Mob-handed – the crowd as character – Workshop 12th March
In our second workshop at the Jerwood Space, we explored our text within the context of its claustrophobia, its sense of urgency, and more than anything, its sense of shared experience. A walk-through, on our feet, in which no-one in the space was a mere observer. All of us, whether portaying a character or acting as witness to the action, were required to be involved in the action, and there was no concept of being ‘outside’ of it.
This work led on from the previous week in which we had read the text through for the first time, complete with the author’s extremely detailed stage directions to performers. This is an 18th century ‘lost’ text, an attempt at writing about state atrocity, violence and trauma which was itself suppressed from public performance. The text invites many layers of response and interrogation: its relationship to terrible historical events (patchy, hearsay, yet containing moments of reported ‘truth’), its negotiation of how and whether to represent violence and atrocity, placing violence off-stage, but summoning it with an increasing intensity. Its ultimate silence in the face of trauma, its denial of a voice to perpetrators.
This is just the start of the journey with this text, but the impact of this evening’s active reading was marked. This is a text about atrocity that summons and acts upon the violence it seeks to condemn. It contains sparks of contagion, it works with extra-textual qualities – sounds, atmospheres, and most of all, the increasing sense of the approach of the mob. Among many of the insights from tonight’s reading is the way in which the material – the reporting of horror, the need to verify its status as eyewitness account and not lurid imaginings – places this as a play in dialogue with much contemporary theatre and visual art works which attempt to negotiate the difficult, disputed terrain of how to represent that which, it has been argued by many, is unrepresentable.
Another stand out moment, developed through the urgency of the writing and emerging through the shared storytelling, was a sense of the mob as a character. This is a play which attempts to warn of the dangers of unthinking group violence, of the labeling of the other as evil or less than human. In doing so it conjures up a disturbing presence – that of the mob itself. Felt as a live presence in the space, its contagious affect tangible to me, I sense the power of the journey this text is taking us upon, its importance and also how very disturbing it is. This is a deeply ethical, important text for today.