April 9th, 2013
This blog comes on the back of the first two and a half days of rehearsals for ‘Under Us All’, a verbatim piece I am working on with Cap-a-Pie. They have been, without doubt, two of the most galvanising days I’ve spent in a rehearsal room in some years.
When Gordon first mentioned the project to me in an email back in early February, he wrote: “A Geography PhD student has been looking at Irish men’s identity on Tyneside. He wants to translate his research into a performance.” That Geography PhD student I now know to be Michael Richardson, with whom (I hope I speak for us both in saying) I am currently sharing and nurturing a rare and exciting thing – a fundamentally, inherently, genuinely collaborative working partnership.
Gordon also explained that “[Michael] has hours of research in the form of blokes talking”. He wasn’t wrong.
Perhaps because I spent many hours listening to my Dad reading stories to me when I was younger, and perhaps because I have always loved audio books, and perhaps because I always mean to listen to the radio more but never do, the simple act of listening to the tapes of Michael’s interviews took on an almost sacred significance. Here – recorded, afforded immortality – were the open, honest, lucid and intimate reflections of three ‘working-class’ Tyneside Irish men, one in his twenties, one in his forties and one in his eighties, reflecting on – without wishing to sound too grand (“too late”, you’re thinking) – what it means to be men; what it means to have a cultural and spiritual heritage; and how they go about generating and constructing meaning in their lives.
These three men describe and belong to a world I will never be able to access directly, and yet their lives and experiences are being played out less than three miles from where I sat in my room, cutting and re-cutting their testimonies into some form of dramatic structure. Indeed, one of the men regularly attends a site for work, I learned through his tape, which is less than two minutes’ walk from my front door. This, to me, is social geography incarnate, and the tapes provided an unimaginable wealth of theatrical and performative potential through which to explore it.
It is this marriage of social geography and theatre/performance which makes the ‘Under Us All’ project so authentically interdisciplinary, and which – after only a couple of rehearsals – has already made it richer, more exciting and more rewarding than many other entire processes I have been involved in.