Pros: Entertaining and provocative, this is a fantastic opportunity to hear the contrasting voices of twelve fabulous writers in one performance. Though the subject is central to all, the content of each play is varied and exciting.
Cons: The post show discussion didn’t focus on the plays presented, but that of course will vary with each performance.
Walking the Tightrope: The Tension Between Art and Politics is an exciting production of twelve new, short plays by acclaimed writers including Caryl Churchill, Mark Ravenhill, Neil LaBute and April De Angelis in response to recent events challenging the issues of freedom of expression in the arts. I have to admit, whilst I expected excellent writing (and wasn’t disappointed) I was also anticipating intense discourse and diatribe, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The twelve works are incredibly varied in their subject matter, interpretation and comment on the issue. Often light hearted and illuminating, sometimes cryptic and incisive, the writers infuse their own take on the commission, bouncing the audience through the unrelated scenes, charging the production with provocative energy. The cast competently flit between roles, bringing substance and voice to their varied characters. Thoughtful stage direction and audio tracks linking the performances keep the audience focussed on the subject matter in subtle yet seamless ways.
There isn’t enough time to cover the subject of each play in this review, and as the works are approximately five minutes long to do so would be the ultimate spoiler! What I will say is that they are small and perfectly formed, often humorous, sometimes provocative and challenging. Some common themes emerged, though, summed up very eloquently by a fellow audience member during the post-show discussion – how deep should ethics go when funding and supporting the arts, and do campaigners for liberal expression or ethics in the arts inadvertently become the oppressor by bullying the opinions and choices of artists and audiences?
These topics were touched on in the post-show discussion led by a panel which changes with each performance. I was looking forward to this particular part of the evening and was hoping to hear the audience’s responses to the work and the panel’s expansion on the subject. Whilst there was some interesting chat, the chair on this particular occasion focussed her attention heavily on the panel and the events in summer 2014 that inspired the production. The discussion then seemed to follow a tangent about police training and involvement in protecting the arts, and a strange comment from the audience questioning whether talking about freedom of speech was still relevant. Understandably, the unscripted parts of the evening cannot be anticipated but I did feel that the chair could have engaged the audience more directly on the work they had seen that evening as a catalyst for discussing the wider issues, rather than the other way round. I felt the work had been abandoned in that process (which I’m sure is not the intention) and I missed the opportunity to hear other people’s responses to it.
Theatre Delicatessen is a pop up theatre and creative space in the former offices of the Guardian newspaper. The theatre itself is a spacious room with a bar and casual seating at the rear, kept intimate by the just five or six rows of seating on three sides of the stage area. I really liked the atmosphere and the fact that the performance space and bar area are integral keeps the audience together before, during and after the show – which lends itself perfectly to this production.
Presented By: Offstage Theatre in association with Theatre Uncut
Artistic Director: Cressida Brown
Director: Cressida Brown and Kirsty Housley
Assistant Director: Grace Gummer
Production Manager and Lighting Designer: Richard Williamson
Sound Designer: Daniel Balfour
Producer: Ruby Glaskin
Booking Until: 1 February 2015
Booking Link: http://walkingthetightrope.brownpapertickets.com/