Rebecca McCutcheon

Director theatre & site specific performance


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Vibrant Objects – a Workshop at the Jerwood Space, 5th March 2014

Diarmaid Browne; image Talullah Mason

Diarmaid Browne; image Talullah Mason

‘It is never we who affirm or deny something of a thing; it is the thing itself that affirms or denies something of itself in us.’
Baruch Spinoza, Short Treatise II

‘Thing-Power : the curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle’
Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter

In Vibrant Matter, Jane Bennett theorizes a ‘vital materiality’ that runs through and across bodies, both human and non-human. She explores how political analyses of public events might change were we to acknowledge that agency always emerges as the adhoc configurations of human and non-human forces. Recognising that agency is distributed in this way and is not the sole province of humans, Bennett suggests, might spur the cultivation of a more responsible, ecologically sound politics, through what she terms as ‘vital materialism’.

As a director and researcher I’m deeply enmeshed in materiality in my work: of spaces, of sites, of objects and of actors bodies. I’ve long held an interest in the generative possibilities of sites: multiple, layered, complex; and responding to and exploring these are central to the ways that I work and research. Bennett’s appeal, in Vibrant Matter, to attend to and accord matter and objects with the capacity to act, to influence other bodies, makes sense to me. Its radical aim, the de-hierarchising of categories of being, towards a flatter, more aware treatment of ourselves in co-existence with matter, and matter’s capacity to act upon us, in pursuit of a more enlightened political ecology, is exciting, appearing to hold possibilities for an affective, critical spatial practice.

In the Jerwood Space in south London, March 5th 2014, objects, matter, bodies in alignment, make initial attempts at opening up Bennett’s ‘space of vibrancy’. We, the ‘actors’ (‘actants’?) explore the space, and seek out objects which speak to us, which resonate. If Bennett is correct, if her radical call for the application of Spinoza’s ‘bodies’, across human and non-human matter can awaken heightened engagement with the materiality of existence, a useful awareness of the vibrancy of matter, a radical political ecology, what might this vision entail for performance and devising processes?

In a roundabout way, Bennett’s task links me back to my early influence, polish director and artist Tadeusz Kantor. Kantor’s work on “Informel Theatre” progressed through objects of low rank, objects on the brink of being rubbish and being objects: like Bennett’s ‘shimmering’ objects. Objects which have lost their link with instrumentalism, are available to us in other ways:

‘the lower the rank of the object, the greater the chance of revealing its objectness’
Tadeusz Kantor, Theatre of the Fairground Booth, A Journey Through Other Places

‘Objects at the threshold of becoming matter – rage tatters junk garbage’
Tadeusz Kantor, The Informel Theatre, A Journey Through Other Places

Roger Thompson; photo Talullah Mason

Roger Thompson; photo Talullah Mason

Exploring non-representational uses of objects, Kantor’s methods encourage actor-object collaborations: the creation of “object characters” who are non-human, animate, pursuing desires and actions through integration of person and object. In this workshop, made possible by the generous support of the Jerwood Space, objects were encountered, actors tested and explored their capacity for movement, for sound, their textures, ways in which meaning is generated through a gestural encounter. The squeaking wheels and groaning wood of a piano became a barrier through which horror was both revealed and veiled. A cold, shimmering metal pole was balanced, appearing weightless, then dropped clattering to the ground, evoking a lightness of being with a sudden catastrophic weightedness. An almost functionless dustbin lid became the obscene stand-in for a murdered child, gesturing its own profanity even as it evoked the void of loss.

These objects when encountered with openness, as if active agents of meaning, responded, in a sense, to our offer. In contact and encounter, other meanings became generated, non-rational, powerful associations arise. The potential of ‘thing-power’, in the context of the affective site, seems to me to be promising, offering in-roads to creative engagement with the material traces in a site which, through their concrete materiality hold us in the present immediate physical moment, while also gesturing towards other layers of association.


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Mariam in Peckham – The Cary Cycles

August 13th 2013 – Mariam Pop Up event – The “Gretchen Day” Gallery, Peckham

Last night was the first of our two pop up performances in the fictionalised Gretchen Day Gallery, on Copeland Park, Peckham.  My talented research group worked so hard to develop the performance-as-art-exhibition, which managed to be beautiful, funny and moving. The ‘frame’ of the high-profile retrospective, complete with conflicting curators, performance installations, giving way to Mariam’s post-Herod power-vacuum, was lucid, absorbing and visually arresting. Our intrepid audience moved and challenged us to explore their presence in relation to our site, performance and text. Well done to the whole team for taking the ideas to new and interesting places, and thanks so much to our generous audience whose feedback has been extremely insightful and positive.

Here are some bits of feedback which give a flavour of the performance:

“I liked the realisation that somehow one version of the story (the play) seemed to slip through a wormhole into another version (the installations).”

“I didn’t expect the gallery to be a kind of lens to see the play through. I was so impressed by how ‘present’ the words sounded.”

“The piece was generously providing me with surprises in terms of its nature, its presentation, its plots.”

Jack Davies and Jamie Smith both documented the performance and process with the following images.

Kayleigh Hawkins; photo Jamie Smith

Kayleigh Hawkins; photo Jamie Smith

Kate Russell Smith; photo Jamie Smith

Kate Russell Smith; photo Jamie Smith

Kayleigh Hawkins, Photo Jack Davies

Kayleigh Hawkins, Photo Jack Davies

Sarah Vevers, Kate-Russell Smtih and audience; photo Jack Davies

Sarah Vevers, Kate-Russell Smtih and audience; photo Jack Davies

Flora Wellelsey-Wesley; photo Jack Davies

Flora Wellelsey-Wesley; photo Jack Davies

Flora Wellesley-Wesley; photo Jack Davies

Flora Wellesley-Wesley; photo Jack Davies


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Mariam at Burford

Kayleigh Hawkins as Mariam

Kayleigh Hawkins as Mariam

In June 2013, Liz Schafer invited me to develop the site specific research around the text of Mariam for a performance at the Burford Festival, the town of Cary’s birth. This performance formed the launch of the Mariam Project which Liz is producing across academic and performance disciplines.

The Mariam Project seeks to celebrate and research Elizabeth Cary’s Tragedie of Mariam by creating a range of performances in different settings to explore the play and bring Cary’s work to a wider audience.

Mariam at Burford: Youth and young girlhood
Weds 12th June at 4.30pm, St John the Baptist
Part performance, part installation, this 70 minute performance inhabited the church where Elizabeth would have worshipped as a girl, married, and where her family, the Tanfield’s, are ostentatiously entombed. This performance sought to explore Elizabeth’s play in the town she lived in as a child and young woman.  The research centred on resonances between Elizabeth’s life and work, offering a unique opportunity to hear and experience the voice of this remarkable woman, in a contemporary working.

Flora Wellesley-Wesley as Mariam

Flora Wellesley-Wesley as Mariam

Mariam at Burford: Encountering Elizabeth
During the Festival, the Mariam Project we also developed specially crafted and composed audio experience and map, tracing and mapping Elizabeth Tanfield Cary’s life and experiences onto her home town of Burford. The audience could follow the map to 6 locations, where fragments of Elizabeth’s life and work was collaged  with sounds, atmospheres and compositions by Lucy Harrison. I’m thrilled that Encountering Elizabeth will become a permanent offer in Burford shortly.

Here are some audience comments on the performance, followed by some images:
“Wonderful music – beautifully fluid use of the space and movement of the audience. A fascinating glimpse of the play that leaves us all wanting a little more.”
“Looking forward to the complete performance after such a tantalizing glimpse of the play”
“Thank you so much for bringing this wonderful piece to the Burford Festival. A great introduction to “Mariam””
Salome at the altar, Burford 12th june 2013. Sarah Vevers. Image copyright Jamies Smith

Salome at the altar, Burford 12th june 2013. Sarah Vevers. Image copyright Jamies Smith

“Terrific performance and inspired use of the church”

Conor Short as Constabaras; image copyright Jamie Smith

Conor Short as Constabaras; image copyright Jamie Smith

Sarah Vevers as Salome and Flora Wellesley-Wesley as Mariam. Image copyright Jamie Smith

Sarah Vevers as Salome and Flora Wellesley-Wesley as Mariam. Image copyright Jamie Smith

Kate Russel-Smith as Doris with an audience member. Image copyright Jamie Smith

Kate Russel-Smith as Doris with an audience member. Image copyright Jamie Smith

Kayleigh Hawkins as Mariam. Image copyright Jamie Smith

Kayleigh Hawkins as Mariam. Image copyright Jamie Smith

Elizabeth Cary and the Mariam Project, by Liz Schafer

2013 sees the 400th anniversary of the publication of The Tragedy of Mariam, Fair Queen of Jewry by the astonishing pioneer playwright Elizabeth Tanfield Cary (1585-1639). The Tragedy of Mariam is the first known play in English written by a woman, and it is a play full of women characters declaring independence, demanding freedom in marriage, and arguing for the right to divorce. At a time when women were expected to dedicate themselves to marriage and children, Cary’s play asked the question ‘Why should such privilege to man be given?’
Born and brought up in Burford Priory, Cary was probably married in St John the Baptist Church, Burford, where she would have attended church. Many years after she had written Mariam, a play about marital conflict, Cary’s own marriage broke down. Cary converted to Catholicism; she was disinherited by her father, Sir Lawrence Tanfield; she separated from her career politician husband, Sir Henry Cary (1st Viscount Falkland); and she was placed under house arrest by Charles I, after a custody battle resulted in Cary kidnapping her own children. During the 1620s, Cary was reduced to such poverty that she frequently ate friends’ leftover meals. But, like her heroine, Mariam, she would not compromise her principles.
Elizabeth Cary is remembered in St John the Baptist Church, Burford, as she is represented kneeling at her parents’ tomb in the church. It is therefore fitting to explore a part of her play in the Church as part of ‘The Mariam Project’ during the Burford Festival.

The Mariam Project is being led by Elizabeth Schafer, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London.


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The Mariam Project: Curating Disorder

April 2013

Image copyright Jamie Smith

Image copyright Jamie Smith

My current research involves working experimentally with a little known gem, The Tragedie of Mariam, by Elizabeth Cary. This is part of a larger Mariam Project which seeks to focus attention on this little known play through workshops and performances.

I’ve been working with the text in 2 different sites, exploring ways in which the atmospheres and layers of meaning influence and shape the ideas and images emerging from the text. Its been very exciting to have the space  to explore this text, which is a thorny, slippery work, in many ways unlike any other writer I’ve come across and yet influencing, and influenced by, many more familiar voices. The play itself is important as its the first original play in Britain to be written by a woman.

Working as I am, using site as much as text as source and inspiration, the spaces I’m working in have been richly contributing to the process, and I’ve become more aware of how much so much of theatre, and of life, is influenced by the nuances of our direct environment, much of the time in ways which are barely conscious, but there and powerful nonetheless.

The Mariam Project rolls forward, with our next Mariam encounter happening at the Burford Festival, where Elizabeth Cary was born, where we’ll present a two part exploration of the play and ELizabeth’s own life, in the context of the town where she lived and the church she grew up close to. See my newest post for more information on this, and if you’d like to attend, tickets are available here:  http://www.burfordfestival.org/Tickets.html

Image copyright Jamie Smith

Image copyright Jamie Smith

jamiesmithphoto-7624

Image copyright Jamie Smith


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Still Life

Sarah Toogood

Sarah Toogood

In 2003 I directed angels in the architecture’s first full-scale production, a staging of Still Life by Noal Coward in the disused Aldwych tube station on the Strand in central London.

The station is a beautiful, ghostly 30s station close to the Aldwych, unused since the 80s, which had the feeling, as I entered, of still holding the threads of the lives which had passed through their over the years.

Coward’s Still Life is a gorgeously understated portrait of love and duty in pre-war home counties England. Its the play which inspired Brief Encounter, and contains the core of that filmic work. The play version also contains a rich seam of characters drawn across society, and lends itself to ensemble playing.

Press Comments:

…the sanest reason imaginable to sit in a disused tube station

Time Out

A model of what fringe theatre can be, and a delightful option for the theatre-lover looking beyond the West End…unlike the film, you’re more likely to come away from this Still Life laughing than crying…well worth the very slight detour to this unfamiliar and unlikely venue”

Gerald Berkowitz, Theatre Guide, London

…a vivid pre-war experience…the promenade element, lively writing, supporting turns and rattle of trains make this unusually rewarding for an hour spent waiting in a tube station…!

The Metro

..an inspired design…angels in the architecture has discovered that Aldwych Tube Station has more than enough atmosphere for reigniting ardent impulses among theBath Buns…

The Evening Standard

Dickon Edwardes, Helen Laing, Sarah Thom, Robert Goodale

Dickon Edwardes, Helen Laing, Sarah Thom, Robert Goodale


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The Round Dance at the Roundhouse

Ryan Ellsworth and Martha Prideaux

Ryan Ellsworth and Martha Prideaux

In 2004, I directed angels in the architecture’s  revival of Arthur Schnitzler’s “The Round Dance”, the Viennese fin de siecle play which provided the inspiration for La Ronde and for The Blue Room.

Transposed to 19th century Victorian London, the production was layered through with the aesthetics, history and social mores of Camden’s rich local history – from gin palaces to marble halls. The undercroft of the Roundhouse with its monumental, maze like circular structure, was a central element in the design and rehearsal process, influencing performance structure, design and audience reception.

Press comments:

Excellent use of this unconventional space throughout, and the direction by Rebecca McCutcheon, is remarkably innovative. Jocelyn Barker as the Prostitute is the pick of the female parts, while Scott Frazer acts everyone else off the stage

Camden New Journal, 26 February 2004

If Schnitzler only wanted to expose our venality, ten scenes making roughly the same point would wear thin. But Rebecca McCutcheon’s production gradually brings out the idea of promiscuity as a marker of human longing. The six performers blend the merciless and the light with enough verve to make this a pleasure fit to chill the heart.

Metro 25th February 2004; (****)

Strips bare the differing agendas and misunderstanding between classes and sexes… packed with pared-down dialogue which seems to come straight from the horses mouth. Ryan Ellsworth’s pompous moralising husband is at first hilarious then sinister

Ham & High 27th Februay 2004 (****)

staged with a wonderful vibrancy and physicality due in no small part to the work of Movement Director, Sarah Thom

What’s On, London, March 2004

Witty, economical and entertaining. Nicholas Prideaux provides an especially striking contrast as both a poor man’s Byron and an etiolated wimp.

Sunday Times 29th February 2004

A strong sense of an entire seething city connected by a chain of sexual encounters

The Guardian 28th February 2004


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Vincent River

Vincent River at the Trafalgar Studios, London

In 2007 I directed Philip Ridley’s powerful play Vincent River for Old Vic Productions at the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall. Vincent River is Philip’s fourth play, and I was thrilled to work on its first revival. The production was very well received critically.  Lynda Bellingham, cast against type as a cockney mum,  received excellent reviews for her powerful portrayal of Anita, the bereaved mother a victim of homophobic violence. The production received credit from a number of critics for revising critical opinion of the play, and later transferred to New York briefly as part of that year’s Brits on Broadway season.

Press comments on Vincent River:

The deep pleasure that I derived from Rebecca McCutcheon’s excellent revival of Vincent River, the taut two-hander by Philip Ridley about the emotional fall-out from a fatal bout of gay-bashing, was tinged with a certain shame that I had underrated this piece when it was premiered at Hampstead in 2000.

True, my review was predominantly positive but I accused the play of sacrificing plausibility for the sake of engineering forced symmetries in the tense, developing relationship between the couple at the centre. This new staging – with Lynda Bellingham and Mark Field both turning in unimpeachably believable performances – makes those earlier misgivings look beside the point.

Paul Taylor, The Independent, Thursday 8th November 2007

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/vincent-river-trafalgar-studios-london-399505.html

Under the impressive direction of relative novice Rebecca McCutcheon, Lynda Bellingham and Mark Field give outstanding performances as two lonely souls in this revival of a two-hander first seen at Hampstead in 2000.

The selection of the small space at the Trafalgar Studios is wise, as it almost literally draws the audience into the shabby living room of a Dagenham house recently acquired by Anita. This hard-nosed cockney could hardly be further away from the figure with which Miss Bellingham will eternally be associated, the archetypal, middle-class Oxo mum.

Philip Fisher, British Theatre Guide, November 2007

http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/vincentriver-rev