Can the British Still Make Radical Theatre?

This is one of the topics of a post-show discussion on the 10th November following Schlock!

It’s a question I was interested in some years ago, when the Guardian published an article entitled: Has British Theatre lost its nerve?

And I wrote a blog saying ‘British theatre has lost what little nerve it had’

George Hunka wrote on the topic too (I can’t find the piece anymore) and Aleks Sierz 

wondered if ‘the avant-garde is no longer in front of the action, but confined to the sidelines?’

A bit later lots of us got excited about Three Kingdoms and different (European) models of making theatre.

Since then I’ve not been so interested in the question, or perhaps I’m enjoying the sidelines. I still think the way we label work and writers has an impact on the impact the work can make. If I’m seen as a performance artist and/or poet then my work becomes pretty much irrelevant to a discussion about new writing. I’ve been kept busy over the last years partly because I’ve had more opportunities as a poet. Schlock! was commissioned by The Poetry Trust and premiered at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, and then toured to international literature rather than theatre festivals. In many ways it is more radical in that context – where people are expecting a poet behind a lectern reading from a book, and they get me reciting a load of lines with the word ‘pain’ in them in darkness with a loop station and a torch. At Aldeburgh people were walking out asking ‘but is it poetry?’ which is often an uninteresting question…. but I think the audience members who watched it through the lens of poetry got more from it. It is poetry. But it’s theatre too. It’s not a ‘spoken word show’. There aren’t individual ‘poems’ in it…but the whole thing is poetry.

The main problem with ‘radical theatre’ is that not many people see it. And so the people who make it get stuck making work for tiny spaces and tiny audiences…. actually I’d like a massive space and a massive audience. Next I’m going to have to ponder how to make radical theatre for huge audiences…. once I’m finished performing Schlock! at the very tiny but perfectly formed Rosemary Branch …


image by Tom de Freston for Schlock!
image by Tom de Freston for Schlock!

In the grand tradition of literary terrorism, Hannah Silva rips up her copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Surrounded by the crumpled pages she attempts to put the female body back together, rewiring the defunct language of erotica to investigate the final years of Kathy Acker — ‘high priestess of punk’. A journey through texts and voices pregnant with pleasure and pain, mothers and babies, domination and submission. In a performance as strange as it is beautiful, we discover there are no safe words.

A powerful and subversive new solo performance presented by Penned in the Margins.

A whip-smart, irresistibly seductive tour de force from the always astonishing Hannah Silva: a high-risk entanglement of limbs and lines, a restless toss-and-turn of tongue meeting text in the heat of strangeness and the dark heart of desire – Chris Goode

A remarkable piece, richly suggestive, enveloping and sensual but also smart and edgy enough to leave the odd papercut! – Maddy Costa

Free entry with a ticket to Schlock!
Thursday 10 November Can the British still make radical theatre? with Amber Massie-Blomfield
Tuesday 22 November What’s the point of feminist art? with Susannah Tresilian and Jude Kelly
Wednesday 23 November Would you ban, burn or re-write Fifty Shades of Grey? with Padraig Ready, Caroline Bird, & Katy Evans-Bush
Thursday 24 November Why would d/Deaf people want to see a hearing artist sign (badly)? with Raymond Antrobus
– Friday 25 November Winner takes all: what has the mainstream ever done for poetry? with Andrea Brady & Jack Underwood