Rebecca McCutcheon

Director theatre & site specific performance


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Til We Meet in England – Scratch

tricastinIn September 2016 I directed scratch performances of ‘Til We Meet in England’, at Safe House in Peckham as part of the Peckham Festival, merging text-based performance with site, movement and installation. Til We Meet in England’s starting point was the coming together of Elizabeth Inchbald’s tragedy, The Massacre, with the intimate domestic, near derelict site of Safe House.

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The Massacre is a remarkable text written by Inchbald in response to sectarian intolerance in the French Revolution, which has much to offer today. This text, and its engagement with experiences of displacement across Europe, resonates with current experience, and also highlights a long view, in which such movement across the continent has been a familiar and recurring event. Inchbald depicts her persecuted family, the Tricastin’s, with great humanity and empathy, a valuable voice to hear today, and she is explicit in placing England as a place of humanitarian refuge.

 

 

Working in Safe House with this text, the themes of seeking ‘home’, of finding sanctuary, of the precariousness of life and of the value of sharing all became strongly present for audiences, as we share the same intimate space as performers, and make a journey exteriorwith them.

Safe House is a tiny, domestic house which has reached a point of near-total dereliction. Quoting Tadeusz Kantor’s landmark ‘Odysseus Returns’, this house as a setting interacts with the text of The Massacre, through performance, encounters with characters, with music, with fragments of installations and recorded audio from recent British political life.

The intimacy of the space, as a home which hgatheredas become unhomely, works compellingly with the plays’ themes. The piece gathered momentum as sections of Inchbald’s depiction of an emerging fascist leader were performed, at which point the audience members are put in role as fellow mob members in the claustrophobic space of the living room. Here audiences became physically involved with the action as they wish to be, and are (more significantly) all ‘active participants’ in that they are called on to consider both the moral questions in play, and at the same time to encounter with empathy the characters who are caught in the drama.

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It was thrilling to find all of the performances sold out and I’d like to thank Sydney and the whole Peckham Festival team for making the work happen. We plan to bring the performance back in a longer run, in 2017, and are seeking funding and partnerships to make that happen. If you would like to be involved or support the project, please see our Crowdfunder page to support this extraordinary project and find the kinds of rewards and events you can be part of as a supporter.

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‘Til We Meet in England

 

At Safe House, Peckham, Sept 10th & 11th

‘Til We Meet In England is a unique site-specific performance in Peckham’s brand new arts festival. Created in and for Safe House, a tiny, semi-derelict Victorian house in the backstreets of Peckham, ‘Til We Meet in England is part-performance, part-installation, fusing text, movement, objects and song to create a potent, intimate experience.

It takes Elizabeth Inchbald’s rarely performed tragedy, The Massacre, as its starting point. A brilliantly successful writer of wryly observed sex-comedies, this was Inchbald’s only tragedy, using the lens of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacres to comment on the Terror in France. Wrestling with her horrific, lurid content, Inchbald uses fragments of ‘testimony’, words she claims come from eyewitness accounts, a nascent foreshadowing of testimonial drama. Ultimately, she censored the play, advised that it was unlikely to please (the subtext of this advice being that her own radical liberal politics were the problem).

Newly recovered for a contemporary audience, the play is vibrantly re-imagined for its perspectives on cultural intolerance, refugee experience, and its long-view of England’s international role. It offers a valuable view of Britain’s long, notable and now threatened identity as a place of tolerance and humanism. Examining the play in this context shines a spotlight on a long-silenced woman’s voice, presenting England’s moderation, and a much-needed positive image of Britain’s European past and present.

 These pop up performances from director Rebecca McCutcheon (Dido, Queen of Carthage, Vincent River), designer Talulah Mason (Traces, London) and a talented company, in the tiny found space of Safe House are a rare opportunity to encounter this remarkable gem in an intense environment.

Til We Meet in England at Safe House – 139 Copeland Rd Peckham, London, SE15 3SN

Sept 10, 8pm & 11, 6pm & 8pm

https://www.facebook.com/TilWeMeet/

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/til-we-meet-in-england-tickets-26639333965

Please note: the performances will take place upstairs and downstairs in Safe House, which is not an accessibly adapted space.

Saturday 10th Post-performance event: join director, Rebecca McCutcheon, designer Talulah Mason and the company to hear about the development of the project and to share your views on the performance.

 


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Margaret of Anjou – A New play by Shakespeare

IMG_8765Margaret of Anjou weaves her way in and out of the histories. She appears early in Henry VI pt1, a conquered French princess horse-traded into marriage with Henry, soon revealed to have power firmly in her sights. Moving through adultery, to fury when Henry signs away her son’s inheritance, she reappears to proclaim her divorce from him, taking command of the Lancastrian army. As Queen militant, she proclaims battle speeches as her forces take the upper hand, and commands the torture and decapitation of York on the site of her victory. When the battle turns against her, she witnesses the death of her son Ned at her enemies hands, and finds solace for grief in cursing – cursing his killers, her enemies, with prescient, supernatural accuracy.

IMG_8596In Richard III, Margaret reappears, uncannily, her life extended by Shakespeare into Richard’s reign, because it is only she, who can see Richard for the monster he is, and who can match his curses with her own. She haunts the York monarchy, a dethroned queen, warning, mocking the fragile deceptions of power, and reiterating her battlefield curses. Returning as ancient crone to turn the Yorkist Queen and duchess to her cause, there are glimpses of the witches of Macbeth, England’s Royal women turned to dark forces. It is Margaret who sees, understands and articulates the bloody cycles of civil war, and lives to see that Richard, ‘the dog’ is dead.

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In Margaret there is a female role like no other in Shakespeare, but threaded through 4 plays, no production has yet embodied this figure in a single performance. Rather she flits around the margins of the histories, the voice of mothers, of disempowered women, of losing powers, speaking of loss and of injustice while the winners take the throne. She is no idealised female, or occupies that role only fleetingly as coquettish princess, but rather emerges in fragments, disjointed, we see her in pieces, then she disappears from view. She is an appropriately (post) modern character.

Elizabeth Schafer and Philippa Kelly have created a new project around Margaret, and a new play, elegantly drawing together all of Margaret’s scenes into one text – a text which spans continents and wars, which tumble across the stage at ever accelerating speed – and it is Margaret around whom the action coheres. We see her, each stage of her arc, played out against the backdrop of the wars of the roses. In a year of ‘Bardolatry’, this project offers something genuinely fresh, the histories seen through the eyes and actions of Margaret. The project offers so much – the opportunity to encounter Shakespeare through a feminist lens, to explore a version of the histories in which female experiences are not sidelined, but encountered as the main focus. And what a story we are given. Read this way, this account of history feels bleaker, more bloody, more relentlessly, monotonously violent. We see, really see, the murdered children, the broken promises, the bloody mess.

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Working with this newly created text, with an all female ensemble taking every role,  in a stripped back, breeze block studio, this project was exhilarating, and the work created was raw, urgent and contemporary. Working physically to create shared expressions of Margaret across the scenes, we created an army of Megs, all bent on expressing their grief and reclaiming their power. Working with the emotional tone of each age of Margaret, we explored creating environments of affect to support her story. The back and forth of York and Lancaster played out like a monstrous chess match, turbulent and messy, with the victors showing neither empathy nor mercy. Designer Talulah Mason created a design language which was simple, functional, foregrounding Meg’s femininity and strength in a world of male power. From a week’s workshop, there emerged so many powerful moments: 8 Margarets in full warpaint confronting the audience with a Hakkah. Margaret clutching the head of her dead lover, chewing out her grief like stones she has to spit out or swallow. Margaret triumphant over York switching on a sixpence to Margaret who has lost everything, except the power to curse. There is so much in this new play, a richness of expression, an incredible energy surging through from all of her fragmented parts coalescing in time. I feel I have only just begun with this text, there are versions and versions of it yet to come, but with the support of Royal Holloway, I’ve been there as a startling new figure emerges from the canon, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Here are some more pictures of our process, all photos taken by Madeleine Corcoran https://madeleinecorcoran.com.

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A Testimony and a Silence at Dilston Grove

DVD label

May 2014 – a site-specific performance piece in Dilston Grove in Southwark Park. Dilston Grove is an arts space and former church in which the rarely-performed play, The Massacre by Elizabeth Inchbald, was explored. The play is extraordinary and prescient, a discussion of the tragedy of genocide, written by Inchbald during the French Revolution. It is a play whose tense relationship to terror and to violence, and to human values of respect and humanity, found rich ground in the association of meanings generated by Dilston’s craggy, evocative spaces.


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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.