Features Q&A and Interviews Published 13 November 2012

Shunt’s The Architects

Shunt is a collective of artists creating and curating live performance in unusual locations within London.
Catherine Love

I wonder whether the unique nature of the myth as a mode of storytelling and its role in the formation and communication of cultures and ideas is significant to Shunt’s appropriation of this form. As acknowledged by Rosenberg, this inspirational springboard marks a departure from the historical starting points of most of the company’s previous work and is thus being utilised and interpreted in a different way. “The fact that this is a myth brings in interesting ideas about the creation of myths and how they can continue to be useful in contemporary narratives.”

In the Shunt Lounge, underneath London Bridge Station. Photo: Barry Lewis

Rosenberg’s mention of the contemporary brings us onto the real world resonance that Shunt’s work attempts to achieve even within its sealed-off theatrical worlds. Despite engaging with historical or fictional narratives, the company’s shows are typically informed by the social and political climate of both their conception and their subsequent development throughout performance. Money, performed in the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse, refracted the financial crisis of that specific moment through a tale of past financial failure; the inspiration of the gunpowder plot was married with the anxieties of a post-9/11 world in Dance Bear Dance.

“There is an idea for a show and then there is the current climate in which that show is being made,” Rosenberg makes the distinction. “There are events unfolding throughout the whole time we’ll be making a show, so we try to be a bit permeable to those events.” As for the current significance of the Minotaur and the labyrinth, Rosenberg is more elusive, but it is clear that the piece is heavily coloured by the present moment, with the company hinting at metaphorical links between the audience’s experience and the wider political and economic landscape.

Equipped with only partial information, the glimpse I witness of the rehearsal room is often as disorientating as the finished experience is engineered to be, but one thing I do get a clear sense of is Shunt’s collective method of working. One performer leads an improvisation, to be replaced the next moment by someone else; any hierarchy that might briefly emerge is fluid and ever-shifting. Likewise, while individuals inevitably take on different roles within the company, everything is conceived and credited collectively. As Rosenberg puts it, “when we make the work we aren’t fulfilling the vision of one person. We are all the authors of that work.”

This notion of collective authorship steers the conversation into ideas of legacy. With no sole author, how can a textual trace of the work remain? This question of documentation is one that intrigues Rosenberg, but one that he admits the company have not been particularly good at addressing. Despite the existence of a Shunt archive, the collective are unsure how these documents might translate into a record of the shows they create.

“It’s very difficult to document an audience experience, and that’s the point of the work,” Rosenberg pins down the central problem. “What lingers around afterwards is a mess of different images and snippets of things.” Precisely because of their idiosyncratic melding of history, fiction and the present moment, together with the particular combination of artists who make their work possible, Shunt’s shows exist very much in the moment of their performance. As such, any form of documentation must recognise this.

“The archive could become something that exists in its own right,” Rosenberg muses, “something that isn’t just about a record.” This too, perhaps, could become a new space, an area carved out by Shunt to offer their audiences yet another way of experiencing their work. As Rosenberg speaks about the possibility of touring next year, a departure from previous ways of working that once again shifts the company’s relationship with the space of performance, Shunt leave the impression that they are still far from finished with manipulating the architecture of theatre.

The Architects takes place at V22 workspace, The Biscuit Factory, 100 Clements Road, London SE16 4DG from November 27th 2012 – February 2nd 2013. For more information and tickets, please click here.


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Catherine Love

Catherine is a freelance arts journalist and theatre critic. She writes regularly for titles including The Guardian, The Stage and WhatsOnStage. She is also currently an AHRC funded PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, pursuing research into the relationship between text and performance in 21st century British theatre.

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