The Audience Through Time Conference

If you are academically inclined and are interested in theatre audiences, then please do take a look at the website for the up-and-coming conference on the audience through time, organised by myself and fellow PhD researcher Anna Kretschmer at Queen Mary, University of London.

We aim to create for scholars to discuss how have audiences changed through time.  Can contemporary theatre spectatorship inform how we understand audiences throughout history? How does historiographic research on audiences relate to present cultures of spectatorship? Using theatre as the core, but not only, focus of discussion, this conference will consider spectatorship across history.

For more information, please see http://theaudiencethroughtime.wordpress.com

Abusing the Audience: How Far is Too Far?

“It is better to provoke a reaction than none at all” – or so goes the old adage. But is this really the case? During the last week there has been a bit of a furore about Dave St-Pierre’s new offering at Sadler’s Wells. Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde! or A Little Bit of Tenderness For Fuck’s Sake (although some reviewers have given translated this as something a little more benign) has been causing controversy throughout the dance world.

The first I heard about this was a tweet from the Dance Critic Luke Jennings, who described his evening as ‘Vulgar, witless, repellent.’ Blogging for The Guardian, he explained further:

Further down my row a guy parts his arse cheeks to expose his anus to a visibly alarmed woman. Then he fixes on me, and tries to grab my pen and notebook. I hold on and he pulls my glasses from my face. Then deliberately, clearing his throat, he gobs phlegm all over the lenses, and with a sneer, hands them back to me.

I myself was not at any of last week’s performances, but by the sounds of other reviews (the Indie, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph) poor old Luke’s experience was, despite being the most grotesque, not the only bad one. There were a few who felt more positively (as here), but the fact remains that at one point during this performance one of the audience members was assaulted, which in the context of the street could be classed as a criminal offense, or at least something worthy of an ASBO.

Does the fact that this behaviour took place in a theatre auditorium, in front of an audience who paid up-front for the experience, mean that the performances can play havoc in such a way? A sort of theatrical diplomatic immunity to any offence caused? How far will this wild card take you?

Actively trying to provoke your audience is not new phenomenon of course. This piece is one in a long line of productions who have caused varying degrees of notoriety over the past century. It was the Naturalist theatre of the late nineteenth century (think Ibsen, Chekhov et al) which incited a variety of new-wave theatre experimentalists to use their audiences in a different way. Naturalist theatre, it was argues, did not need any input from the audience at all: audience members could snooze off in the stalls and this would not be to the detriment of the production. It reaffirmed the dominant ideology of the state, reproducing it in the theatre. If the stage was reproducing, as closely as it could, ‘real life’ outside, what was the point of it at all?

The Futurists are one of the many groups who decided to make a difference. Filippo Marinetti’s ‘The Variety Theatre’ manifesto of 1913 advocated the ‘the use of itching and sneezing powders, coating some of the auditorium seats with glue, provoking fights and disturbances by selling the same seat to two or more people’. They wanted to take the spirit of variety and cabaret theatre into the more conservative upper-class theatre spaces. The painting to the left is a fellow Futurist Severini’s work which literally puts the audience at the centre of the picture: here he paints a Parisian cabaret act. Audience members are virtually indistinguishable from the performers themselves, everyone is involved with the flurry and movement of the scene. The Futurist’s artistic aspirations did, however, have explicit political motivations behind them. Staunch Fascists, their manifestos celebrated the new-found brute force of Italy, its masculine strength and modern technical prowess at the expense of anyone lesser-equipped to match it. Attacking their audience meant to some degree politicising them, aggravating them into a state of powerful momentum and force.

But what could St-Pierre want from this close encounter with his audience? Spectators at the theatre are no longer expected to sit through endless productions which conform ideologically to the present governments view of what should occur: productions can openly question, undermine, rethink through the way we live our lives and positions in society. As Michael Billington highlights in his book ‘The State of the Nation’, the Blairite government actually subsidised theatre through the Arts Council that often critiqued the Blair government, and questioned its morals and decisions.

St-Pierre may be wanting to break the taboo of nudity and physical proximity by the onslaught of naked bodies into the audience but surely there is a more ethical and intelligent way of doing this than subjecting your audience to abuse? I suspect that to a number of the audience members this kind of social critique was not new – did he take into account he may be preaching to the converted?

The experience of Luke Jennings and the rest of the audience seems worlds away from my other recent experience of nudity and physical proximity, Adrian Howell’s The Pleasure of Being: Washing, Feeding, Holding, which I blogged about a while ago. I was asked to read through a short document about the exprience I was to go through before I went into the room, and at all times Adrian make clear that I could say it was all too much if I needed to.

If we are to respect the performance, the audience needs to be likewise respected. There is a level of trust which performer and audience member enter in at the beginning of the performance: play with this as you wish, willingly humiliating or hurting someone will break this trust and ruin any ‘point’ which the performance is trying to make.

Tweeting at the Theatre? Really?

Mobile Phones are usually seen as a taboo object at the theatre.  Increasingly theatre auditoriums have come up with ways to warn us about the disruption they cause.  At the moment just echoing a ring-tone around the auditorium, as they do in the cinema, generally gets the message across.  One of the most ingenious examples of this recently was at the Coliseum, where the first percussionist politely played his xylophone to the tune of a well-known and unbelievably annoying ring-tone.    Everyone gets the point: don’t let your phone disrupt the production.

But increasingly as modern technology develops, and more and more of the population are welded to the latest must-have handset, mobile phones and live media devices are hard to escape.  Front line avant-garde theatre troupes have found brilliantly creative ways to interweave modern networking into their practice.  Coney is the obvious example: they build their moving and quirky productions through texts, phone calls and emails with their ‘audience’.  Famously shrouded in mystery, they use the anonymity of cyber space to subversively create real-life connections.  To say anymore about this would undermine their craft: check them out, they are fantastic.

But what of the more traditional theatre companies, which primarily rely on a quiet and seated audience to experience their work?  The clever people at Theatre Royal Stratford East have become the first of such companies to develop a strategy to embrace fast paced modern communication: unveiling a ‘tweetzone‘.  Basically, audience members who are seated in their upper circle of the auditorium will have access to free WiFi so they can tweet away their thoughts and feelings in real-time.  I’m intrigued.

Stratford East has a long and prestigious history of reaching out to its surrounding communities and audience. Their artistic director from 1953 Joan Littlewood, and her left-wing troupe the Theatre Workshop,  is the stuff of theatre legend; they lived commune-style due to the lack of funding in order to create ground breaking new work.   It was Joan who first directed  Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children in Britain in 1955, and helped develop and champion what is now termed ‘Theatre in Education’ with the Stratford local community.  Stratford East, in the unveiling of their new twitter scheme, directly reference Joan Littlewood: this scheme aims to give a power and a voice to the community watching the action on stage that usually sits in silence.

But how far can an audience have a useful discussion about the work on stage using just 140 letters per tweet, and doing this all whilst the stage action itself is happening?  My most recent experience of tweeting and theatre came last week, when the BBC televised The Royal Ballet’s recent production Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandI took part in a ‘live-tweet’ along to get a feel for the experience, using the hash-tag #aliceintwitterland.

Despite having seen this ballet in rehearsal and on the stage I still found it difficult to balance my gaze between the television and my computer screen.  Theatre on TV does give you an added advantage in this respect: the camera directs you to the action rather than having to decide yourself what to concentrate on, yet still it was difficult to follow.  Some of the best parts of the ballet, including most of Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole, were lost to me as I was tap-tapping away at my tweets.  The unadulterated gaze of the spectator, usually taken as a given, was not present in those who were tweeting along to the performance.

Much of the tweeting between people descended into general cooing over the prettiness of the piece.  Criticism or questions were rarer, but when raised did promote some conversations between certain people.  But tweeting does capture fleeting thoughts which can be lost in analysis of after-show talk.  I found it hard to articulate a lot of my thoughts in the small space required, and really felt like wanting a longer chat in person with the people I was tweeting with at the end of the show.  And critiquing work during the show can lead to some other tricky questions: surely you must see the piece as a whole to respond to it effectively?  Does this time pressure encourage snappy articulate thinking or limit thought-out response? Usually I do not try to articulate a response to a production until hours, sometimes days or weeks, after I have seen it.   It asks you to think about the production, react and articulate, which can be immensely empowering but also can completely undermine the concentrated emotional effect during the piece.

What worked best for Alice was when the choreography referenced other ballets: there was a flutter of tweets which remarked on the parallels with The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet and The Sleeping Beauty.  Some of the referencing I hadn’t spotted and it was really interesting pick up on this during the performance itself rather than in retrospect.

Useful to producers will be the overarching trends which the twitter feeds may reveal.  ‘Worm-polling’ has recently become popular in politics to chart the ups and downs of audience reactions in real-time throughout a speech or debate, and in many ways this is theatre replicating the system.  Tweeting exposes exactly what parts of the production are best-received or worst-received.  But the fact that all tweeters can see the reactions of others in real-time too could inevitably skew reactions.

Tweeting live in the auditorium at Stratford will no doubt be a different experience to tweeting in front of the TV screen. I wonder if the dramaturgical decisions in the up-coming productions will take into account this potential change of concentration in their audience.  This brings into play some fascinating questions: can a production be ‘understood’ if your nose is buried elsewhere at key moments?  Does this matter?  Is there inherent meaning in a production anyway, or is meaning necessarily constructed by the onlooker? Will real-time interaction between audience members add depth to the experience?  More worryingly, if the tweeting is resolutely negative, the on-stage team would be able to see in real-time this information. But unlike printed reviews tweeting is fleeting: gone in a moment, unlikely to have a very long life expectancy unless it is particularly pertinent to the wider tweeting population.

I can’t wait to see how this system is received , how it informs the productions produced, and the wider policy of Stratford East.  Thinking back to Joan Littlewood’s legacy, there is something slightly Brechtian about the new scheme.  Could Twitter help move the audience towards a state like that termed the alienation effect / Verfremdungseffekt by Brecht?  The effect “which prevents the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor, and which consequently leads the audience to be a consciously critical observer.” (Brecht on Theatre, ed. and trans. John Willett (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964) 91.)  Of course, a consciously critical observer for Brecht was a specifically socialist critical observer, whereas I suspect that Twitter feeds, like the blog-o-sphere in general, will be flooded with an array of observant reactions with a plethora of political leanings and interpretations.  Whatever, Stratford East should be proud of their new scheme.  It allows experimentation without disruption to the majority of the auditorium, and will create some fascinating insights into contemporary theatre spectatorship.  See you at the tweetdeck!

Nazis and Latvian Politics: Remembrance Day at The Royal Court Theatre

A band of merry playgoers from ATC HQ were lucky enough to catch Remembrance Day at The Royal Court last weekend.  The play in question is part of the international playwrights’ season at in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, and centres on – wait for it – the politics of Latvia.  Possibly not the most promising of subjects on the face of it.  Too often have I seen productions which produce a notion of ‘political’ which seems biased, heavy-handed, obtuse or in worst cases just plain dull.  Take the National Theatre’s recent production of Büchner’s Danton’s Death, centering on the French Revolution’s year of terror in 1794It was strong in design and sense of place, but the script itself, translated by a usually top-notch Howard Brenton, was cut-down to its bare bones.  It focused the action exclusively on the main protagonists, removing the public scenes of the original text: the huge Olivier stage felt empty and underused.  It was all rather wordy and sombre.

But not so in the case of Remembrance Day.  The script focuses on a Russian-Latvian family living in a tower-block, next door to the ailing grandfather of the family who fought against the Nazis on behalf of Russia in the second world war.  Down the corridor from this family lives another ailing old man – but this time a Latvian one – who fought against the Russians during the war. It is a little know fact, and quite a shocking one, that the Latvian people joined forces with the Nazis in the war to fend off the Russians.  Their allegiance was formed in a desperate attempt to defend their home land rather than because of connection with Nazi propaganda, never-the-less the idea still remains a potentially chilling one.  The ‘Remembrance Day’ of the title refers to the (now abolished) annual festival day when the Latvian Legion commemorates their history. 

What is so expertly handled in Michael Longhurt’s play, written by Aleksey Scherbak, is the delicacy with which these issues are explored, without feeling in any way sensationalised.  The play is finely translated into English by Rory Mullarkey, and the set design and very British actors play the family scenes as if they come from a contemporary home anywhere in the UK.  This makes for an uncanny feeling of familiarity with the family.  Indeed, if you were not aware of the setting, the fact that these people are actually speaking Russian and live in Latvia would not be apparent until further along in the play when the brother runs off to do his English homework.  The political argument between the radical pro-Russian faction and the more liberal view is played out in this domestic relationship between daughter and her father.  The father is equally concerned with his daughter’s possible sexual relationship with the radical political group leader as he is with her hard-line political stance against the Latvian celebrations.  This is a recognisable exploration of family dynamics as much as it is a subtle exposition on contemporary politics.  The familiarity this creates between audience and stage is the strength of this production.

This dramaturgical technique of exploring the foreign with the known, understood and personal cuts at the heart of the political issues it explores.  The Latvian and Russian-Latvian factions, it argues, are just two communities who are essentially very similar: German allegiance was a lamentable past occurrence but should be forgiven and moved past in the present situation.  The audience is cleverly maneuvered to replay and reinforce this argument by the intimate connection they are invited to have with the foreign family they watch on stage.  The beautiful set design (well done Tom Scutt)reinforces this equality: the kitchen table, centre of the domestic world, acts as table for both the Russian-Latvian family and their Latvian neighbour, who takes part in the Remembrance Day celebration in full Waffen SS garb. 

The pivotal moment, beautifully designed and played, comes at the centre of the play as the leader of the Latvian movement, and the leader of the Russian-Latvian opposition movement, meet and shake hands in the corridor of the tower block as they are making their visits to local residents.  As they walk on stage from either end they look almost identical in costume and mannerisms.  They walk towards each other, and one expects a political show down between the two.  But in actual fact they jovially discuss the best printing companies to get cheap pamphlets made, and their various domestic situations.  These two men are playing the political game but do not actually feel any real hatred to each other.  Shocking as it is, the production makes the point that this antagonism between the two sides is revved up by self-interest as much as political beliefs. 

Rory Mullarkey and ACT@ATC

This production was beautifully presented and sensitively produced.  But even it cannot escape the political problems it so articulately discusses.  We took our group ACT@ATC to talk to Rory Mullarkey who translated the play.  He said that in some areas of the Latvian press there is a strong distrust of the play, and some voices have suggested that it is creating a biased image of Latvia to the English.  A warning that these issues are still very much alive: and one which is perhaps echoed in the play’s resolution.  The daughter Anya, brilliantly portrayed by Ruby Bentall, finally discovers that even the leader of her own party does not feel as ardently as she does about Russian-Latvian politics.  She is left taking the situation into her own hands, loading up her grandfather’s gun from the second world war.  Her journey towards fundamentalism is complete.  The play begs understanding and maturity on both sides of the political debate, but does not create such an easy resolution in its own conclusion.  It’s a haunting piece of work which will stay with you for a long time.

Vietnamese delights at Loong Kee Restaurant

Our blurb for the up-coming tour of The Golden Dragon reads as follows:

On a typical evening, anywhere in Europe, you walk into your local Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant, and the whole world is there. Everyone connected to everyone else, through this one place…

The Golden Dragon is a funny and theatrical fable of modern life and migration, whisking you from your local takeaway to East Asia and back, revealing what really goes into that bowl of spicy soup.

So the natural thing was to take a trip to a restaurant in the name of research.  The cast and company took a little jaunt yesterday to the rather delicious Loong Kee Vietnamese restaurant in Bethnal Green, where our publicity photo for the production was taken. 

Choosing publicity shots and marketing for any new production is always challenging, as invariably the show will not have started rehearsals yet, and the design and look of the show gets finalised much later on in the production process.  So you are in a sense ‘working blind’: there is a need to recreate the vision the production team articulate about the show, without making it too stylised.  There is a real risk of creating something which ends up being out of tone with the final production.   There are also a number of practical issues you need to consider, such as the placement of text on the picture, and whether your information and logos will fit around the images chosen etc etc.  It’s a tricky business.

Ramin sent ATC HQ out to take photographs of restaurants in the local area to see if we could find inspiration.  Kendall (O’Neill), our Administrator and Events Manager, came up with the winning shot to the left.  Despite having no people within shot, there is a sense of dynamism: the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. 

Our publicity image is perfect for the show, but cannot begin to capture the feeling of the kitchen at its busiest.  The staff at Loong Kee kindly let the whole team into the kitchen and watch their preparations as they opened up for the evening.  The actors were quick to respond to the sensory experiences of being in the kitchen: the noise, the heat and the feel of the floor beneath your feet.  Also fascinating was the way in which the movements of the chefs were choreographed. Behind the main cooking area were rows and rows of different spices, herbs and ingredients.  Apparently the placement of these items is fixed, so the chefs can reach behind and grab what they need while cooking without event looking.  The whole kitchen had a structure and rhythm to its process which was beautiful to watch.  We took a few videos of people’s immediate reactions to the space, which will be put up on the ATC website soon.

So rather than the design and layout of the kitchen, it was the movement and feel of the space which was of particular inspiration to the cast.  And these reactions seem to marry well with the representation of location in The Golden Dragon itself.  The stage location is something intangible: not a specific restaurant, but a ‘Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant’ which is only recognisable by its anonymity.   The play’s themes explore the way stories and locations are intimately connected, despite geographical and cultural distance.  Location, as well as characterisation, is mutable and ever-changing.  This sophisticated and playful use of location echoes the structure of the stories being told within the play.  Without giving too much away about the script, (this production will be the English premiere and the first performance of the play in English, ably translated by David Tushingham), there is a continual dialectic going on between global and local issues.  The play’s location spins across the world whilst at all times being confined to the stage space.

As one blogger describes here, the food was scrumptious.  As a non-meat eater, I do tend to judge restaurants on the quality of their vegetarian options, and here the tofu they cooked for me was melt-in-the-mouth.  And somehow it tasted even better knowing that Jack (Tarlton) had watched and also got involved with the cooking of the mini-feast we all enjoyed.  Here’s to a few more research trips of this sort …

The Royal Ballet Creates at the Apple Store

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan has been pulled apart by film critics and balletomanes alike.  And now me.  I only want to state that after working for The Royal Ballet for four years not once did I see a Portmanesque fall into insanity and feathers: all the dancers I know are pretty down to earth people.  But Black Swan isn’t trying to educate or inform about the ballet world.  It is a psychological thriller which is particularly notable for its depiction of physical pain, which had cinema viewers (including me) over the country clutching their hands, backs and arms in empathy.  A world away from the majority of modern films which seem to sidestep real pain in violent scenes, or sensationalise it so much that the audience can find it hard connect to the images on the screen. 

Black Swan leads the viewer through Nina’s (Portman’s character) sadomasochistic descent into psychosis, a technique which necessitates the deletion of any other character’s point of view or levelling objective input into her experiences.  Nina begins to see her own image everywhere: moving in the ballet mirror, on the subway, even in her own bed.  The film necessarily edits out the collaborative nature of the creation of ballet to create its psychological edge. 

I loved Black Swan, but if you want to get a feel for what is going on in the modern ballet world then you need to look elsewhere.  That’s why I enjoyed The Royal Ballet’s choreographic creation at its next door neighbour, the Apple Store, this Saturday.  The art of ballet and its collaborative ethos was set against the backdrop of the Apple Store, a company which has spearheaded modern interactive technology and digital collaborative enterprise.  The group from the Royal Opera House, led by Royal Ballet dancer and choreographer Kristen McNally, used the audience’s input to create a new ballet to the music of Kanye West’s new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  With a little help too from an iPad, where audience members could draw pictures to inspire the choreography, and a live twitter feed for audience members to write the responses to the work in real-time, the team worked all afternoon to put together the new piece.  Dancers Thomas Whitehead, Ryoichi Hirano, Jonathan Watkins, Yasmine Naghdi and Jacqueline Clark did some fantastic work, culminating in a demo of all the choreography created.  Ballet was shown to be, at its heart, a collaborative art form responding organically to its setting.  

Ballet is not just some re-creation of centuries old choreography and tradition but something reactive and responsive to the here and now.  In direct opposition to the presentation of a ballet-enclave in Black Swan, here the public could see how the contemporary world can be mirrored and explored through its physical movement.  You could literally see the ballet expand and evolve before your eyes.  

And instead of the palatial setting of the Royal Opera House, where it is often hard to catch the facial expressions of the dancers, here you could watch up close as the group descended into fits of giggles as a step went slightly wrong or someone moved into the wrong position, or hear their exhausted gasps when performing a particularly difficult move.  Far from Nina in Black Swan, these were real people engaging and engaged with the people around them in the creation of something new. The technical expertise and the real effort of the dancers could be seen up close and personal, in a welcoming down-to-earth way. 

For any art form to survive and stay valid in the contemporary world it must keep apace with society’s movements.  This event showed to a new audience that ballet is able to do just that.  In amongst its iPad 2s and iPhone 4s, the Apple Store creates a tangible sense of regeneration, sophistication and technical prowess.  And this dynamism is what Kristen and The Royal Ballet managed to capture using their own art form, too often misunderstood and condemned for not keeping up with modern times.  The Royal Ballet is not necessarily what you think …

The One-on-One Festival at BAC

Battersea Art Centre’s doors were flung back again this month for their one-on-one festival, giving you the chance, in the words of their steamy brochure, to ‘fill up on 3 delicious courses of intimate theatre’.

I’d heard much from people who work at BAC and friends who had participated in these kind of events before and was completely intrigued by the concept.  One-on-one theatre apparently questions the boundaries between the performer and spectator in a way which more traditional productions cannot do.

So in the name of research I decided to opt for a menu which involved the most challenging experience I could find: and that was how I found myself sitting in a warm bubble bath strewn with rose petals, surrounded by the glittering light of about 50 tea lights, being bathed, held and finally fed by a middle-man who I had only met when I walked into the bathroom.  And all with the express consent of my boyfriend.  The man in question was Adrian Howells,  performance artist and scholar, whose now-notorious work has been the chatter of both the academic community and the professional theatrical world.

I had opted to take part in The Pleasure of Being: Washing, Feeding, Holding.  You are told that you will be bathed, fed and held in a long embrace by Howells, and that nudity is optional: I decided to keep my bikini firmly on during the event; this was a social boundary which I was not yet ready to cross. Promoted as his ‘most challenging work to date’, it seemed to me to strike at the heart of what people both love and loathe about this new genre of performance art.  Lyn Gardner succinctly puts the debate as follows: ‘At their best, these plays can be exhilarating; at worst, they are emotional porn.’

What I found during my experience with Howells was rather unexpected and, it seems, fell into neither of the two categories above.   The first half of the event, my bath, felt strangely unchallenging and in fact a welcome time to relax out of the hustle and bustle of the rest of the BAC events.  Asked to lie down in the water, Howells sprinkles water over you and then begins to massage and clean your skin, from you face and ears, down to your feet (your genital region is of course, as is explained in a short letter before you enter, not touched).  These sensations, to me, were no different from being massaged or being washed and cleaned in a Hamman.  A monetary transaction had taken place and Howells was performing the task we assigned, with a care and diligence I would expect.

So far, so unchallenged.  But this lead me to question my own reaction.  Should I be feeling challenged?  Should I feel awkward?  Should I be responding more warmly to his touches?  Everyone who I told about this event to remarked that I was brave to undertake it.  But I felt very comfortable.

But during the second half of the experience I felt quite differently.   Howells asked me to remove my bikini and put on a large white dressing gown, all behind a small screen.  He sat down with his legs outstretched at the side of the bath and invited me to by cradled by him on his lap.  I acquiesced quietly and sat down.  He pulled my head into his chest and we sat together in a long embrace.  At intervals he asked me to open my mouth to receive squares of white chocolate, which I had noticed to the side of him when I came in.

To be bathed by a stranger is one thing, to be held in an embrace, which to me signifies strong intimacy and love, is quite another.  I froze as Howells pulled me into his chest.  Half of my consciousness was busily linking our positioning with the pieta, searching for some kind of artistic meaning within the work to interpret and externalise the experience.  But this was to no avail: at the same time I was rigid with anxiety, recoiling from this position.  Yet I did not end the embrace because, if I am being truthful, I did not want to reject a man who was opening up so physically to me and by this action potentially destroy the event he had created.  Howells makes it clear that at any point you can end the arrangement, and yet somewhere within me my wish to appease him overrode my own feelings of anxiety.  Like sitting on the orthodontist’s chair, I decided give myself up to this uncomfortable sensation with the promise that it would end in a matter of minutes, and would be to my longer-term benefit: in this case, for my writing and research.

I left the bathroom feeling a little relieved, but overall calm and desperately intrigued to talk to Adrian about what other reactions he has had with this new piece.  Anything provocative?  Anything outrageous?  Whilst my academic study is informed by looking at these kinds of questions, I have to be honest and admit that my primary reason for wanting to know about other’s experiences was to be able to compare myself to them, as if to check that my reaction had been a ‘normal’ one or not.

And here I get to the crux of what I find interesting about the concept of one-on-one theatre, and particularly this piece.  The point for me was not the selling if intimacy, or cheap thrills to recount down the pub at a later date.  Here as a person I was completely alone, having willingly opened myself up to an abnormal encounter with a complete stranger.  My lack of reaction to the bathing experience, and frozen one to that of our caressing, was only half of the experience.  What I found was that during the experience and after it, I was constantly considering my reactions in the light of what other people may have done in that situation.  I wanted to know whether my behaviour and reactions, (although witnessed by no-one but Howells,) were echoed in the reactions of other participants in this event.

Research into group theory and dynamics is an area which I hope to become better acquainted through the course of my research, but it is a well-known fact that people’s physical reactions to stimuli can be predicated on the reactions of those around them as much as what they instinctively feel themselves.  The Milgram experiment still shocks people in the way it shows how humans can effectively switch off their ethical compass under the weight of authority: expectation of their role and duty outweighs their instinctual reactions.  In the recent production Greenland, which has just finished showing at the Olivier at the National Theatre, the first narrator likens the populations mass denial about global warming with the fable about a group of people in a room filling with smoke, where no one reacts to it as they are judging their responses on the others in the room.

In my one-on-one experience I had no way of knowing other people’s reactions to the experience, there was no precedent to follow.  To end the embrace with Adrian, I effectively had to be that person who awkwardly first claps at the end of a performance, hoping they have judged the moment right, or even the person who stands up and walks out the auditorium, rejecting the performance.  Adrian’s calm, collected demeanour gave nothing away.  If he felt my unease in the embrace he did no admit it.  I came face to face with the fact that in my physical response to the experience, and to some degree through the intensity of my emotional response, I was looking for a validation or authority to check myself against.  And during this event this is exactly what you do not get: and why, for me, it is a worthy experience to have gone through.