Charlie Steele

Actress and wrestler (of words). This is where I sate my desire for the first person. Rambling on about acting, theatre and politics.

Tag: national student drama festival

Creating a Monster

For my first play, I thought it would be super fun and easy to adapt Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.* Interspersing live action with projection, it was supposed to make a really serious comment about society or some shit. Can’t really remember, it was bloody ages ago and directing is so stressful I’ve blocked most of it out. For all its sins and failings, it was something I was very proud of and I was lucky enough to see it longlisted for NSDF this year.

About three months after closing night (student newspapers are wonderful at timekeeping), I read a review of it. My first impulse, after the boiling rage and the desire for vodka, was to vehemently register my belief in the pointlessness of criticism. 6/10? I spent my whole summer writing that thing. I sobbed over my laptop. I didn’t get to watch a single box-set. I’m pretty sure at one point I grew a beard. SIX OUT OF TEN?!

I completely understand that initial reaction. When you create a piece of theatre, you are putting a bit of yourself on a stage for other people to point and laugh at, or loathe, or feel offended by. What I failed to realise was that much like Frankenstein’s creature, once you have created something and let it loose, no tantrum will stop other people judging it. There’s no other experience quite like that, other than the rare times I take to karaoke. You’re leaving yourself completely vulnerable.

The difficulty is in staying vulnerable. I think this is what a lot of creative people struggle with. Especially during this festival. There has been a lot of harsh criticism and harsh responses to that criticism. Well, fair enough, you might think. If you enter into a discussion with a piece of work, the makers of that work should be able to defend their work. But there is a difference between defending and being defensive. When we are subject to the next stage of that, of criticism, of discussion, we don’t engage, we retreat into coolness. We sit in cliques and bitch about that reviewer who just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand this context, they didn’t realise what that thing was supposed to mean. I understand that reaction, because it’s exactly what I did. But there is no shame in something we’ve created being slated; and no shame in doing the slating.

Theatre is such a transient thing. It’s not a film that can be analysed several times throughout someone’s life. It seems ridiculous that we are often so hateful towards those who criticise us, when what we do is of the moment, every night being different. It’s all water under the theatrical bridge. It’s there, then it’s gone. It’s not who we are, it’s just a slight reflection of who we are; a puddle, not a mirror.

So, from now on, I welcome criticism with an open heart and open mind, even when it hurts. But yes, next time I read a review of my own work, I’ll make sure I have that vodka at the ready. I might even buy one for the person who took the time to write the review.

* Please don’t try this at home unless you are Nick Dear.

This piece was originally published at http://noff.nsdf.org.uk as part of the National Student Drama Festival

The Future, Now

I left Mercury Fur feeling I had travelled somewhere beyond my seat. I have rarely experienced a play so far ahead of its time.

This isn’t to say I wasn’t as shaken as everyone else who saw it. I was confronted by several people crying in the toilets, and in the corridor. I don’t want to focus too much on the last ten minutes of the play; suffice to say, they were horrific and have been discussed at length by everyone there. I had to cover my face, which I don’t think I’ve done whilst watching something since I was a child. There definitely needed to be a trigger warning for rape alongside the gunshot warning, and thankfully the Festival team moved swiftly to do so for the second performance.

Nottingham New Theatre do a good job, despite a slow, hiccupy start (there’s a lot of tripping over cans of lager). The set works; and thank God director Nadia Amico doesn’t feel the need to put her actors on stage whilst the audience comes in so we have time to experience it. The rubbish, stained carpets and overturned furniture already set us on the downward spiral. Destination: having your beating heart ripped out of your chest. Stand out performances come from Laura Gallop as Naz, who brings a vulnerable confidence to an incredibly difficult part. She shines, but Andy Routledge as Elliot, Matthew Miller as Darren and Aaron Tej as Lola are also commendable. The relationships between the two brothers, Elliot and Darren, as well as Elliot and Lola’s relationship are the heart of the piece. All the actors are incredibly brave to go to the very dark place they have to go to; but then, so are the audience. I felt like applauding everyone in the auditorium afterwards.

After a bit of reflection, I knew why I was upset. I was not repulsed, I was scared. Very, very scared. We live in a world in which the stakes between what we can win and what we can lose are getting higher every day. The more we are desensitised, the more we desire something to overcome the numbness that modern society has inflicted on us.

“I’m going to hurt you”, says the party guest. Her glee is disgusting, heightened slightly more by the fact she is played in this production by a woman. I understood how the possibility for that desire had come about and how it was being facilitated by characters we sympathised with. I think that’s why the play was so nearly censored. Well, it was to an extent. Faber and Faber refused to publish it. We feel sick, because we recognise what this play is on some level, and we don’t want to admit it.

The word ‘dystopian’ is being thrown about. Look at this scary future, people say, calmly reasserting it won’t happen in their lifetime. I don’t think Mercury Fur is so far away. The world of the Party Guest is coming. We are increasingly disconnected from our natural feelings. An attention span in 140 characters, eroticism dwindled to a number of certain conventions, experiences for the sake of pictorial evidence. Bigger thrills, bigger highs to overcome the desensitisation to everything we can no longer feel entirely; hunger, arousal, hate. I think it’s a lot closer than we’d like to think.

 

This piece was originally published at http://noff.nsdf.org.uk as part of the National Student Drama Festival

Time for Myth

Of Jerusalem, I’ve heard ongoing mutters that it’s just far too long. “It’s nearly three hours,” an anonymous festival-goer stated. ‘There’s no way I’m getting through that without having a little nap.” Fair enough. We’re tired, we’re busy, we’ve all got places to be, entirely reasonably priced £3.80 G&T’s to drink and the Scarborough winds to overcome. We don’t have time for long sprawling shows any more. We live in a world of instant gratification. We want quick entertainment on short commutes, and consume theatre the way we consume a packet of salt and vinegar crisps.

More than that, we’re not interested in myth. We don’t have time for mythology. We want fast, glossy, modern, now. And myth is what Jerusalem offers, not just in the words of its characters, but in its execution. The play is a long game, and the pay off is subtle but perfect as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron becomes the personification of England. The characters who inhabit Rooster’s world turn up uninvited to abuse his land, drawn to the myths he purveys as comfort even more than the drugs he offers. And he accepts them. He tells stories of a giant’s drum and his own virgin birth, mixed in with contemporary tales of Girls Aloud and new TV’s smashed with axes; but these are mythical stories. If there could be any doubt, Rooster even harbours a missing girl in his caravan who is dressed as the most English of mythical creatures: a fairy. “Bollocks,” cries Ginger at Rooster’s tall tales, but with a glint in his eye that says he just can’t turn away. Neither can we. Rooster’s misfits sit and listen even as they laugh in disbelief. They take comfort in Jerusalem. So do we. Things are getting faster every day and we should sit and listen too.

But, as the play shows us, we don’t. The characters eventually cannot protect their man of myth from the new England that desires to wipe him off the map. They’re afraid to. Of course, the world of Rooster isn’t exactly the picturesque idyllic one found in English myth. He lives in a caravan in the woods and takes pride in his occupation as a public health hazard. He deals drugs to teenagers and washes himself in a bucket outside his home. But Rooster’s England is closer to the promises myths hold than the England we have now. He has freedom, and a way of life he can call his own. As grotesque as we may find it, he has an identity. How many of us can say the same about our lifestyle? The comforting myths of jumping daredevils and golden drums are dwindling; the narrative of our society is only getting more sinister. We are not being comforted in the way Rooster, for all his flaws, does for his miscreants. We are being lied to without the myth. Cut more and the private sector, we are told, will suture the wound; but not with fairy dust. Our government is transforming Britain into a profit-hungry, target-driven entity; a world we are often told might even lead to the demise of theatre. His world isn’t the one we want, but neither is the one he’s rebelling against. “FUCK THE NEW ESTATE”, scrawl the characters of Rooster’s world. And we agree. Only we don’t know what we’d replace it with. ‘There’s got to be rules,” says Rooster. But whose? Will we sacrifice myth for the world of the new estate; just because we don’t have the time?

This piece was originally published at http://noff.nsdf.org.uk as part of the National Student Drama Festival