Quoted in the Huffington Post discussing 'Homegrown'

An extremely odd and disconcerting story was reported in the Guardian this week, regarding a National Youth Theatre play that has abruptly cancelled, just two weeks before its opening night. There are fears that ‘Homegrown’ was pulled due to the sensitive subject matter: young people drawn to ISIS.
I spoke to the Huffington Post about the issues raised for English PEN: Continue reading “Quoted in the Huffington Post discussing 'Homegrown'”

A couple more points, if you please, about the swearing in Black Watch

In my essay for the Sunday Herald I made the case for the necessity of the swearing and offensive chatter that makes up much of the dialogue in Black Watch:

They are working class, inarticulate and insecure boys with no prospects other than the army. And when these men speak, they swear. It is integral to their vernacular. To sanitize their words would be to silence them.

Unfortunately the constraints of the page forbade me from elaborating on this point…. but luckily, I have a blog.
The swearing of the enlisted men is also important because of the contrast it presents with the officer class, and the politicians who have sent Scottish soldiers into harm’s way for centuries.  The show has a marvellous musical number where Lord Elgin, in full highland dress and regalia, prances around the stage, beckoning the young men to sign-up: “hurrah, hurrah!”  He speaks the Queen’s English, and he is as mendacious as they come (“did I mention it would be all over by Christmas” he says as he sends the soldiers off to Flanders in 1914).  In this context, the Fifer accents of the soldiers are a necessity. Homogenising the language would be an act of class warfare.
To my mind, the final genius of Black Watch lies in the juxtaposition between the coarse language and the stunning physical theatre.  One reason why Steven Hoggett’s choreography is so powerful is because the precise and often tender movements emerge from characters who have been f-ing and c-ing just moments before.  The combination jars the audience and is compelling, and it is the rude words that tee-up this possibility.

Defending 'Black Watch' and free speech in the classroom

A headteacher in Kirriemuir has caused controversy by banner her pupils from studying Black Watch, the National Theatre of Scotland production that I worked on in 2006.  What with this history, couple with the free speech work I do for English PEN, this is perhaps the perfect issue for me to write on.  Over the weekend, The Sunday Herald published my essay setting the issue in its context.
Free speech controversies are like solar flares. They burn hot and bright. Right now, it is Angus that is feeling the heat. Last week, the Sunday Herald reported that one headteacher in Kirriemuir had pulled Black Watch off the Highers syllabus because it is “offensive”. Parents are angry at the decision, and have demanded an explanation. Continue reading “Defending 'Black Watch' and free speech in the classroom”

War Horse on Broadway

The making of War Horse – projection and animation from 59 Productions on Vimeo.
Tenacious readers will recall that I had some small involvement in War Horse, the preposterously successful National Theatre production that transferred to the West End, and now Broadway. Fifty Nine Productions has just published a short film on the video design element of the show.
In the Guardian, Patrick Kinsley has a round-up of the New York reviews, including some emotional blogging:

“I wept silently yet uncontrollably,” writes blogger Lisa Lindblad. “I am not capable of emotional distance in the face of an animal’s pain nor an animal’s love. I was distraught. And, so, I made it through until intermission and then left. Reluctantly, sadly, but self-protectively.”

Here are the puppeteers behing the show, Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, speaking (and performing) at a TED talk.  I worked with them in the early workshops for War Horse, and it was fascinating to see how they developed the subtle movements that made the wooden contraptions so lifelike.

For full geek points, you might like to look at this experimental stop-motion animation I made in 2007, one evening after work at the National. In one shot you can see the horse puppets in the background, swaying in the air-conditioning and looking not unlike a real animal resting after a hard day in the field. It was odd yet brilliant that even the most rudimentary rehearsal models seemed to have that life to them.