Rebecca McCutcheon

Director theatre & site specific performance


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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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Dido at St Barnabas in Soho

Jeremy Legat as Cupid

Jeremy Legat as Cupid

In 2006 I directed Christopher Marlowe’s first play, Dido, Queen of Carthage, in a site sepcific production in central London. The site, the House of St Barnabas, is an 18th century merchant’s house in the centre of Soho, which was operating at the time as an international women’s refuge. The building itself, with its chapel and central courtyard, was a central element in the development of the performance. The associations, noises and smells of neighbouring Soho Square and Greek Street, as well as the building’s past and present uses also informed many layers of the performance, characterisation, the design concept and the way in which we worked with our audience each night.

The production was based on a tightly edited version of the script which I developed collaboratively with Sarah Thom, through several research and development periods, along with a talented acting company. I also drew on research into other sources for the performance text, including Virgil’s Aeneid and Purcell’s opera of Dido and Aeneas. This production was one of the first professional performances of Marlowe’s first play on record.

Some press comments on this production:

“I’ve seldom come across anything quite so adventurous, inventive and imaginative as this production by Rebecca McCutcheon. This is a seriously enchanting show. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Neither should you.”

THE SUNDAY TIMES (JOHN PETER) JUNE 11th, 2006

“…“Dido, Queen of Carthage” in purely theatrical terms is the real deal…”

VARIETY/ BLOOMSBERG NEWS

“ ..a tremendous portrait of a very English kind of erotic possession by Sarah Thom … Rebecca McCutcheon makes spectacular use of the building’s natural architectural perspectives and hierarchies…a clever, spooky and emotionally satisfying show” ****

TIME OUT (ROBERT SHORE)

“…committed performances, particularly from Jake Maskall as the tormented Aeneas and Sarah Thom as the doomed, eponymous queen and , add dramatic weight to a brilliantly resourceful and exciting production.”

THE STAGE

“Enter and you will become embroiled in a deadly
game of love and chance… there are plenty of pleasures along the way…”

THE GUARDIAN (LYN GARDNER)

“angels in the architecture understand that most people have a childlike fascination with secret rooms and forbidden spaces, and use that to superb effect” ****

MusicOMH.com

“…The House of St. Barnabas has its own micro-climate, as do Marlowe’s lovers, whose tussles between love and duty, Africa and Europe, look like foreplay for Anthony and Cleopatra… Sarah Thom makes a pale and obsessive Dido, Jake Maskall a raw and riven Aeneas… a jewelled but seldom seen Marlowe romance…”

THE OBSERVER (SUSANNAH CLAPP)

“…a deliciously enthralling production… Jake Maskall is excellent as Aeneas, Sarah Thom captivating as Dido… angels in the architecture have evidently tapped into some divine inspiration…”

ROGUES & VAGABONDS

“the play doesn’t flinch from the desperate side of passion… Sarah Thom’s besotted Dido is lit up from within”
THE METRO

“enterprising… at the centre are two compelling performances: Sarah Thom is a statuesque, haunted Dido and Jake Maskall makes a fierily intense Aeneas, the wandering hero who unwittingly captures his hostess’s heart. Nice rococo interiors to gawp at too.”

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH (Dominic Cavendish)
“…matchless, ecstatic verse…poetry that even surpasses Shakespeare’s… angels in the architecture take a heavenly step upwards….”

THE EVENING STANDARD (NICHOLAS DE JONGH)

More detailed reviews:
The theatre is always an adventure, but I’ve seldom come across anything quite so adventurous, inventive and imaginative as this production by Rebecca McCutcheon. Marlowe’s play is so closely based on Virgil’s epic that he even included a few lines in Latin. These McCutcheon has wisely dropped. Purists will naturally sniff at some of the cuts, not to mention a few little additions, some of them hilariously indecent, which Marlowe would have relished. This is a promenade performance, moving from space to space in and out of the building, including the chapel, with its beautiful mosaics, but the atmosphere is entirely without solemnity: the tragedy is told with warmth, sympathy and a touch of melancholy humour. The lines are spoken with clarity and feeling — not something you take for granted these days. This is a seriously enchanting show. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Neither should you. ****

John Peter, The Sunday Times

Tim Carroll’s production at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2003 failed to make much of a case for Marlowe’s Elizabethan tragedy as a play worthy of regular theatrical revival. The work’s influence over Shakespeare – significant elements of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, not to mention the development of the iambic pentameter, are foreshadowed here – is undisputed, but is ‘Dido’ anything more than an interesting historical artefact? Can it be made to work on stage? The answer provided by this Angels in the Architecture production is a resounding ‘yes’ – not that the site-specific company deigns to use anything so conventional as a stage, of course.
The production really comes to life with the entrance of the Carthaginian queen, played against exotic type as a sort of cross between Elizabeth I and Margaret Thatcher by Sarah Thom. Unlikely as it sounds, it’s a tremendous portrait of a very English kind of erotic possession.
Beginning and ending in the Oxford Movement-inspired chapel, McCutcheon’s production takes the audience on a plot-driven tour of this nineteenth-century women’s charity, making spectacular use of the building’s natural architectural perspectives and hierarchies to suggest the different realms of mortals and gods: as Dido and Aeneas embrace in a storm, the eye is drawn up in a vertiginous zigzag from Cupid (an eerily compelling performance by Jeremy Legat) wielding a watering can to the deities masterminding events from above. It all adds up to a clever, spooky and emotionally satisfying show.

Robert Shore, TIME OUT, Tue Jun 6

A new staging is on view for two more weeks in a promenade production that takes place in and around a hidden chapel tucked down a Soho side street. The venue — and Rebecca McCutcheon’s accomplished take on a difficult text — are worth seeking out.
McCutcheon is one of two artistic directors of a theater company that goes by the name Angels in the Architecture, the intention being to wed scripts to particular non-traditional spaces that will in turn enliven the work.
Here, then, at the House of St. Barnabas, a former hostel for the homeless with a chapel on the premises, is a witty, often affecting take on Marlowe’s play about an all-consuming human passion watched over, sometimes none too wisely, by some fairly hateful Gods.
At first, one fears two hours (no intermission) of camp, however good-natured, as we are invited on to the premises by androgynous hosts busy proffering glasses of wine. But what’s impressive is how soon, and how thoroughly, a genuine seriousness takes hold. In part, that’s down to Marlowe, a Renaissance writer capable at times of rivaling Shakespeare in a galloping poetry.
It’s also due to the ease with which McCutcheon guides us through a banqueting table, a courtyard, and even a makeshift underworld of sorts, before playing out the extended final sequence in the mosaic-filled chapel where the evening’s circuit first begins. That closing passage is galvanized by the performance of McCutcheon’s co-artistic director, Sarah Thom, as a Dido who suggests Tilda Swinton in her pale-faced gravitas.
By the end, any fears of a coyly self-conscious stage “happening” have been allayed. For all that’s different about the surroundings, “Dido Queen of Carthage” in purely theatrical terms is the real deal.

Matt Wolf, VARIETY/ BLOOMSBERG NEWS

The inventive Angels in the Architecture specialise in performing rarely staged works in unusual spaces. Having previously produced Noel Coward’s Still Life in the disused Aldwych tube station, their latest project is a production of Marlowe’s infrequently performed tragedy in a former refuge for homeless women in the heart of Soho.
Though there is pleasure to be taken simply from being allowed into this intriguing building, the company does not merely rely on that fact and considerable thought has clearly gone into the use of the various locations of an atmospheric chapel, a secluded courtyard and the refuge’s residential quarters. The piece excels in its attention to detail; watchful Gods perch on fire escapes and smile enigmatically through skylights. Committed performances, particularly from Jake Maskall as the tormented Aeneas and Sarah Thom as the doomed, eponymous queen, add dramatic weight to what proved to be a brilliantly resourceful and exciting production.

THE STAGE

The House of St Barnabas, tucked away in Soho, was founded in 1846 as a house of charity for destitute women. Wandering around its maze of atmospheric rooms, one wonders how many of the women who found themselves within its walls were brought low by love like the heroine of Christopher Marlowe’s play. Enter through its narrow door and you will become embroiled in a deadly game of love and chance. … angels in architecture’s promenade production makes a strong case for its way of working, there are plenty of pleasures along the way … Rebecca McCutcheon makes great use of the space, from the plain lines of the refectory where we become courtiers at Dido’s table, to the intimacies of the chapel with its golden mosaics…

THE GUARDIAN (LYN GARDNER)

Audience comments written directly after the show
We provided mailing list forms at the venue with an invitation to make further comments. Here are some of them:

I wish all theatre could be like this
Best production of anything we have ever seen. Yeah!
Absolutely wonderful!
Wonderful – thank you
I really enjoyed the performance, particularly the use of space and costumes/props – a lovely evening.
Such an exciting experience, thank you all.
Wonderfully intimate and dramatic. Thanks.
I loved it and don’t want to leave the magic of psycho-Carthage. Thanks.
Absolutely amazing production in every way possible. The acting was superb and the way in which we followed the actors was brill!
I loved it – thank you very much for an amazing evening!
The production was limitlessly superb.
Really excellent, strange, very well acted and totally absorbing
FAB
Excellent!

Audience Comments that have been emailed to us via our website, http://www.angelsinthearchitecture.co.uk

I saw Dido Queen of Carthage last week and have decided I never want to
see anything on the conventional stage again. You brought the play alive and made
it totally accessible to our year 10 and 12 students – thank you so much.

Jane Chumbley

Hi- 2 friends took me to see Dido Queen of Carthage on Saturday as a
birthday present and I just wanted to let you know what a fantastic gift it was. I
studied Marlowe a bit as an English undergraduate many years ago and I would’ve
thought it pretty much impossible to pull off an effective production of Dido now-
as well as me being a cynical old bugger who’s constantly underwhelmed by
everything..! But I found your production completely engaging and very cleverly
done. Thank you very much for it, and please add me to your mailing list.

John Russell

From my first steps into that gloriously atmospheric chapel, I was fully drawn into
the theatrical world conjured by your actors and designers. I was particularly
impressed by the technical aspects of the production, in which the lighting and
sound were so skilfully conceived and executed, despite what I would imagine to be
real challenges in working in that setting. The text, despite its daunting density,
came beautifully to life in all of the actors, delivered with clarity, passion, and
a vivid intimacy.

What wonderful things we discovered on the journey we took with your performers,
director, and designers: the glimpse of Venus at the skylight above the banqueting
hall…Cupid’s “storm” descending from a watering can… cries echoing from rooms
beyond view. None of these would have had the same impact when framed by a
proscenium.

Marlowe and site-specific work are daunting enough individually, and their
combination seems to be fraught with theatrical dangers. Missteps in performance or
the technical area could have reduced any well-intentioned mounting to the level of
a cringe-inducing Renaissance Faire visit. How exciting and satisfying to see those
dangers embraced, boldly met, and transformed into one of the most memorable
performances I’ve ever attended. My thanks and admiration to all involved in this
unique work.

Robert Sacheli

I saw the play on Tuesday night and loved it ; loved the imaginative creative work
that clearly went into its development, the total engagement of you all with the
audience ; loved being held in thrall to whatever came next and wherever it might
happen, loved the energy and quality and commitment of the whole exciting thing.
It’s what theatre should do for us all and seldom does.

Chris Bearne

My recent visit to London included attending performances of 10 plays,
from Phaedra to Billy Elliot, and I must tell you that nothing I saw was more
imaginative, or more interesting, than your production of Dido. Thank you so much.
I also was very pleased to get to talk with Jo Carr, R. McCutcheon, and Merritt Gray. What you all are doing is very exciting, and yes of course I want to be on your
mailing list. All the best,

Linda Wyman

I just wanted to say how BRILLIANT the performance of Dido was! My partner
Richard and I were totally enthralled the entire evening! We got separated because
we had different coloured playing cards and afterwards were exchanging our stories,
what an inspired idea. All of the actors were amazing and the storyline was so
gripping. As a drama teacher I’m always looking for ideas to introduce at school and
was squirreling away inspiration all night. The venue was perfect too. I wish you
the very best for the remainder of the run and look forward to seeing you again in
the future. Again, huge Congratulations!

Pauline Ireland

Just wanted to say again how much I enjoyed the show and to make sure that I’m on
the mailing list for your next project ,even a
revival of ‘Still Life’ – I would have loved to have seen that.

The combination of the beautiful setting, the gorgeous poetry, the lovely sunny day,
and the talented cast made it a truly magical theatrical experience.

I do hope you saw the rave review in the ‘Sunday Times’ – I’m sure that must have
pulled a few punters in.

Julian Fritter

I came to see “Dido” last Tuesday (6 June) and just wanted to tell how
very much I enjoyed it. Both the staging and the performances were outstanding and
have stayed with me in the days since I saw the show. The choice of location served
to enhance the text, not detract from it (so easily done with site specific stuff
where the site can take over!) and it was quite enthralling to be so intimately
connected with the drama. Imaginative touches such as the gods looking down and the
watering can rain I just loved – EXACTLY my type of theatre.

Jill Cole

Just thought I would email to say how much I enjoyed your invesntive
production of Dido on Saturday. I have never seen a production that uses the
building quite so much! It reminded me of a promenade production I saw at Edinburgh
Festival a few years back by Pig Iron Theatre Company from Pittsburgh. Are you
thinking of taking this show to Edinburgh? I think it would do really well there if
you could find the right location!

All the best,

PETER JAMES THOMAS
WRITER/PRODUCER
KMA FILMS

James Greaves as Jupiter, Richard Nutter as Ganymede

James Greaves as Jupiter, Richard Nutter as Ganymede

Cassie Friend as Venus

Cassie Friend as Venus

Sarah Thom as Dido, Jake Maskall as Aeneas

Sarah Thom as Dido, Jake Maskall as Aenea


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Dido at Kensington Palace


In 2008 I directed ‘angels in the architecture”s 2nd version of Dido, Queen of Carthage, at Kensington Palace in London, working with Historic Royal Palaces on their first project of this kind inside the Palace. This project led on directly from the success of the production in 2006, at St Barnabas in Soho, with Sarah Thom again playing Dido, and funded again by the Arts Council.

This production was ‘angels in the architecture”s largest scale production to date, reaching a wider audience than we had previously reached, and attracting major press coverage as well as being featured on BBC Radio 4’s “Women’s Hour”. Working on the site of the palace influenced our work enormously, with the past and present lives of the Palace informing our interpretation of the play, the design, characters and the structure of the piece.

The palace’s afterhours atmosphere and its hidden stairways and corridors, as well as the magnificent state apartment, surrounded by epic paintings and views across London, all contributed to the ways in which both the performers and the audience engaged with the play, which is one of Christopher Marlowe’s least known works.

Some press comments of this production:

A wonderful idea, boldly executed. Rebecca McCutcheon and Sarah Thom have struck gold…

The Sunday Times****

Sarah Thom gives a sensational performance as Dido… 

The Daily Telegraph

…the thunder of creative genius is heard rumbling through the lines, bursting out in full power with the mighty description of the sack of Troy…

The Times

Truly earth-shattering… Sarah Thom handles Dido’s transformation from sombre monarch to giddy lover exquisitely, with Jeremy Legat’s winged troublemaker lending suitably ticklish support…  a promenade odyssey to rival The Aeneid 

The Stage

Jake Maskall as Aeneas

Jake Maskall as Aeneas

More detailed reviews:

This, Christopher Marlowe’s first play, adds the playwright’s typical vigour to the tale of Dido’s doomed love for Aeneas. With this production, by the site-specific company Angels in the Architecture, the piece gains an extra dimension. The co-directors, Rebecca McCutcheon and Sarah Thom, have struck gold, or rather gilt, in staging Dido’s story here; home, we are reminded, to a later sequence of royal women, Victoria, Diana et al. But historical aptitude is less important than the synergy between the play and its set, and luckily it delivers.

In fact, there are sets, plural, since we are taken through nearly a dozen galleries and chambers, most accounting for only one scene. The audience rarely sit down; and the cast face the tough challenge of holding their attention (and the tension) as they lead them along. But Thom, who also plays a haunting Dido, is a linchpin, and the production is full of sharp details. A wonderful idea, boldly executed. 

The Sunday Times**** (Louis Wise)

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/stage/theatre/article3320150.ece

One of the great thing about my job is it takes you to places you wouldn’t otherwise dream of visiting.

The vaults under London Bridge station, an abandoned document depository in Wapping, and a deserted village on Salisbury Plain used by the Army for target practice are just a few of the locations I’ve trekked to in recent years for so called “site-specific” theatre events.

However, Kensington Palace is undoubtedly my poshest address yet, and what a superb setting the slightly fusty State apartments make for this ambitious production of Christopher Marlowe’s rarely performed Dido, Queen of Carthage, which he may have written while still a schoolboy in the 1580s.

Closely based on Books I, II and IV of Virgil’s Aeneid, with which so many generations of schoolchildren have struggled, the play already reveals early intimations of Marlowe’s famous “mighty line” – not least with a trial run of the words “make me immortal with a kiss” that he subsequently used in Doctor Faustus.

Much of the drama is set in Dido’s palace, so the venue could hardly be more appropriate, especially since Kensington Palace has long been favoured by royal women. Mary of Orange, Queen Anne and Queen Victoria (who learnt of her accession here) all called this place home. More recently, of course, Diana, Princess of Wales lived here, whose story eerily echoes Dido’s, in that she, too, was betrayed by the man she loved.

The audience assemble in the entrance hall and then descend a staircase to the basement realm of the disputatious classical gods, who are to play a mischievous role in the play’s action. Intriguingly, the gods – Jupiter, Juno and Venus – are in modern dress, and resemble museum attendants with their laminated identity cards. The mortals, in contrast, favour more antique fashions.

Once the gods have quarrelled, it’s up another, splendidly painted staircase to the State apartments designed by Wren, Hawksmoor, Vanbrugh and William Kent. The Banquet Hall becomes the location of Dido’s feast for Aeneas, newly escaped from the horrors of the fall of Troy, the superb cupola room, with its monumental clock and gold-leafed classical statuary, becomes the cave where Dido and Aeneas take shelter from the storm during a hunt – and finally get off with each other.

The show, directed by Rebecca McCutcheon and presented by Angels in the Architecture (the intriguing name comes from a Paul Simon lyric), is infinitely better than the ineffably silly production at Shakespeare’s Globe a few years ago, and has some inspired touches. Aeneas’s son is initially represented by a puppet in a sailor suit, but is then spectacularly transformed into an extremely lubricious real-life Cupid, hilariously played by Jeremy Legat.

Sarah Thom, meanwhile, gives a sensational performance as Dido, thrillingly capturing both her physical desire for Aeneas (Jake Maskall) and her desolate sense of abandonment when he leaves her.

This is a lucid, often enthralling staging of a play that could easily seem as dry as dust. And the spectacular location seems more like an added bonus rather than the entire raison d’être.

The Daily Telegraph (Charles Spencer)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2008/02/07/btdido107.xml

After toying with settings including a 19th century women’s refuge and the site of the Rose Theatre, site-specific company Angels in the Architecture have finally found a venue that brings Marlowe’s neglected classic to life.

The state apartments at Kensington Palace ring with the histories of troubled female royals down the years, from Mary II to Princess Diana, providing a haunting backdrop for this tale of a Queen destroyed by love – especially when filled with much swaying lamplight and watery sound effects.

When Dido invites the shipwrecked Trojan, Aeneas, to dine with her at Carthage, she does so in a bona fide royal banqueting hall, with the audience invited among the guests, while Cupid’s cruel love games are overlooked by painted Gods and cherubs, who seem to be egging him on from the ceiling.

Sarah Thom handles Dido’s transformation from sombre monarch to giddy lover exquisitely, with Jeremy Legat’s winged troublemaker lending suitably ticklish support.

Her subsequent outpouring of grief and anger, when Jupiter calls Aeneas away to his destiny in Rome, feels truly earth-shattering.

The production instils a chilling sense of the potentially destructive power of love, even if the audience has to undertake a promenade odyssey to rival The Aeneid to experience it.

The Stage  (Nuala Calvi)

http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/19761/dido-queen-of-carthage

Cassie Friend as Anna

Cassie Friend as Anna

Audience feedback:

I recently saw Dido Queen of Carthage at thought it was electric!

Meg Carter

Thank you so much. The performance was absolutely astounding and left me mesmorised and completely speechless. Please continue forever to do the amazing work that you all do and I am sure to see you at your next venture.

Klaudiusz Paul Baran

Thank you for a wonderful evening at Kensington Palace.I consider myself extremely fortunate to have witnessed such a brilliant and unusual production. Congratulations to all concerned.

Karen Yates

I am really excited about your work. I was deeply moved and haunted by ‘Dido, Queen of Carthage’ last Saturday evening at the Palace

Pip  Mayo

Fantastic! Great use of space, great acting and a really good evening.

Samantha Smith

Last night’s performance of “Dido, Queen of Carthage” at Kensington Palace was a most wonderful experience .Thank heavens for the Sunday Times review, without which I’d never have noticed it was on. You now have a huge admirer, and I’m telling everyone.

Meg Crane

Thank you for a totally brilliant experience at Kensington Palace on Saturday night. I took my eleven year old daughter, Ella, who loved it. We became Carthaginian lords and Trojan warriors.

I really appreciated the little touches like the silhouettes in the window which we watched on our arrival and kept turning around to look at as we walked down the avenue away from the palace.

I’m so pleased you did Marlowe. Please keep reviving Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Thank you.

 Emma Brining

Such a professional production and in wonderful surroundings! The cast were brilliant, as was the staging, lighting and music – the whole evening couldn’t be faulted in the slightest!

Alexander Martiin

Now that you have, as it were, flown our particular architecture, I wanted to say how pleased I was to have had Dido here. It

really was a very new thing for us and my firm belief is that you only find out what works by doing it. Everyone who saw it has

told me how much they enjoyed the evening- and Gail and I certainly did on 16th when we came. So well done and repeated

thanks. I hope you find your disused shop for your next show!

Nigel Arch, Director of Kensington Palace