to write about Chris Goode again… So far my contribution to critical discourse on his work of 2014 has been reaching across pub tables, grabbing a friend’s hand (or a stranger’s hand) a little too tight, leaning in far too close and gibbering like a man that’s just seen a werewolf on the moors. Nuanced, it ain’t.

But if my reaction has been a bit dry-drunk evangelical, it’s only because of the immense impact that his work has made on my thinking and living over the past twelve or so months. When I’d decided to choose Men in the Cities as my highlight of 2014 I took the script with me to work to refresh my memory a little. I started reading it on the train, then on the escalator, then the street, and forty minutes an hour later I was sitting in my little cupboard of an office a broken man. Again.

Because I’ve read Men in the Cities eight or nine times, cover to cover, since I saw the show in mid-August. I’ve read it more than I’ve read any other play, I think. I’ve read it this year like I might have previously listened to a favourite album. When I’m feeling high, to remind me of how fucking brilliant art can be, and when I’m feeling low, to remind me how well it is possible to move, think and fight your way through the hardest parts of the world.But it’s not a healing play, not really. It’s more violent than that, widening wounds wider rather than patching them up. And that can be a very special and very dangerous sort of thing. It can be like one of those books you read or drugs you take or fucks you have that you know has probably done some damage or tapped some cracks into your character armour. And you don’t know if that’s made you better or worse, or weaker or stronger.

You know you’re more open, but you don’t know if that’s open like a window or like a manhole. Or a sieve. And you need a lot of soft, mushy culture to fill in some of those cracks so you don’t just break down or freeze up entirely. A lot of episodes of The Apprentice and take-aways or conversations about tube journeys or your rent.But those dangerous things, those experiences that shake foundations or splinter assumptions, they must be what it’s all about, mustn’t they?

Lydia Thomson on The Art of Dying

The piece that has best stayed with me for 2014, and I think will stay with me forevermore, is The Art of Dying by Nick Payne. It took me until September, nearly three months after seeing the production, to be able to write some sort of response to it.It was the cusp of autumn by then, and the leaves were beginning to turn brown. My parents came to visit for a day and we went for a walk through the gardens at Chiswick House.

For one glorious moment, a gust of wind blew a host of leaves out of a tree and I watched as my parents walked beneath them. In that moment, I felt I understood something crucial about who our parents are to us, and who we are to them. And more than that, who we are as a human race: I stood behind them, smiling, overcome with a euphoric wave of awareness of our own mortality, comparable to the ease with which a leaf falls from the tree and drifts gracefully to the ground.

The death is borne in clear sight, and endures without fuss.This is what struck me most about The Art of Dying, and it was a feeling that I had been trying to come to terms with ever since. One of the stories Nick tells in this piece is of his own father’s death, and that at the hospital, his family had struggled to obtain clear, honest information regarding the extent of his dad’s condition. It was not until Nick actively interrogated the nurse that they knew he was dying. Too often, we colour the subject of death in a language and sensitivity that is not necessarily helpful, nor beneficial, and that’s why Nick’s monologue was so arrestingly beautiful: he simply sat on a chair in the Royal Court Upstairs and told us three stories about death, one of them his own.autumn leavesIt is that same clarity and honesty that we see as the leaves turn from green, to orange, to brown, and fall from the tree. The art of dying is in watching those colours fade away, and waiting for the leaves to grow anew in spring. In the meantime, the best we can do – as is expressed when these escalating, crippling stories come to an end – is go out with our loved ones and delight in it all, and pick conkers together in the golden, autumnal sunlight. Besides that, in reality, very little matters.

Brydie Lee-Kennedy on Lady Rizo

Sometimes all you need is a dark bar, a darker liquor and a voice filled with sex.

I fell in love this year, completely unexpectedly and against my will. For the last 5 years, I’ve resisted any sort of official relationship, instead racking up lovers (apologies to the Liz Lemons of the world who are bummed out by that word) from right across the age, gender and continent spectrum.

I’ve had passionate affairs that ended in tears but more that ended in an apology that I would never be quite what they were looking for and more still that never really ended at all but just sort of drifted in and out of view as I barrelled determinedly forward, barely checking my periphery. I felt furious with lust and warm with comfort but never at the same time or with the same person. I had nights to remember and mornings to forget and kisses with strangers and sex with friends and, honestly, the best damn time.And then the kindest man I know touched my nose as I lay reading in the sun and everything slowed down, just a little.

Lady Rizo’s persona is a product of desire and her show this year was about the joys and toxicity of following that desire wherever it leads. When I saw her in September, I was wading through a series of negotiations with the person I loved about what that could possibly mean for our lives. I was weighing up my long-held freewheeling image of myself against the feeling that I’d quite like to buy groceries with this guy forever. I read this passage, in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Americanah and I felt like I’d fallen off a cliff: “Sometimes she would worry that she was too happy. She would sink into moodiness, and snap at Obinze, or be distant. And her joy would become a restless thing, flapping its wings inside her, as though looking for an opening to fly away”. I was warm with lust and furious with comfort and it was all the time and I named it love because I had to call it something.

Lady Rizo fell in love, too. She spoke about that love, about the man who named her- Rizo was his name, not hers- and about the men who came before and after him. She sang about sex and loss and frustration but she didn’t sing about regret. Not really. This show, this whole tour was about losing her central relationship, one that had defined her and focused her life for over a decade. It was about the absolute destruction of two hearts. But it wasn’t about regret. And as I watched this powerful woman become vulnerable but never weak- through artifice, sure, but that was enough- a tiny bit more of me dissolved.

Sometimes all you need is a dark bar, a darker liquor, a voice filled with sex and a willingness to slow down, just a little.

Alex Chisholm on The White Whale

You’ve chased me

through all the seas.

Stolen my children and led them to slaughter.

Pricked us, bled us, burnt us,

turned our blue, slick black.

But.

When all the blubber’s gone and all the oil spent,

we’ll swim in your cities, Mankind.

The word for world is water.

Lorna Irvine on Sirens

The sirens’ noise is a piercing cry: the ultimate riposte to casual and systemic misogyny in its myriad forms.

Fearless Belgian theatre collective Ontoerend Goed present six young women in evening dress and create a concert to waken the dead.

Anemone Valcke; Karolien De Bleser, Charlotte Du Bruyne, Verona Verbakel, Marjan De schutter and Aurelie Lannoy combine scathing humour, smart observations and song in dissonance and harmony.Their individual testimonies take in catcalling, groping, abuse,FGM, violence, criticism, and slut-shaming: and zoom in on the ubiquitous pressure to be beautiful, silent, passive and cute- as well as “fighting the seven signs of ageing”.Through subverting such prosaic stereotypes they have created one of the year’s most powerful pieces of performance, which cuts to the marrow of modern women’s experiences.

With equal opportunity campaigns like Everday Sexism gathering momentum, especially through social media,  as well as dubious celebrities laying claim to feminist credentials,  they have caught the Zeitgeist and are therefore not just a mere talking point, but theatre that matters: anti-window dressing. Unforgettable and essential- it should even be brought to schools.

bearBojana Jankovic on The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Getinthebackofthevan’s ‘community live art’ version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (at this year’s SPILL) smashed away all those preconceptions about who musicals are for, what they look like and what they supposedly do, reactionary as they are. Auto-prescribed cultural values got a good beating up; the SPILL crowd and those who came for a ‘real musical’ were equally perplexed.

It was like nothing I’ve ever seen in the UK: a small and relatively young company doing a big-scale show, with a 20+ strong cast, for over two hours, stomping over all the performance vs theatre clichés. Along the way they also excavated aspiration from the midst of show-tunes, made some pretty striking points about the continental perception of America and subverted an abundance of stereotypes. The dreaded ‘community theatre’ turns out to be half general public-half other performers (because whose community is it anyway?); half way through another artist starts stealing the audience members for one-on-ones, taking them over the stage as he does so; there’s also an ode to America and its patriotism, Dolly Parton and some skin. It was trashy but immaculately thought out, tightly structured but resembles a chaos, not afraid of being literal, but lets the bigger ideas sip through and build up slowly; so exhilarating I could burst into a song right now.

Belinda Dillon on theatre in the South West and her FOMO

I’m from South London, you know. I AM. I grew up in Camberwell and Streatham. And I miss it – quite a lot at this time of year. But apart from FB posts of friends falling out of the French House after too much Christmas Pudding Vodka, nothing brings on a surge of FOMO like reading the relentless outpourings on how absolutely amazing London theatre has been this year. Adler & Gibb, Pomona, This is How We Die et al… It’s enough to make me weep with envy.

And then I remember the brilliance of Chris Goode’s Mad Man at Plymouth’s mighty Drum, which rinsed out my brain out with its righteous fury, and Greyscale’s astonishing Gods Are Fallen and All Safety Gone at Exeter’s wonderful Bike Shed Theatre, which squeezed my heart until I couldn’t breathe, and Burn the Curtain’s Company of Wolves, which enabled me to pelt around in the dark, howling at the moon. And aside from when I have to drive for an hour to see anything in Plymouth (because the last train back to Exeter leaves before curtain down on even the most attention-span-respondent one-acters: FUCKING SORT IT OUT, FIRST GREAT WESTERN), most of what I see is within walking distance from my house. Which means I can have that G&T in the bar afterwards, I can sit around passionately debating what I’ve just seen while having another G&T, and I don’t have to worry about my journey home on the night bus, trying desperately to ignore the bloke behind me while he wanks into a crisp packet.

Tim Bano on Kim Noble’s You’re Not Alone

Oh, Kim.

I think about you quite often. Mainly on the Tube when I’m worried that you might be filming my feet. 

Or in New Malden’s B&Q superstore where I wander around on Saturdays hoping you’re still pretending to work there.

You know, I followed you home after your show at the Fringe, and you lumbered through small hours Edinburgh in your bright red dress chatting to the guy from the audience whom you’d stripped and eloped with on a horse. Real? Stooge? It doesn’t really matter I suppose. 

And when you went into the house I just carried on aimlessly, not particularly worrying about heading in the direction of my house. I found a park and walked. There were drunk people and police, homeless people and the artsy elite who had invaded for the month. I wanted to give them all awards. To tell them they’re not alone.

I’m sitting in a café now, Kim, and everyone is on their own – not one couple in the place. There’s Chris Rea playing over the tannoy, and there’s bits of china tinkling, but no meaningful sounds. Should I talk to them? What would you do Kim?’

Annegret Marten on Pomona

In Pomona Alistair McDowall smudged away at the urban thriller genre and with a surreal but precise brush paints in women with agency that are not exclusively victims. I found the piece so enticing because the dangerous world we see here feels just that little bit too plausible. Just as if I might actually be able to stumble accidentally into its sleazy reality if I turned the wrong corner at the end of a dingy street. With its absurd Chthulu masks, allusions to snuff films and its strong foothold in role play games Pomona is the petri dish result of letting a simple moral question grow on a somewhat seedy pop-cultural breeding ground.

At the centre of Pomona is an ethical issue about taking on responsibility, but it is twisted into a narrative structure that loops around the characters. Maybe not really twisted, more like exploded into little shrapnels that are embedded within the flesh of the story and embedded within the bodies of the players. Bodies need to be cut open to release the tension and bodies that need to be ended if they don’t get involved in the game of asking the right questions. Because that’s the whole “game” – stepping up to the plate and taking on responsibility even if there’s no guarantee I’ll be rewarded for it. Not just for my own actions but for the world around me and for all the dark and twisted things I can see in it.There are red herrings throughout the piece that hint at deranged practices which are kept going by characters not meddling and not getting involved (never was an opening monologue so defining for a play as it in Pomona).

The actuality of the mystery at its heart feels fairly ephemeral. Not like it doesn’t matter but almost like it is the most suitable crime to counterbalance the strong women who decide to get to the bottom of the horror.

Pomona feigns complexity very elegantly but it’s actually very clear in what it is trying to say: cause and effect are an illusion and no one is the sole protagonist in this world. It’s just this messy thing that happens all around us and all we can decide to get involved or not. This the only way I can make sense of the game metaphor. The game is not merely an added comment or a parable and on that level Pomona works in a way that Rosenberg and Requardt’s The Roof at the LIFT festival tried but failed. Because it is neither afterthought nor an end in itself the game buries even more shrapnels in the texture of a play that looks at the responsibility of the individual and what impact it may or may not have in the grand scheme of things.

When the dead look down from the heavens on the world they shat and jizzed on, they still fail to see that all they did was pretending to be three wise monkeys and hiding behind a chain of command.

Lauren Mooney on How To Disappear Completely

A lot of the shows that made my list this year (we all do a list, right?) are the ones people raved about, the so-good-can’t-miss shows, and when I sat down to pick one to write about, it was hard. I wondered whether my tastes are too easily swayed by other people or whether I just happened to also like those things, or even if they were straight up the best shows out there.

But one of the shows I loved most this year, I’d heard almost nothing about before the lights went down in the theatre.Some Friday night in autumn, I went to see that all-male Wuthering Heights at BAC, cocks everywhere, you know the one, and my pal who works there was like, ‘Will you come and see another show of ours with me afterwards?It’s a one-man thing about the guy’s mother dying of cancer but apparently there are good jokes in it.’I was skeptical. Great, I thought, it’s a Friday night and all I want to do is have a beer and watch some nudey blokes skip about to Kate Bush (as is my Friday tradition), but now I have to go to this depressing Dead Mum play and confront my feelings about our own mortality. On a FRIDAY.

The show was called How To Disappear Completely and it was written and performed by Itai Erdal, an award-winning lighting designer, talking through and around footage he recorded years ago, when he was making a documentary about the last months of his mother’s life. Within minutes it becomes apparent that Erdal is an absurdly engaging conversationalist: over the course of an hour, he made me cry with laughter just as much as the show made me cry.

Yes it was moving and, inevitably, sad, but also so smart and interesting as to keep it from ever feeling mawkish. It’s about death, but Erdal’s confronting his own grief while also positioning it as sort of…natural. Parents die before their children most of the time. That’s kind of how things are supposed to work. And as a portrait of the woman herself, Erdal’s mother, How To Disappear Completely is remarkable.

Her strong will and sense of humour seem to shine through whatever she is experiencing in a way that’s indicative of her character and her humanity, but also of the human ability to display huge grace in dire circumstances. More than that, Erdal shows us so beautifully and so delicately how false the title is, because his mother did anything but disappear completely; his life and his sister’s life are a testament to the personality and will and decisions of their mother.

Perhaps most fascinating of all is how Erdal talks about his process as a lighting designer, telling us how he uses it to manipulate us into feeling certain things, showing us how, and making us feel those things anyway. Just as an examination of an interesting craft, this would be a good show, but obviously there’s so much more than that – it works on several levels and lived on in my mind for a long time after I’d watched it.

Natasha Tripney on Visitors 

If you were to boil the premise of Barney Norris’ Visitors down to its bones, it could well sound like a shameless emotional button-pusher, a tear machine. This is, after all, a play about a long-married elderly couple gradually coming to terms with the fact that one of them is fading, that they can no longer care for each other and will soon have to leave their home behind. And while it is a blade of a play, sharp and shining and capable of cutting deep, the whole thing is conducted with a delicacy and elegance and wit that transforms it into something altogether richer.It did that brilliant thing of making me reflect, deeply and searchingly, on my own life and the people in it while also being completely wrapped up in the characters and their plight.

As glorious as Linda Bassett and Robin Soans were together as Edie and Arthur, their every gesture speaking of decades of marriage, of contentment with and knowledge of the other, it’s Simon Muller as their middle-aged son, soon to be divorced son Stephen, who rounds out their world. God, he’s good: nervy and awkward and pathetic yet never a figure of fun. His parents’ love makes him acutely aware of the things he has not experienced in life, and he bristles with this knowledge, while also dealing with the pain of seeing his parents becoming frail and incapable. His relationship with Soans is shadowed on all sides by things unsaid and regretted, and he’s an exemplary teller of awful jokes.

And, yes, I cried, but Norris was so gentle in the way he led you there, I welcomed the tears when they came.

Poppy Corbett on Adler and Gibb

‘By stick I don’t mean stick. I mean gun.’ A child stands in for a dog. A baseball bat stands in for a gun. A swimming pool float stands in for a shovel. Fake wig. Fake blood. Fake sex. A play that becomes more (or less?) ‘realistic’ as it progresses.

Adler and Gibb by Tim Crouch, directed by Andy Smith, Tim Crouch and Karl James is my play of the year. No other play this year has so innovatively asked the question: where is the ‘real’ in the theatre? Where is this ‘truth’ we hunger for?

The plot is pretty basic: actor Louise and her coach Sam intend to raid the home of artists Adler and Gibb in an attempt to ‘find’ the essence of Adler to help Louise’s portrayal of her in an upcoming film. To their surprise, Gibb is there. Alongside this, we see the young Louise present a paper about the artists’ work.The form effectively supports the plot, interrogating ‘the real’ in art, starting with conceptual art and arriving at filmmaking. The play takes us through various stages of realism, from an abstract to a figurative use of the stage. We see a child stand in for a dog then we see a real dog. We are forced to consider the semiotics of art, the authenticity of the stage and the ethics of representation.This many-layered play makes the audience work to fill in the gaps.In doing so, our awareness of the importance of our imaginative contribution to the evening is heightened. In its abstractness, the play manages to produce ‘real’ feeling. I left very moved.

As we exited the theatre, my theatre buddy (who rarely ‘theatres’) asked, ‘why aren’t all plays as good as that?’

I really wish they were.

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