“X” is set on a small research base on Pluto. Pluto’s distance from the Sun is 3.67 billion miles. Much like the planet itself, “X” relies on what you bring to it. It is both engrossing and alienating.
Written by Demi-God Alistair McDowall and directed by Vicky Featherstone with customary assurance, this production is incoherent, but looks good and is mostly well acted. Sure “X” is ambitious. Even startling. But too many plot points are left to the audience’s imagination without absolutely any explanation whatsoever.
Superb as the visuals are, I wish that Featherstone’s production paid more attention to McDowall’s language. Not much is made visually apprehensible.
I liked the huge dead bird on stage and the bird that was flown in – wonderful
opportunities for design and stage management. I didn’t enjoy quite so much
all that mum stuff at the end and the last moment when someone said the tree
was her mother(!).
Science fiction never announces its subtext this narcissistically. Still, it’s a smart response to the excesses of the sci-fi genre. Without wishing to baffle you, people are doing this shit because everything is fucked. Theatre needs to be instrumental in un-fucking everything.
But as is the way with these things, it’s hard to get a proper feel for a play like this on one viewing, but “X” feels like a genuine attempt to steal the currently vacant theatre throne, as well as being the kind of gloriously all over the shop play that you often get in 2016.
It seemed like a 6/10 event – slightly above average and, for that reason, an average McDowall play.
McDowall’s got talent but at the moment no very coherent way of presenting his ideas. We shall see how he moves forward.
Stewart has just won ‘Best Artistic Director’ at the Offie Awards.
Here’s the chat in which we hear all about how he juggles his role as an Artistic Director and a critic, as well as his favourite Annie Lennox song.
1. Congratulations on the Offie Award! 2015 was a very good year for ORL wasn’t it.
Thanks! I was delighted with the shows, yeah, though I don’t know how much credit I can take for them. We got to work with some fantastically ambitious and talented companies and artists, and really stretch the possibilities of that space, which has always been my hope for my time here.
Our literary department had sort of dwindled a bit over the past year, basically because I had my eyes on other things and probably didn’t give it the time it deserved, but then last year while he was directing Sparks at the space the brilliant Clive Judd offered his services. We’ve always talked a lot about new writing, and there are very few people whose taste or judgement I respect as much as Clive’s, so he’s assembled a new team of readers (who are all insanely talented and successful artists in their own right) and we’re really kicking things back off. We’re also looking at new and better ways we can facilitate the shows that come to us via that route making it onto the stage here. If you’re looking to get excellent feedback on your work, now is the time to send it in to us.
3. What are you most excited about this year?
Gosh, everything really. It’s hard to pick. I have a very personal relationship with Radioman, in a way, because I saw and loved and actually reviewed it when it had its first try-outs a year ago, so getting that here is a joy. But honestly, I’ve got so many amazing people coming in over the next few months, it’s not possible to pick a favourite. But I will say one thing, keep your eye out for Christmas. There is something extremely special and rare on the cards.
4. Do you believe in the phrase ‘give the public what they want’?
I don’t think so. I mean, does the public know what it wants? I’m a member of the public and I have absolutely no idea. I look to theatre, and fringe theatre in particular, to open me up to new possibilities.
5. Fair enough. Do you find that most of the people you meet in the world of theatre have quite bad taste?
No, I don’t think so. Most of the people I meet in the theatre world think very carefully about it because they love it, and they talk intelligently and passionately, so even if I don’t agree with them, I can usually appreciate how they feel about things. I mean there are some people like Quentin Letts who’re just sort of rivers of shit and broken shopping trolleys, but they’re few and far between. And actually I don’t think Letts is in the theatre world anyway, he’s in the troll-tertainment world, or whatever you call that.
6. How do you balance your role as an Artistic Director and Critic?
It’s a similar sort of job really. You go and see things and decide what you think about them, and engage with them and decide whether to pursue them, whether that means following that company’s work or trying to bring them in to the theatre. It’s all about getting out there, seeing the work, existing within an appreciative community. On a practical level it can be a little tricky just because there are only so many hours in the day (or rather the evening) but I just about get by.
7. What is your favourite song by Annie Lennox?
I like the cover of ‘Put a Little Love In Your Heart’ that she recorded with Al Green for the soundtrack to Scrooged, where Bill Murray is Scrooge and tries to staple antlers onto a mouse.
8. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss or address?
Maybe only to say how wonderfully supportive people have been since I started here. People like Matt Parker from the Hope just up the road, and David Byrne from the New Diorama just down the road, and Will Young and Ben Monks from the Tristan Bates: they’re worth their weight in gold. It can be a bit of a lonely job, this, in a way, so knowing that there are other people out there fighting the same kinds of fights and things like that, well that’s just very comforting. Islington AD’s unite, is what Matt always says, and I just think, well, that’s the spirit, isn’t it?
Camden People’s Theatre is a performance space in a former pub, with a dynamic programme supporting new writing and innovative productions.
I had a chat-slash-interview with Brian Logan, CTP’s Artistic Director.
Here’s how it unfolded…
1. Hello Brian. Camden’s People Theatre is very good isn’t it.
Hello Carl. Thanks for saying so. We try to be very good: I’m glad to hear you think we’re succeeding.
2. With the way the industry’s changing, do you worry about the future for unconventional theatre makers?
I don’t worry too much about the future of unconventional theatre-makers. I think today’s unconventional theatre-makers are tomorrow’s influential and often (by then) mainstream artists. I look around CPT at a generation of playful but dedicated innovators who’re more resourceful than my generation ever seemed to be, and they fill me mainly with hope. And delight.
I also think one of the most significant changes in the industry, or the culture, over the last decade has been the mainstream’s adoption of what used to feel like unconventional ways of doing things. The kind of leftfield, hyper-creative, non-hierarchical, bloody-minded theatre-making habits that CPT has always championed are now commonplace in organisations that used to be the sole preserve of, ahem, new writing and Oxbridge-educated directors. So to me it seems the stars are aligning nicely for people who make performance in unexpected ways.
I do worry, it’s true, about where in London these artists are going to live. I do worry about how they’ll support themselves – although we’re here to help with that in whatever way we can. But I also see plenty to be optimistic about.
3. Tell us about SPRINT Festival?
It’s London’s biggest and best established carnival of new and unusual theatre. It started in 1997 and this is its twentieth incarnation, which I think is pretty extraordinary. Unlike the other festivals we present at CPT, there’s no theme. It’s just a concentrated, adrenaline-charged shot of what we do year-round, which is support and present the most imaginative, provoking and unpredictable new theatre we can find, usually made by artists at the start of their careers, often engaged with critical questions about how we live now. The Sprint festival is always lively. It’s programmed as democratically as possible – we invite applications from as wide a range of artists as we can. Its shows burst out of our theatre space and into other nooks of our building, and beyond. Visit on any night and we hope you’ll leave with a quickened pulse and a vivid sense of what’s happening right now on theatre’s cutting edge.
As for this year’s Sprint in particular, it’s got a satisfying mix of CPT rookies, old friends, hard-hitting shows, playful diversions and lots else besides. We’ve got the award-winning Atresbandes with their new show Locus Amoenus, the cult Kings of England maverick Simon Bowes with Ding and Sich, and Conrad Murray – star of last year’s CPT hit No Milk for the Foxes – with his council estate-set hiphop theatre piece DenMarked. We’ve got the first ever performance of the winner of our inaugural People’s Theatre Award, Emily Lim and Gameshow’s Grown Up, we’ve got the five brand new projects emerging from our unique Starting Blocks artist support scheme and we have a whole new Sprint strand, called Freshers, showcasing new student and graduate work. So: it’s exciting, and way too sprawling to encapsulate here.
4. How would you describe your perspective on life?
I’ve never been asked nor ever considered an answer to that before. I think I have lots of different perspectives depending what aspect of life I’m currently engaging with. I hope I’m good-humoured, optimistic and egalitarian, but my family, colleagues and arch-enemies may well say otherwise.
5. Bloody hell. Your ambitious devised production ‘This Is Private Property’ was a bit of a fiasco. What are your thoughts on how it was received by critics?
I’m curious to know why you consider it a fiasco, Carl. Did you see it? It handsomely outstripped its box-office targets, engaged an audience who hadn’t been to CPT before, and – judging by our feedback forms and the cast’s conversations with those audiences – was very much appreciated by many of the people who saw it.
As for the reviews, I thought – as usual – that some of them were on the money, and with some of them, I strongly disagreed. Politically and in terms of their aesthetic assumptions. Obviously, we’d have loved everyone to like the show. But it wasn’t made to appeal to the cultural cognoscenti, it was made to engage with a wider audience, including those living at the sharp end of the housing crisis. Those are different constituencies with sometimes contrasting values and tastes. So – while nobody enjoys getting bad reviews – we were happy to get good reviews as well, and very pleased in general with how the production was received.
6. I didn’t see it sadly… What is your advice for emerging artists in their late 20s and early 30s?
It depends where they’re at in their career, what they’re working on, what kind of help (if any) they’re asking CPT for. We definitely don’t have a one-size-fits-all artist support thing happening here. Supporting artists is the most important thing we do here, and it’s very important to us that we tailor that support to what any given artist or company needs at a particular time.
7. What’s the best part of your job?
There’s lots that’s good about my job. Seeing great theatre (for free!). Being in a position to help super-smart and talented artists make their work – and being personally inspired & refreshed by their fearlessness and their new ways of seeing and doing things. Not having to travel at rush hour. Working with my fab colleagues Amber and Anna. The single best thing is the feeling of being at CPT on one of our buzzy festival nights, when the whole place crackles and hums with artists meeting audiences meeting artists, all having new conversations about significant things. And drinking, and feeling alive. It’s a thrill to feel that in some way we’ve helped make that happen.
8 Is there anything that you’d like redacted?
D’you mean from the answers above? Nope. Publish and be damned.
9. Bye bye (!)
And that, ladies and gents, is where our chat ended. Sprint Festival features adventurous theatre from across the UK and beyond and runs from Tuesday 2 – Saturday 26 March.
Theatre practitioner, writer and creative learning specialist