After our last work-in-progress at New Perspectives, here are some final reflections on the work-in-progress so far and some audience feedback. We are now planning the next stages of the process and will be showing the finished piece later in the year. Our thanks to project partners and supporters, S.H.E.D, Nottingham Playhouse, New Perspectives and Lincoln Performing Arts Centre.
Image: Simon Burrows
In A Writer of Our Time: The Life and Work of John Berger, Joshua Sperling mentions that John Berger and his work can be characterised as ‘espousing an aesthetic of radical hospitality’ (Sperling 2018, 14). I have been thinking about this in relation to our work adapting / exploring / staging A Seventh Man and how we also shared this aesthetic. Much of the audience feedback talked about how it felt to be ‘immersed’ in the story or to feel the proximity of other audience members and performers in a confined and intimate space. As we showed it in different contexts, we tested out this proximity by having different audience numbers e.g. eight people in Lincoln, ten people in Nottingham Playhouse and seven people at New Perspectives. Counting the three performers this meant there was anything between ten and 13 people inside the shed at any one time.
Image: Michael Pinchbeck
One of the discoveries we made by watching early GoPro Footage of the performance filmed from a corner of the S.H.E.D was how uncomfortable some of the audience members looked holding onto their suitcases sitting next to each other. We made the decision as a result of this to remove the suitcases during the show and they were passed out of the hatch at three different moments to me and Ollie. On a train. At a train station. In the barracks. When the authorities try to remove the suitcases in a later scene, we used a siren on a megaphone to add to the tension before throwing the removed suitcases onto the roof. The dull thud of each case landing above their heads also unsettled the audience. Yet at other times, an aesthetic of radical hospitality could be seen in the way we shared photos, bread, stories, eye contact, moments of stillness and silence. The pauses were as important as the interruptive shocks. A nod during the card scene. A knowing look when a cross is drawn in chalk above heads during the medical routine – meaning they had failed the test.
Image: Michael Pinchbeck
I am writing this at an extraordinary time. When we were showing A Seventh Man at New Perspectives, the theatre company were starting to make contingency plans of their own for the forthcoming uncertainty, hand towel dispensers were being installed and there was talk of us not sharing bread as we had done at previous work in progress performances. Now we are approaching a lockdown of some sort and any future plans we have for the show are on hold. When Berger wrote about the life of the migrant worker, ‘it is unprecedented, but it is already normal’ he inadvertently describes how it feels now. The ‘unprecedented’ is the new normal and one of the performers sends a message today to say they keep hearing the word used in news reports. A word we had to check how to say being said every day. For the time being, I am thinking about Berger’s ‘aesthetic of radical hospitality’ and what that might look like in lockdown. How might we tell our story or share what we have made online. With that in mind, when we have edited footage of A Seventh Man, it will be shown here. For now, here is an excerpt of the work-in-progress at Nottingham Playhouse featuring our three performers, Gabrielle Benna, Emily Bickerdike and Olwen Davies. Thanks to the creative team for all their input including Matthew Cooper (Sound), Adam York Gregory (Video), Simon Burrows (Set Design & Build) and Natalia Piotrowska and Emily Cook (Dramaturgs).