Tremor, Sherman Theatre (Review)

Lisa-Diveney-Sophie-Tremor-at-the-Sherman-Theatre

I went to see Brad Birch’s new play Tremor at the Sherman Theatre  as a reviewer for Miro magazine. You can read my more traditional review here.

For new work however, I like to spend time unpacking the play, and in particular the writing a little more. So here is my not-review of Tremor. Fair warning ‘spoilers’ ahead, perhaps save for after seeing it.

The most fascinating element of watching this play for me was second guessing my own, and fellow audience member’s reactions. And judging myself accordingly. Going in knowing only a ‘tragedy’ causes a couple to reassess their situation and relationship my mind had gone to natural disaster, violent acts, end of the world scenario and yes, of course in the world we live in Terrorism. So, the slow burn of revealing the details of the event, and subsequent twist were a fascinating lead in to what had happened to this couple. The seemingly almost mundane nature of a bus accident when it is revealed is fascinating in that it showed how tragedy weaves its way into a relationship. The later reveal of the wider issues- the enquiry associated with it, the political and moral issues faced by the seven survivors, and the incredibly personal nature of that for this couple, really did feel like a peak behind the headlines surrounding tragedy we see every day.

The slight insight the play gives- an hour of real time conversation- gives only a glimpse into the personalities and relationship of the couple. This is a powerful approach, it reminds us of the fleeting nature of our relationships, but also of the idea of how little we know the people in our lives. The idea of Tom and Sophie coming back into each others lives, with certain expectations of how the other is- in Sophie’s case based on both the ‘old Tom’ before the accident, the one who ‘took the piss’ out of everything, and the man she saw created by the media. And in Tom’s case, the Sophie he presumably once loved and cared for, and the Sophie who no longer fits into his world view.

Lisa-Diveney-Sophie-Tremor-at-Sherman-Theatre

This snapshot of their lives also gives a snapshot of trauma and grief. Tom’s description of not being able to get on a bus, or travel on a road. Of the impact on his life, inability to get a job brings to light the complexities of what happens after a tragedy. We care about him in that moment, we see how the accident has destroyed him. A sympathy that is tested as his political and social views, and their extremes are exposed, but perhaps also the memory of that previous sympathy perhaps colour that?

The characters, though we only get a small slice of them are complex, and challenge the audience view of them, and of ourselves, constantly across the play. We think we know who these people are, and then the idea shifts. We think we know whose ‘side’ we’d take and then it shifts again. And even when we finally see Tom’s most extreme of viewpoints, when he challenges Sophie to join him, we wonder still about how he got there and how we might also align with him, in the same position. Our liberal viewpoints, our instinct like Sophie to perhaps forgive and move on, our outrage at the way Tom behaved during the inquiry is niggled at constantly and challenged by the sympathy we might have felt for him earlier in the conversation. It’s complex, viewed from only a glimpse of them, out of context, without to borrow the inquiry theme ‘proper evidence’. And perhaps Birch is asking too much, spreading that challenge too thin on too little content. But the point more seems to be to make an audience think.

Paul-Rattray-Tom-Tremor-at-the-Sherman-Theatre

The themes Birch crams into his microcosm of the relationship are broad and complex. And in the hour running time can’t hope to be addressed adequately. And in the watching it is at times frustrating. There’s barely a breath between reference to accepting the gay couple in their friendship group and debating the press treatment of Muslims. But perhaps that’s the point. In our day to day conversations we don’t always pause for reasoned debate and analysis leaping from one ‘issue’ to another, because life and conversation doesn’t throw them at us in that manner.

The real time nature of the conversation also creates and allows for this. If you took the hour-long conversation I had with my companion with in the bar afterwards, you wouldn’t find a neat analysis of every topic we covered- and in that we touched on employment, the NHS, marriage (not our own), the Labour Party and ‘actors my Mother would like me to Marry’. Granted not all of these are weighty topics, but over the course of that hour we dipped in and out of some ‘Big Ticket’ items, and in some barely paused on them either. They’re all swirling around in our consciousness as we exist in the world, even when they aren’t fully articulated, and that feels like what Birch is reaching for. Of course in a play, rather than a chat in the bar, an audience might need a little more articulation to feel satisfied. But as experiment in theatrical form, its arguably also a satisfying approach.

tremor - hi res_preview

As for the issues themselves, Birch doesn’t aim low. A little over halfway through his twist on the conversation that the driver of the bus was a Muslim immediately challenges and changes our perceptions of the preceding action. Was it predictable? perhaps if we’d thought a little about it in advance. But going in ‘cold’ the thought hadn’t crossed my mind, nor how the previous conversation between the characters was coloured by this. And what does that say of me as an audience member, and as a person? what does it say of someone else? Across this play, constantly I am drawn back to wanting to know my fellow audience member’s thoughts and reactions. And that act of judgement on their (potential) thoughts, feeds into exactly what Birch is getting at.

Our playwrights are (rightly so) trying to address the state of the world as we find it. Tremor does that by looking at the state of the world from the point of view of how we react to it. Both through characters and his audiences. We may never know how the characters reacted next to what they’d been through, and what their reuniting stirred up. We might never know what our neighbour took away as a reaction to the play. But Birch is stirring up questions, and reactions through that conversation. And as much as his writing distills that from the bigger picture, into that microcosm of a relationship torn apart, so it’s also distilled into audiences, and what they might take away.

Tremor- Sherman Theatre

Brad Brich’s Tremor distils some of the biggest questions about the world we live in through a single event and relationship.

tremor - hi res_preview

The Tremor of Brad Birch’s title is anything that ripples and rips through our lives, from the personal relationship of the two characters to the aftermath of the shared event that ripped them apart. For Tom (Paul Rattray), it’s when his ex-girlfriend knocks on his door after many years (and many ignored emails), ripping through the new life he has created. His Ikea-build house, with his wife and son on their way home, compete against the reminder of his past with Sophie (Lisa Diveney). Birch layers this with far bigger questions – what if the event that tore their relationship apart was a tragedy, and what if there were consequences and questions beyond just the personal?

 

More at Miro Magazine

Tremor- Brad Birch- Sherman Theatre



I went to see Brad Birch’s new play Tremor at the Sherman Theatre  as a reviewer for Miro magazine. You can read my more traditional review here.
For new work however, I like to spend time unpacking the play, and in particular the writing a little more. So here is my not-review of Tremor. Fair warning ‘spoilers’ ahead, perhaps save for after seeing it.
The most fascinating element of watching this play for me was second guessing my own, and fellow audience member’s reactions. And judging myself accordingly. Going in knowing only a ‘tragedy’ causes a couple to reassess their situation and relationship my mind had gone to natural disaster, violent acts, end of the world scenario and yes, of course in the world we live in Terrorism. So, the slow burn of revealing the details of the event, and subsequent twist were a fascinating lead in to what had happened to this couple. The seemingly almost mundane nature of a bus accident when it is revealed is fascinating in that it showed how tragedy weaves its way into a relationship. The later reveal of the wider issues- the enquiry associated with it, the political and moral issues faced by the seven survivors, and the incredibly personal nature of that for this couple, really did feel like a peak behind the headlines surrounding tragedy we see every day.


The slight insight the play gives- an hour of real time conversation- gives only a glimpse into the personalities and relationship of the couple. This is a powerful approach, it reminds us of the fleeting nature of our relationships, but also of the idea of how little we know the people in our lives. The idea of Tom and Sophie coming back into each others lives, with certain expectations of how the other is- in Sophie’s case based on both the ‘old Tom’ before the accident, the one who ‘took the piss’ out of everything, and the man she saw created by the media. And in Tom’s case, the Sophie he presumably once loved and cared for, and the Sophie who no longer fits into his world view.
This snapshot of their lives also gives a snapshot of trauma and grief. Tom’s description of not being able to get on a bus, or travel on a road. Of the impact on his life, inability to get a job brings to light the complexities of what happens after a tragedy. We care about him in that moment, we see how the accident has destroyed him. A sympathy that is tested as his political and social views, and their extremes are exposed, but perhaps also the memory of that previous sympathy perhaps colour that?
The characters, though we only get a small slice of them are complex, and challenge the audience view of them, and of ourselves, constantly across the play. We think we know who these people are, and then the idea shifts. We think we know whose ‘side’ we’d take and then it shifts again. And even when we finally see Tom’s most extreme of viewpoints, when he challenges Sophie to join him, we wonder still about how he got there and how we might also align with him, in the same position. Our liberal viewpoints, our instinct like Sophie to perhaps forgive and move on, our outrage at the way Tom behaved during the inquiry is niggled at constantly and challenged by the sympathy we might have felt for him earlier in the conversation. It’s complex, viewed from only a glimpse of them, out of context, without to borrow the inquiry theme ‘proper evidence’. And perhaps Birch is asking too much, spreading that challenge too thin on too little content. But the point more seems to be to make an audience think.
The themes Birch crams into his microcosm of the relationship are broad and complex. And in the hour running time can’t hope to be addressed adequately. And in the watching it is at times frustrating. There’s barely a breath between reference to accepting the gay couple in their friendship group and debating the press treatment of Muslims. But perhaps that’s the point. In our day to day conversations we don’t always pause for reasoned debate and analysis leaping from one ‘issue’ to another, because life and conversation doesn’t throw them at us in that manner. 


The real time nature of the conversation also creates and allows for this. If you took the hour-long conversation I had with my companion with in the bar afterwards, you wouldn’t find a neat analysis of every topic we covered- and in that we touched on employment, the NHS, marriage (not our own), the Labour Party and ‘actors my Mother would like me to Marry’. Granted not all of these are weighty topics, but over the course of that hour we dipped in and out of some ‘Big Ticket’ items, and in some barely paused on them either. They’re all swirling around in our consciousness as we exist in the world, even when they aren’t fully articulated, and that feels like what Birch is reaching for. Of course in a play, rather than a chat in the bar, an audience might need a little more articulation to feel satisfied. But as experiment in theatrical form, its arguably also a satisfying approach. 
As for the issues themselves, Birch doesn’t aim low. A little over halfway through his twist on the conversation that the driver of the bus was a Muslim immediately challenges and changes our perceptions of the preceding action. Was it predictable? perhaps if we’d thought a little about it in advance. But going in ‘cold’ the thought hadn’t crossed my mind, nor how the previous conversation between the characters was coloured by this. And what does that say of me as an audience member, and as a person? what does it say of someone else? Across this play, constantly I am drawn back to wanting to know my fellow audience member’s thoughts and reactions. And that act of judgement on their (potential) thoughts, feeds into exactly what Birch is getting at. 


Our playwrights are (rightly so) trying to address the state of the world as we find it. Tremor does that by looking at the state of the world from the point of view of how we react to it. Both through characters and his audiences. We may never know how the characters reacted next to what they’d been through, and what their reuniting stirred up. We might never know what our neighbour took away as a reaction to the play. But Birch is stirring up questions, and reactions through that conversation. And as much as his writing distills that from the bigger picture, into that microcosm of a relationship torn apart, so it’s also distilled into audiences, and what they might take away.

To Mob or Not to Mob?

After seeing the ‘immersive’ Julius Caesar at The Bridge theatre, I was inclined to reflect on the evangelical attitudes of some towards immersive work and the ‘correct’ way to experience theatre.

In one of several tweets about Julius Caesar at The Bridge theatre- all of which were positive, none of which were an in-depth review, given they were tweets- I made a comment about the use of the Mob.

My comment about the Mob itself is positive- and something I planned to expand on in this, my review. It creates great atmosphere, and as I’ll expand on, I think adds much to the story. But ‘You could not pay me to be down there’ is an expression of my personal preference- and aversion to such things. I say that, because I’m not fond of crowds and I’m even less fond of loud noises. Knowing both things played into the staging beforehand, I made a decision not to buy tickets for there. So far so sensible? After the event, observing that confirmed I would not have enjoyed it, and I made a comment to that end…while also praising that kind of staging for making it a great theatrical experience.

It’s not news that Twitter sometimes fails to grasp nuance. And many people replied to tell me I was ‘wrong’ and the Mob is indeed the best/only way to experience this play. Luckily for me 99% of these tweeters are reasonable people who then, when we engaged in discussion saw fully my point that yes! That experience is awesome no doubt! And it adds to the production! Which is awesome! But it’s also not for me!

Of course, this is twitter, and there’s always the 1% but back to that.

What the discussion led me to conclude is that in fact the best thing about this production is that it offers you a choice. A means to experience this semi-immersive production, even if being ‘immersed’ is not your thing. Staging ‘in the round’ with the stage/mob in the centre in the intimate setting of The Bridge allowed for still feeling ‘part’ of the action, and the effect of the action, without having to be in it.

And I think we need to be honest that immersive theatre, or certain styles of theatre aren’t for everyone. On the day I saw it, I’d been in London for 3 days in freezing cold and rain, I’d spent 8 hours locked in the Young Vic for The Inheritance, I’d slept on a Travelodge bed. I was with my 72-year-old Mother who had endured the same. Neither of us were in the mood for 2 hours of standing and being shoved about. However, from our perch at the back of the Gallery we loved watched the people be part of the mob, the effect it had on storytelling, and by default, the play.

Now I’m sure the people in the mob had a very different experience to myself. But to take one twitter argument thrown at me, and to flip it: is my experience watching from the gallery any less valid? I got to observe the actors fully, without worrying I was going to bash into someone, be bashed into or in this specific case fall over from exhaustion. I got to watch the whole ‘Picture’ at once, observing stage hands coming and going, observing the observers in the Mob. My experience was probably less ‘visceral’ than in the Mob, but I’d argue in being able to observe how that worked in staging, no less interesting a theatrical experience. Also, I still experienced the production, I was still to borrow from a musical over the river ‘In the room where it happened’. Just because my experience was different, doesn’t mean I didn’t experience it.

And I really do believe the ‘Mob’ staging adds something to the production. And perhaps as a professional nerd, and sometime scholar the observing of that was far more interesting to me. Watching how an audience behaves, observing how the audience as part of the production affects other people’s reaction is endlessly fascinating. But also, I just simply enjoyed the atmosphere it created. And it’s possible to do that, and not wish to be part of it. It’s also a valid, interesting take on the text itself. The baying crowds being physically present, in terms of a witnessing audience, rather than slightly bored ensemble. That’s a brilliant idea! The fact that audience members are engaged physically in the production, means they likely engage more emotionally, intellectually. Again- brilliant! The fact that the Mob creates this theatrical energy around a play that- let’s be honest can sometimes flag a bit in parts- makes this one of the best productions of Caesar I’ve seen. I love the mob, I love that Nick Hytner came up with both a venue and a staging that can do this to the play…I just don’t personally want to be a part of it.

People who love immersive theatre are sometimes a little too evangelical about it, and a little blind to those who don’t. I appreciate that it is a wonderful, possibly life changing experience to have a wonderful immersive experience. But perhaps for those who do, consider those extremes of emotion in reverse. What I and many others experience in the sector of ‘immersive’ theatre isn’t simply ‘mild dislike’ it’s often a scale of extreme discomfort to genuine fear. I can “do” Punchdrunk shows now because they have a set of “rules” that I feel comfortable with and a style I likewise am familiar with and can enjoy. The first time I saw one of their shows I very nearly didn’t go in and spent the first 15 minutes or so genuinely frightened. The Bridge production also has gained some criticism online for the manner in which it treats those in the Mob- comments about the rough handling of audience members, the way in which people are physically moved about- I can’t attest to any of that, but I do know it wouldn’t make me have a ‘fantastic’ experience, quite the opposite.

But the great thing about The Bridge’s choice of staging is that it gives the option. Immersive productions (fully or otherwise) are not the most inclusive of theatrical experiences. But by making this a production where audiences can ‘feel’ or ‘experience’ the benefit of the immersive aspect without having to take part.

Finally, though, in closing a note about how we talk about theatre. And of course, the Twitter 1%. My saying that ‘this style of audience is not for me’ does not in any way diminish the experience of people who do love it. I was told I was not allowed to ‘dismiss’ the immersive side of it having not experienced it. I’m not dismissing it, I’m (repeatedly) saying I think it was an integral and interesting part of the production. But I do not want to be a part of it. My opinion that I would not want that theatrical experience does not diminish or dismiss that experience for others. Had I hated the play or production itself, my opinion does not affect or change that of someone who felt the opposite. But equally while I should not (and was not) telling people their experience was ‘wrong’, I shouldn’t be taken to task for expressing my own opinion.

I’m also not claiming anything about an experience I did not have. Only an experience I did not wish to have. To mob or immerse or indeed to be interacted with at all by the actors is not for everyone. With all of these I can enjoy a production which includes these elements, I can appreciate what it brings to it. But personally, I like my actors on their own side of the fence.

Review: Unexploded Ordnances, a salute to history

Lois-Weaver

The prologue to the performance of Unexploded Ordnances is a ‘salute to history’ from Lois Weaver. It replaces the acknowledgement to indigenous peoples typically used in America and Canada – in Europe, they take a moment to acknowledge the history of the venue they are in. It is fitting also then to acknowledge the history, and resonance across the performance, of Split Britches themselves – formed in 1980 in New York City and working on feminist, lesbian identities.

More at Miro Magazine

To Mob or not to Mob?

Ok wrong play, but the point still stands.
In one of several tweets about Julius Caesar at The Bridge theatre- all of which were positive, none of which were an in-depth review, given they were tweets- I made a comment about the use of the Mob.
My comment about the Mob itself is positive- and something I planned to expand on in this, my review. It creates great atmosphere, and as I’ll expand on, I think adds much to the story. But ‘You could not pay me to be down there’ is an expression of my personal preference- and aversion to such things. I say that, because I’m not fond of crowds and I’m even less fond of loud noises. Knowing both things played into the staging beforehand, I made a decision not to buy tickets for there. So far so sensible? After the event, observing that confirmed I would not have enjoyed it, and I made a comment to that end…while also praising that kind of staging for making it a great theatrical experience.
It’s not news that Twitter sometimes fails to grasp nuance. And many people replied to tell me I was ‘wrong’ and the Mob is indeed the best/only way to experience this play. Luckily for me 99% of these tweeters are reasonable people who then, when we engaged in discussion saw fully my point that yes! That experience is awesome no doubt! And it adds to the production! Which is awesome! But it’s also not for me!
Of course, this is twitter, and there’s always the 1% but back to that.

What the discussion led me to conclude is that in fact the best thing about this production is that it offers you a choice. A means to experience this semi-immersive production, even if being ‘immersed’ is not your thing. Staging ‘in the round’ with the stage/mob in the centre in the intimate setting of The Bridge allowed for still feeling ‘part’ of the action, and the effect of the action, without having to be in it.

And I think we need to be honest that immersive theatre, or certain styles of theatre aren’t for everyone. On the day I saw it, I’d been in London for 3 days in freezing cold and rain, I’d spent 8 hours locked in the Young Vic for The Inheritance, I’d slept on a Travelodge bed. I was with my 72-year-old Mother who had endured the same. Neither of us were in the mood for 2 hours of standing and being shoved about. However, from our perch at the back of the Gallery we loved watched the people be part of the mob, the effect it had on storytelling, and by default, the play.

Now I’m sure the people in the mob had a very different experience to myself. But to take one twitter argument thrown at me, and to flip it: is my experience watching from the gallery any less valid? I got to observe the actors fully, without worrying I was going to bash into someone, be bashed into or in this specific case fall over from exhaustion. I got to watch the whole ‘Picture’ at once, observing stage hands coming and going, observing the observers in the Mob. My experience was probably less ‘visceral’ than in the Mob, but I’d argue in being able to observe how that worked in staging, no less interesting a theatrical experience. Also, I still experienced the production, I was still to borrow from a musical over the river ‘In the room where it happened’. Just because my experience was different, doesn’t mean I didn’t experience it.
And I really do believe the ‘Mob’ staging adds something to the production. And perhaps as a professional nerd, and sometime scholar the observing of that was far more interesting to me. Watching how an audience behaves, observing how the audience as part of the production affects other people’s reaction is endlessly fascinating. But also, I just simply enjoyed the atmosphere it created. And it’s possible to do that, and not wish to be part of it. It’s also a valid, interesting take on the text itself. The baying crowds being physically present, in terms of a witnessing audience, rather than slightly bored ensemble. That’s a brilliant idea! The fact that audience members are engaged physically in the production, means they likely engage more emotionally, intellectually. Again- brilliant! The fact that the Mob creates this theatrical energy around a play that- let’s be honest can sometimes flag a bit in parts- makes this one of the best productions of Caesar I’ve seen. I love the mob, I love that Nick Hytner came up with both a venue and a staging that can do this to the play…I just don’t personally want to be a part of it.

People who love immersive theatre are sometimes a little too evangelical about it, and a little blind to those who don’t. I appreciate that it is a wonderful, possibly life changing experience to have a wonderful immersive experience. But perhaps for those who do, consider those extremes of emotion in reverse. What I and many others experience in the sector of ‘immersive’ theatre isn’t simply ‘mild dislike’ it’s often a scale of extreme discomfort to genuine fear. I can “do” Punchdrunk shows now because they have a set of “rules” that I feel comfortable with and a style I likewise am familiar with and can enjoy. The first time I saw one of their shows I very nearly didn’t go in and spent the first 15 minutes or so genuinely frightened. The Bridge production also has gained some criticism online for the manner in which it treats those in the Mob- comments about the rough handling of audience members, the way in which people are physically moved about- I can’t attest to any of that, but I do know it wouldn’t make me have a ‘fantastic’ experience, quite the opposite.  

But the great thing about The Bridge’s choice of staging is that it gives the option. Immersive productions (fully or otherwise) are not the most inclusive of theatrical experiences. But by making this a production where audiences can ‘feel’ or ‘experience’ the benefit of the immersive aspect without having to take part.
Finally, though, in closing a note about how we talk about theatre. And of course, the Twitter 1%. My saying that ‘this style of audience is not for me’ does not in any way diminish the experience of people who do love it. I was told I was not allowed to ‘dismiss’ the immersive side of it having not experienced it. I’m not dismissing it, I’m (repeatedly) saying I think it was an integral and interesting part of the production. But I do not want to be a part of it. My opinion that I would not want that theatrical experience does not diminish or dismiss that experience for others. Had I hated the play or production itself, my opinion does not affect or change that of someone who felt the opposite. But equally while I should not (and was not) telling people their experience was ‘wrong’, I shouldn’t be taken to task for expressing my own opinion.
I’m also not claiming anything about an experience I did not have. Only an experience I did not wish to have. To mob or immerse or indeed to be interacted with at all by the actors is not for everyone. With all of these I can enjoy a production which includes these elements, I can appreciate what it brings to it. But personally, I like my actors on their own side of the fence.