To be or not to be absurd: the existential question of Amedee

contributed by Emil Toescu, LANS team

Amédée, you are the artist: highfalutin with words, working with them, spontaneously. But unable to string them on paper when it matters, but you try.

She’s telling you – she will divorce! Amédée, in all this time, you did no do a thing about it! You just let it grow.

Oh, this antipathy, this pathetic antipathy, la-di-da, like corn is born when thrown, you see!

Amédée, you need to do something about it, you need to overcome these growths, they flourish everywhere, and they might be poisonous, they might be toxic, they might be delirious – they grow and it grows, its nails and hair, all certainly in geometric fashion. Bring on science, bring on numbers, so that we have an understanding: 6 cm in the last hour or so -we do have some control now!

Over Vitebsk Marc Chagall

Another flying man – this one depicted by Marc Chagall

It started in the bedroom: the lover, or the corpse, the baby?, a positive or a negative – depends on the point of view, but both and all expressions of a missing…

Amédée, she is going to divorce you, if you don’t do anything about it! – and if you do? Well, Amédée, then you are going to go, with it, with the relation, with the corpse. She had enough of cleaning and brushing, Amédée, and you’ll be floating, up and free, dead or alive – it’s all just a matter of a point of view.

Whatever you feel it is a right description for this case, Eugene! – we’ll drink to that, us all, la-di-da, with the patophysician on duty near the hatstand.

And the clock eventually stops, the moon shines – it don’t mean a thing even if it got that swing…

(it’s all about this Amedee)

Banff Mountain Film Festival experience

Contributed by Lizzie Slattery, LANS Y2 student

On Saturday 4th March, LANS went to the Banff Mountain Film Festival on tour in the Birmingham Town Hall. It was quite unlike any other LANS trip we’ve been on before and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The event consisted of the screening of seven short documentary films which had been selected from those shown at the 2016 Banff Mountain Film Festival. Below I’ve given a brief comment on my three favourite and one least favourite films…

  1. Doing it Scared–  Filmmakers: Catherine Pettman (trailer)

A short film about a British climber Paul Pritchard completing a very personal challenge. Eighteen years before the filming of the documentary, while climbing the Totem pole in Tasmania, Paul’s rope dislodged a rock above him which fell, hitting his head and leaving him partially paralysed. Following this man on his personal journey and the way that his disability has become something which he immensely values as having taught him valuable lessons in his life. It was an unexpected and interesting outlook on a catastrophic accident which radically changed his life. I was interested in the way he talked about being far more scared on his second ascent, not principally because of his disability but rather because he said he had so much more to lose than when he was younger.

  1. Dream Ride– Juicy Studios; Filmmakers: Lacy Kemp and Ryan Gibb (check it here)

My least favourite of the films, this followed a mountain biker through several North American landscapes. While the footage of the biking and landscapes was stunning, the accompanying poetry was less than. Filled with clichés at every turn, I felt that if the writer had been less concerned with rhyming and more with meaning, he might have produced some more interesting poetry.

  1. La Liste (a 47 min version of the film here, from the RedBull site)

A young French skier Jérémie Heitz undertakes the challenge of skiing 15 of the steepest peaks in the Alps in two ski seasons. A fast paced and gripping film, with Heitz skiing some 4000 metre peaks which look completely vertical. The cinematography is beautiful with some stunning aerial footage of the Alps.

  1. Mira (check further details here)

This was my favourite film, it followed the journey of a young Nepali girl named Mira Rai from her humble beginnings in rural Nepal to becoming a world class trail runner. Her incredible determination, spirit and belief in her own ability were astonishing to watch. I didn’t even know it was humanly possible to run over 110 kilometres through mountainous regions and all weathers. Mira’s tough upbringing in the mountains of Nepal prepared her for future career as a trail runner and gave her an amazing outlook on life. I was struck by her incredible calm and positivity throughout her journey.

Leviathan, you creature of the seas…

contributed by Cassidy Locke, LANS Y2

When I went to see Leviathan at the MAC last Friday, all I knew was that it was a contemporary dance piece based on the story of Moby Dick.  It sounded intriguing enough, despite the fact that I was having trouble remembering the basic storyline of Herman Melville’s classic novel, having never read it.  I had seen the film, years ago, but all I could remember was a vague impression of a crazed sea-captain of a whaling ship being absolutely determined to catch some particular whale at any cost.  Ahab, this captain was called, and the whale was Moby Dick.  Ahab sought revenge on the whale for biting his leg off at the knee on a previous expedition.  My lack of knowledge was not to be a problem, I was relieved to find. The performance was only loosely based on Moby Dick, picking up key themes rather than attempting a complete retelling.

Throughout, the performance evoked the theme of obsession and desperation that runs through Melville’s novel, poLeviathan-spouting-girl_1000rtrayed through a remarkable flow of capoeira, martial arts and stunningly athletic dance.  The result is hard to put into words.  The stark lighting, making use of black and white, with rare flashes of yellow, the arresting artistry and deft expression of the dancers, accompanied by a moving electro-rock soundtrack by the Polish prog band Lunatic Soul melded to create a remarkable show (check this trailer of the show).  The only prop was long lengths of heavy rope, skilfully used.  The rest of the time we were left to marvel at the dancers.  The female lead, dressed all in white as some embodiment of the whale that Ahab seeks, maintained her distance from the audience all evening.  We were never acknowledged, scarcely saw her face, were treated to long moments where she seemed to flex each individual muscle in her back.  She was completely ethereal, totally elusive, neatly giving us an insight into Ahab’s frustration that he cannot catch her. This is a frustration that we saw mounting all evening with Ahab’s vocal and dynamic performance evoking the chaos of his mind.

leviathan2Every dancer was perfectly poised, panther-like in their bounce and stealth, radiating strength and artistry in a way that I could never have expected when I settled into my seat that evening.   The performance was creative and innovative in every aspect.  There were times when they were all linked together and sailed over and under one another in a way that did not seem possible, even as they proved me wrong.  The James Wilton Dance company gave us something unique, something startling, something powerful.

A brief history of (English) music

contributed by Jennifer (Qian) Zhang, LANS Y1

What else could bring you the music of the Middle Ages England on a Friday evening? The answer surely is a Cultural Event!

On 17th Feb, we went to the Solihull Core Theatre for an educational treat. It was an ‘intimate’ experience according to Jennifer Bainbridge (Yr4) that pulled us close to some English folk music 600 years ago, and presented some interesting aspects of that culture.

Brief History of Music

After a brief introduction, the two presenters/musicians started off playing the oldest surviving English song (so old, that I forgot its name!). The show moved in chronological order. Most songs were cheerful and genuinely pleasant to listen to. Throughout the whole evening, the same two people kept the show going and I really appreciated their stamina, as they were either playing an instrument, or singing, or explaining the background of music and presenting the various instruments – non-stop.

One feature picked out by many was the interesting explanations offered for each song. The performers would give an idea of when the song was composed, the occasion it was played in, and so on. There was one really loud instrument which musicians would get paid and use it to wake people up at certain time. Abi Pilkington Yr1 mentioned: “they combined the comedy and education elements really well and successfully, plus I came away with more of an appreciation of the background of instruments.Jennifer Bainbridge Yr 4 also reviewed: “I liked the balance between music and explanations and felt like learned a lot.

Almost none of us knew what to expect, as it was rather difficult to fathom from the online description; it was difficult to imagine what it might contain before actually experiencing it; but everyone would agree that we were drawn to the uniqueness of it and, on the evening, everybody enjoyed it. It is true, having some random songs were played, using some old blaring instruments might not sound that attractive (pun intended!), but the overall value came from such a straight forward way to presenting and experience the culture of a time long past.

To end this blog, I would like to mention another thing that made me enjoy the event which was the witty and cheeky lyrics. The song repeated:

My thing is my own,

And I will keep it so still

Yet all the young lasses may do as they will.

More comments on “A brief history of music”:

Miriam Wallis Yr2: I absolutely loved it. It was also really funny which was a nice surprise. Definitely one of the better events I’ve been to.

Abi Pilkington Yr1: I really enjoyed the show, however I wish they’d shown the more modern/ current pieces of music too so I could relate.

Jennifer Bainbridge Yr4: I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it has inspired me but I’d definitely be interested in attending similar events to do with folk music/ history of music 🙂

Katy Potter Yr2: I really enjoyed it! It was great how many instruments they used. It doesn’t link really to anything I do haha but I really enjoy music so I thought it would be a good thing to attend.

And also,  thanks to Alice Heaps who would like to share her blog on this event. Click here to see her blog with amazing and quality details on the event: A Brief History of Music – just one second:

Why Cirque Berserk wasn’t all just clowning around.

contributed by Helena (Chloe) Gooding, 1st LANS student

If I am to be honest, I signed up for Cirque Berserk because it was offered, it sounded entertaining and I was up for a free laugh at the Circus. But I left thinking I might actually have learnt something, or at least made a few interesting observations. It wasn’t until I found myself laughing at the ridiculous and perfectly choreographed antics of the clown that I realised how much I had needed that time to destress. At university I find that there isn’t constant pressure placed on me by others, like teachers and family, as was the case with school, but it is self inflicted pressure. Essays and exams loom over us like horrifying storm clouds, distant but always present. Have I read enough? Did I really spend those 7 hours in the library effectively?

And how do most of us cope?

We got out, we drink, we make poor life choices in the confines of a club or bar because that’s the only place we are allowed to fail, make fools out of ourselves, and by the next morning its forgotten. We get to forget the storm cloud for the night. Not that this is a health coping mechanism, but it’s the only one we are taught, by our siblings, our friends, even our parents.


Tweedy from the Cirque Berserk troupe

You know what they don’t suggest you do to relieve stress? Going to the Circus. I felt a strange connection to the clown on stage. Like when he attempted to pick up one object but would drop another, comically lunging after his hat while his broom fell the floor. Repeating the same old silly mistake. Attempting to carry too many things at once. That is university, that is our life. Study for hours and we’ve dropped our responsibility to our friends, spend the evening watching a movie and instantly remember that chapter you had planned to finish two days ago. Life is a juggling contest, and the clown affords us the opportunity to laugh at this, to forget the storm cloud, to reflect on the storm cloud if we’re not too busy laughing. The trick where the gymnasts jumped through hoops was strangely cathartic. We jump through hoops daily, finish this assignment to get here, say this to that person to make that connection. When I imagine jumping through hoops I see myself more nervously lolloping towards my goals. Leaping with all the grace of a flying turnip and quite possibly falling on my face the other side, but at least I got through the hoop right? Does it really matter that I broke my leg in the process? But these gymnasts did it so beautifully, leaping and twirling and rolling, they jumped through their hoops in style. Maybe I should set myself the challenge of jumping through my hoops like them, with a bit of pizzas, that is if the exam officer doesn’t mind.

Reflections on an evening with Angela and her Bach.

contributed by Lizzie Slattery, 2nd Year LANS student

Last Friday a group of LANS students and staff members attended an Angela Hewitt piano recital at the Birmingham Town Hall where she played six suites by Johan Sebastian Bach. Hewitt is arguably one of the most accomplished pianists alive today, having started her piano studies at the age of three in her home of Ottawa, Canada. She has since performed all over the world and is particularly known for her cycle of Bach recordings which took her over ten years to complete.

I am certainly no expert on classical music or piano playing and so cannot comment technically on the performance. However it appeared evident that Hewitt is a pianist of astonishing skill, and is deeply emotionally connected with the music of Bach. It is quite something to sit through six Bach suites, particularly if, like me, you are unaccustomed to doing so, and I sometimes found my attention wandering. It was always brought back, however, when I focused in on the music and listened to the weave of incredibly complex harmonies and rhythms which are constantly interacting in Bach’s music, as well as the dazzling gold dress she wore.

I asked some of those who attended to share their thoughts on the evening:

“Riveting. Ravishing. And Radiant. The whole performance was surreal. Angela Hewitt did not just play piano, she performed with her body and soul. It was extraordinary to watch. A definite must see for anyone who loves piano or classical music!” – Kimberley, year 2

“I’d never seen someone just play solo like that for a whole show which was really cool and it’s not something I’d go to otherwise. I did enjoy it, but I don’t think it was that amazing so I doubt I’ll go to something like it again, but I’m glad I went especially because the venue was so impressive.” – Joe, year 2

“I thought it was a lovely evening and very sophisticated. The playing was amazing, the standard too. And the riff at the end that she played was a funny, I can’t remember what she said now, was it what inspired Bach? Either way the history and playing was lovely.”  Miriam, year 2
“I thought it was an interesting experience. She was extremely talented. I think it may have been a difficult choice of music if you had never seen classical music before. But overall I enjoyed it.” – Sophie , year 2

And if you would like to read a professional journalist review of this show, you can always check the local press’ views

Dear Angela

contributed by Dr. Emil C Toescu, Science Tutor, LANS course

Dear Angela, I love Bach. And I like you, but…

hewitt-concert-in-birmingham-bachThis was a concert of two halves. In the first part, mostly minor keys, it was like you came out of a sauna, and your sound was sweaty, cloggy, like emerging from a treacle, notes were overdone, and were bursting with emotional loading – where Bach is something else, a pure crystal of music.

But in the second part, you seemed to find ‘my’ Bach – a half that was played more in the Swiss Alps (ok, in the mountains of Bach’s Germany!), with clean, clear, fresh air whizzing through the notes and through the phrasing, with notes separated and becoming more like drops of music.AngelaHewit

Angela Hewitt at a piano, engaging in her style with Bach’s music

To understand my point about the ‘quality’ of the notes, and why in Bach the notes should be as sharply defined as possible, with as little legato and “expression”, is probably important to realise that this music has not been written for the tonally rich and hugely expressive modern piano, but for the straight and ‘simple’ harpsichord, just a plucking instrument!  It is probably best to experience this difference in sound, and here youtube comes in handy. I was not able to find too much Hewitt  playing the French suites on youtube but two hugely important pianist of our time are Andras Schiff and  Murray Perahia. Here is the French Suite No. 6 (E Major) (the one that opened the second part of Angela’s concert) with Perahia ( ) and with Schiff ( ). And, for comparison, this is the harpsichord, ‘original’ sound of this suite – . Most relevant to my points about the treacle, clogging sound of Hewitt is to hear the difference harpsichord – piano in the slow, stately part, the Sarabande (starting at around 4 -4:15 min).

But then, I also enjoyed the exposure to the whole package of the French Suites – I have heard all of them before, here and there, but never listen them one after the other. And when I did that I eventually heard how they are coming together to created the atmosphere of a huge Baroque party. Only by hearing them as a package one can really appreciate their fundamental structure: bringing together different forms of dances, popular at that time. And I also did not appreciate that these suites have a very similar structure, with a starting Allemande, followed by a Courante, jollier and jumpier, and then by a stately Sarabande, all slow and in danger of becoming a raking heavy stone caught in thick mud if treated with too much respect (and, here, Angela, all your Sarabandes were like that, and in each I felt like caught in quicksands…).

The section that I enjoyed most of the whole concert: the last section, the Gigue from the 5th Suite (in G major). I can’t find a Hewitt on this, but I could find a Schiff playing it: Incredible – so ahead of its time, so complex while crystalline. And, in Hewitt’s interpretation on the night, almost so jazzy, flowing with a swing! Which brings me to the last element that I’d like to bring in this mix – that Bach’s music has represented a good hunting ground for an educated jazz ear – and no.1 in this list is the French pianist Jacques Loussier, and here is a whole album of this music: Jacques Loussier Trio play Bach – The Bach Book (complete album):  (and some purists really hate this take on Saint J.S.Bach).


The Jacques Loussier Trio

Two hundred years ago, Bach would be looking forward to his 32nd birthday in about a month and half’s time. And after all this time, we still see him as a point of huge musical and cultural reference.

The Power of Cultural Events

by Jeevan

The recent study trip to see Cathy has had a more profound effect on me than any other of the Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences Cultural Programme’s events. I need not reiterate the version of events, but Forum Theatre’s approach of engaging the audience with the actors provided a new dimension to the performance. It was very easy for an onlooker to sit back and judge about the decisions Cathy made throughout the play and making a commentary about what she should and should not have done.  But the audience was also invited to contribute and participate.

When I summoned the courage to say “STOP!” and suggest a point in the story where one of the characters was asked to swap for a member of the audience to alter the course events, and provide a possible alternative development, I was in for a shock! I was of the opinion that Cathy should accept the council’s offer to move to Newcastle (which would take Cathy and Danielle away from London) and it was up to me to break the news to 16-year old Danielle and convince her that moving to Newcastle was the right thing. I pay a great testament to the actor playing Danielle for remaining steadfast in her opinion that she wanted to remain in London. My decision to play “I’m the adult card” backfired completely and resulted in Danielle storming off of the stage presumably leaving hers and her mum’s housing situation ‘in limbo’.

Perhaps for the first time in a cultural event I did feel the relevance and necessity of the “Next Generation of Leaders” motto attached to our course. The issues faced by Cathy and Danielle are not an isolated case and that is an incredibly scary and stark reality facing people around the U.K, and not just Londoners, and there homeless people in Birmingham.  The play certainly made me take a step back and think that in any transaction that takes place (in this case between a landlord and tenant) there is almost always a human dimension and perspective. If we forget this human aspect and obsess about the bottom line and profit, the strength of community will decline and factions will flourish, and with them tensions. In light of recent global changes, as a society, we need to reassess our positions and think about the world we want to shape. 

contributed by Jeevan – 2nd Year LANS student,  majoring in Chemistry

Cardboard Citizen’s Cathy

by Nelsen Durkee

Facts and figures related to Cardboard Citizens and their work were collated from their official website and related articles. If you are interested in reading more on them, click on the following link.

As one of the leading practitioners of the Theatre of the Oppressed methodology in the UK, Cardboard Citizens theatre company has worked to tackle the issues of homelessness for the last 25 years. Ali Taylor, writer of Cathy, said that “we need to recognize that homelessness can strip people of their self-respect and mental health.” This is precisely what Cardboard Citizen addresses.

The theatre company, exclusively consisting of members who have experienced homeless in one shape or form, empowers those affected by the issue to understand and change their situation. Those not directly affected by the UK housing crisis, gain a personal insight into the convoluted nature it.

“Cardboard Citizens tells stories that need to be told, through theatre performed on stage, in the streets, in hostels, centres and prisons”. The theatre company provides a format and space for individuals to develop their skills and confidence through projects, workshops but also forum theatre; the format that Cathy took.

The special thing about Cathy and the other forum theatres tours from Cardboard Citizens is that the audience doesn’t just need to sit back and let the story unfold. They get to act. The performance we saw at mac Birmingham ( )  was one of the stops on the UK wide tour of Cathy ending February 2017. Based off and inspired by Ken Loach’s Film Cathy Come Home, aired 50 years ago, Cathy reflects on the “social and personal impact of spirally housing costs”, “gentrification” and the “challenges of the forced relocation away from London”.

In the first half of the evening, we got to see the play itself. Fueled by real-life testimonies on the housing crisis, the play was an emotional downward spiral for Cathy and her 16-year-old daughter Dannielle. Following them from the conviction of their original home, all the way to couch and bus surfing, insecure, run-down, and temporary tenements, emotionally raw and desperate fights, it led to the eventual conciliation between the downtrodden, but hopeful mother and burdened yet coping daughter. Characterized by negative turn after negative turn, this was a truly hear-breaking play to watch.

After this emotional rollercoaster for the audience, there was an intermission, which was more than necessary after the events that we saw unfold, followed by the second half of evening: the forum. As I said earlier, this is where the audience got to act. After short round of feedback from individual audience members and resulting discussions, we were prompted to put our suggestions for the betterment of Cathy into action. The actors on stage let the story unfold again, but this time we could intervene with a determined “STOP!”, giving us a chance to get up on stage to enact our suggestions for an improved course of the story. This I think was the critical stage for these performances.

Engaged, Engaging = Forum Theatre (Photo: Emil Toescu)

To bring a personal note into this piece: even though the play’s progression fascinated me, with a desire to learn more about the situation and excited for the chance to intervene in a negative spiral, I still felt powerless and out of place. Here was a situation, from my perspective as an undergraduate Liberal Arts and Science student studying abroad with a privileged family background, where I felt I shouldn’t even pretend to know anything about the issue. I didn’t even know where to start to try and intervene. The thing was though, that wasn’t the point at all.

The point of Cathy was that we were given the chance to rehearse important life decisions that Cathy had to make. We got a chance to be somewhat of a think-tank for alternative courses of actions. We could set high standards for people and how they could improve their lives. We didn’t need to have the answers, but we did need to show initiative. Some ideas were received better than others, some people came from a more experienced background and could give more information than others, but in the end, viable alternatives to life choices were given. The audience made progress.

To bring in more of a Liberal Arts and Science perspective: here was a group of people from vastly different walks of life coming together to try and enact change for an issue that required more than one solution. It’s hard, but it’s possible. Here was a theatrical performance that affected and improved our perspective on a social, political, and economic issue. The forum theatre of Cathy was interdisciplinarity and cross-boundary problem solving at work and it was conducted in an emotionally vulnerable yet polished format. I’m glad that we got to see this performance and widen our horizons on issues for which we can realistically enact change. It was a truly gripping evening.

Contributed by Nelsen Durkee, 1st year LANS student majoring in Geography.

Here are some testimonials from other LANS students on the evening:

Richard William, 1st year LANS student majoring in Political Science.

Cardboard Citizens: Cathy’s tale I have never witnessed a format of theatre quite as engaging and enriching as this. A stimulating topic followed by active intervention in order to stimulate change, followed by discussion and law-making with the aim of proposing change is one of the most interesting forms of political movement that I’ve ever been exposed to. As someone who wishes to reform the political system and in doing so give people more of a voice, I felt that this experience unlocked a closed door behind which lay ideas on creative opportunity for listening to what the people want.[…]

Behind each person is a story, a story which is different, a story which carries with it human suffering at the hands of neglect.[…]

The set was simplistic and yet functional; each piece had its purpose […]

The evening left many feeling united behind the desire to see change, which, in a world of seemingly increased division and pain, is much needed. I would go back time and time again to this style of performance, for even if the script was the same, the response wouldn’t be, and I found the response almost more enriching and engaging than the performance, as it changed the theatre experience from one of passivity where one watches scenes unfold, to one of activeness, allowing for change to occur.

Lizzie Rowland, 2nd Year LANS student majoring in History

I first witnessed the uncontrollable spiral into desperation when I watched Cathy come home. However, I would never imagined the impact seeing the same thing in a modern day context (and on stage rather than screen) would have. I thought the message was more than powerful -scary and moving. The play made me seriously reassess my political understanding (something I thought up until that night I New quite well).

Alice Heaps , 1st LANS student majoring in Philosophy

for her blog, check at:

“As a performance, this play was beautifully arranged and seamlessly executed with a multi-role cast who switched incredibly between situations and characters to make the story feel incredibly real.”

“As a usually helpless audience, the chance to get up on stage and take the places of the characters and fix things for Cathy had a great element of catharsis to it. It seems that Cathy had more options available to her than she realised at the time and, although heartbreaking to see so clearly where she made the mistakes that landed her into homelessness, the solutions provided by the audience highlighted a running theme of education and thorough-thinking as being necessary to preventing such difficult events occurring”

“Experiencing this play both as an individual situation and a representation of the struggles faced by so many people across the country and the world, it hit me just how ordinary the people in the story really were. I like to think of myself as somebody understanding to the situations of others and I make a point not to judge homeless people and help them if I think I can, but even I will admit that it becomes difficult to not assign stereotypes in some situations. Maybe the most important thing that this experience showed me was that something needs to be done from both within the system, to prevent people becoming homeless so easily, but also from outside the system – there needs to be a change in response towards homeless people.

Some of the responses from the audience were worded in a way that made it clear that views remain divided by ‘us’ and ‘them’ with the latter being people without a stable home, I think that there is something fundamentally wrong with this response and that, while changing legislation can be difficult failure-ridden, a change in attitude is something that everyone can do within themselves to help the situation: there is no us and them, we are all people and we all deserve shelter, food, water, warmth and most importantly compassion”

A day submerged in The Tempest

by Jennifer (Qian) Zhang

For the second Tuesday of the term, we set off to Stratford-upon-Avon for a special cultural event: a workshop, joining a rehearsal, then a lecture on ‘Magic and Science’, and finally, the evening show, in the recent RSC production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It is difficult to encapsulate such a rich and varied day in one single view, and here below are some of the comments made by my colleagues.

tempest_1Nelsen Durkee (Y1) felt that “the whole experience represented LANS as a degree structure. From acting theory to the integration of technology with performance the actual performance was riveting”. And the lecture, squeezed between was “a great supplementary session to contextualize the experiences we were having as well.” Others joined Nelsen in appreciating the whole structure of the day. Jess Dawson (Y2) also referred to the dinner we all had, together, which “was really useful for getting to know other LANS students.” And “watching the play was a great culmination of everything we have learnt throughout the day.”.

Some of my colleagues were focusing on one particular aspect of the day. One commented, with what appears to be a good deal of understanding and previous knowledge on the actual details of the rehearsal that we watched, finding it “fascinating to be privy to the inner workings of a professional stage dress rehearsal for the first time, and no more so than at the RSC nonpareil. Informed by the Meisner technique, the actors employed a five-stage approach to some scenes from The Tempest: preparation, objective, stakes, as if, entitlement. To explain briefly, before a scene, the actor would have a tête-à-tête with the director in which they recalled their character’s point of view, identified their objective in relation to other characters (e.g. gain the affections of Miranda), considered the stakes (e.g. Prospero’s possible presence), related the character’s situation to a personal experience (the ‘as if’), and remembered to believe in their character’s entitlement to their goal. This insight into the acting method helped us as the audience to empathise with the characters more and to keep in mind that all acting is relational. This specific dress rehearsal was for the RSC’s First Encounters with Shakespeare production of The Tempest that is going to tour schools. What was remarkable was the minimal set, in contrast to the high-tech production (with live motion capture!) that we watched later on in the main theatre. Personally, I found I engaged more with the actors’ physical presence when there was almost no set — it set my imagination gears into motion and created the intimacy needed to generate the spark between Miranda and Ferdinand.”

Others, like myself, having only for the first time such an opportunity to attend a professional theatre rehearsal look at it in more simple terms, while being equally impressed. The whole session was an excitement right from the start. We were hosted in the ‘Other Place’ Theatre, and I found Aileen, the director of this production, as the most theatrical spirit-minded and passionate person I had ever seen. Even their rehearsal was inspirational to look at– I admired the fact that the actors and actresses made acting seem so intuitive while I would find it against my nature to express myself like that – too shy! The evening production was also great, I particularly liked the way Ariel expressed his otherworldly qualities using some ballet-like feet movements.”

Certainly, the new RSC production of The Tempest was the focus of the evening. And this particular production has been made famous and the centre of much attention through the extraordinary innovative use of motion capture, and live digital avatars on stage ( Not surprising, the implementation of such approaches generated a lot of discussion amongst ourselves, and reflections from some of my colleagues. Lizzie Slattery (Y2) thought that “for the most part the technology was integrated very well into the production as a whole and gave it the magical quality which is so important for the Tempest. … On the whole though, an amazing production!”

Prospero's Cell in Royal Shakespeare Company. (Photo by Katrina)

Others, while enjoying the potential of the technology, found it frustrating not being able to enjoy it from the seats that were made available for some of us in the theatre hall. Cassidy Locke (Y2) wishes she could “have got more out of the motion capture technology. I felt like I didn’t experience it because I was sat to the side of the stage and so couldn’t see it very well – sometimes from an angle and sometimes not at all. I thought that this was a shame from the production, as they must have been aware that this would pose a problem. This didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the play and the acting, but I had been excited about seeing what the motion capture technology would bring to the performance and I left feeling like I still didn’t know.” And in respect the to relationship between the actor and his live display on various screens and surfaces, a mix that could be distracting or deterring from the watching of either, Cassidy really fell for the play of the real actor: “I thought the cast in general was great though in particular the actor who played Ariel. His movement around the stage was mesmerising. I’m so glad they decided to have the actor Ariel on stage as well as the images of him from the motion capture technology.”

Another friend, Chloe Gooding (Y1) engaged in a more detailed analysis of the production. She clearly did not find the use of technology that inspiring, and almost detracting from the stage performance of the actor playing Ariel. Chloe furthermore, looked at the production almost like a theatre critic and focused of various performances: “The performance of Simon Russel Beale was truly amazing and the use of projection and lighting during the masque scene was breath-taking. In the Show, the only let-down was the use of the live motion capture and the slightly odd performance of Miranda (Jenny Rainsford). The use of motion capture– a new device used for the first time during a live performance was obviously troublesome. Firstly, the effectiveness of the projections relied heavily upon the position in which the audience member was seated. For instance, someone in a central position probably had a far better experience than me who was at the far left hand side. Furthermore, many of Mark Quartley’s fantastic facial expressions and physicality were lost thanks to the restrictive nature of this developing technology, leaving behind only vocal expression and slightly jolty animated creatures. Rainsford’s performance was also perplexing. While I understood the interpretation of Miranda as a strange, isolated girl who has little experience of real society other than what was passed onto her from Prospero, her performance went one step further than that. Her vocal expression was jarring and I felt she lacked the raw genuine emotion one would expect to see during her interactions with Ferdinand. It was like he fascinated her, rather than his appearance overwhelmed her with strange new emotions – this being a widely accepted element of her character and one too integral to leave out, as they did, almost entirely.”


Ariel and Caliban taking the bow. (Photo by Emil Toescu).

And during discussing about the play, I was surprised to find out that some of my colleagues had a much closer encounter with the play earlier in their life! Abi Pilkington (Y1) has been studying ‘The Tempest’ at A level and also performed in it. She was “extremely excited to see what the Royal Shakespeare Company made of it … and the RSC certainly didn’t disappoint. For me, the most exciting aspect of the trip was having a personal insight into the rehearsal process from both the director and the actors’ point of view, it really made me remember and appreciate why I love theatre so much. It also gave an insight into the infinite ways in which a play can be interpreted and conveyed, especially when contrasting the two versions they were putting on, one with INTEL’s insane technology, and the other with no technology at all. I wish I’d had this kind of insight into Shakespeare’s work when I was doing my exam on ‘The Tempest’!”

All in all, what a day to spend in Stratford. And I we’ll be excused that, while in Stratford, we did not have a chance to go for visiting the touristic sites. Or go shopping! For LANS, Culture trumps many things.

Contributed by Jennifer (Qian) Zhang, Y1, LANS