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Greeks Bring Gifts: Time For A Rebirth of Critical Theatre?

Peter Capaldi playing Malcolm Tucker outside Downing St - both intimidating you to read this blog and starring in the meta-ultra critical and satirical  Thick of It.  TV has a handle on this satire stuff...does theatre need to catch up and snatch back the crown?

Peter Capaldi playing Malcolm Tucker outside Downing St - both intimidating you to read this blog and starring in the meta-ultra critical and satirical Thick of It. TV has a handle on this satire stuff...does theatre need to catch up and snatch back the crown?

Bazlings! We are supremely sorry for what we’re calling, for the want of a better word, our hibernation (Clocks went back yesterday…get it?) But we have all, separately and together, been doing our things: from directing, acting, and bringing up kids…check out our Twitter: @baz_productions and our Instagram of the same name for proof, y’all: we got it all, recommendations, updates, all sorts! But this here is out blog and we are back, charged up and better than ever! What’s more, we’re about to drop some history on ya…so watch out!

London, or Londinium, when it was, shall we call it, ‘hostile takeover’-ed in somewhere 100AD by the Romans actually led to a lot we still call home – pasta, religion and those lovely ladies of the arts, the Muses. Also, aqueducts. For all this influence though, it seems as if the modern theatre came from Greece and the great Amphitheatres of the age. Here, 5th century tragic playwrights such as Euripides and Sophocles didn’t only stage the heavyweights of Electra and Oedipus, they also wrote about current invasions, wars and political decisions, often staging their work in the theatres placed right next to the buildings of government. Imagine it- you’re a lawmaker, going about your daily business, deciding who lives and who dies, where to invade next, etc – and you hear the commotion of you being played by an actor in a silly voice, mimicking your voice and actions – and people laughing at it, at this, an age of literal marketplace backstabbing. Now that takes some cajones.

Of course, the act of satire is not new to us: Beyond the Fringe had Dudley, Peter, Alan and Jonathan take aim at Harold MacMillan, who was sitting in the audience, Tom Lehrer was writing funny songs about who’s got the bomb in the nervous 60s, Spitting Image saw the Royal Family at a typical dinner, and most recently, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin – have, you could argue, won against Sarah Palin and President Trump respectively. In the cloudy, faraway mists of the past, however, it seems these playwrights were the first People’s Champions – playing a game of Russian Roulette for their art. Some recent academic thinking sees a strong link between Athenian Tragedy and Democracy, and treat the original plays as historical documents that tell us in more detail, and more astutely then any other kind of record.

These old texts asked moral questions of an audience that had suffered or lived through the actions it staged – sometimes even mocking authority - and was flocked to by all manner of fare – from the farmer to the lawmaker. It’s not surprising, then that fine actors of the age blurred the line between performer and politician – namely a bloke called Aeschines, a popular actor of the age, hired by would be king Philip, father of Alexander the Great to plead his case for taking over said actor’s township. It’s both extraordinary and not, as you hear hyperbole in recent elections of how politicians look, sound, and exude their charisma – not so much politic as chic. Still, plays and their writers had more than a view on the social climate, the affected it – it seems unfathomable now that theatre could affect policy – in this current state the arts find themselves in of self-sufficiency and theatre making for change and representation thankfully still going, but off site – these plays went to the masses. We could learn something from these much lauded, seemingly limitlessly brave writers and orators.

A lot has happened since Ancient Greek theatre – and its not as if these traditional methods didn’t come back, often with a vengeance – after all Reagan, an actor, achieved terms as a serving American President, and Arnie is currently running California, so the charm of the film star has been known to reach out of the screen – and here in England, we have a tradition of actor-activists, from Jessica Hynes' powerful BAFTA speech, Hugh Grant’s work with Hacked Off, Stephen Fry’s campaign for mental health and recently Michael Sheen’s semi retirement from acting to launch his fair loan scheme, inspired by the struggles he witnessed with unregulated lenders in his native Wales.

A fundamental right is that of freedom of speech – but if we return to the age of the snap reaction plays – say, a play set behind the scenes at Whitehall on the night of the Brexit vote– would we get in trouble? Can we only make critical theatre when the subject is dead and gone- what are the laws on this? Censorship on theatre was only lifted in the late 20th Century, are we still at an impasse – and is theatre too polite? As we always say, we here at Baz want to engage you, push you and interact with you – but will our time be long gone before that’s the norm?

We here at Baz don’t know – but if there’s anything we want to do, it’s to tell truths and represent real people and stories. We have done this in the past through Ancient Text – our 2013 Prophesy was our take on the Greek Myth – but it seems the old Athenians had more to offer than previously thought, as new texts are being discovered all the time, and all that is old is new again. Perhaps.

 

Boom. And that is how you drop some history!

Oh and this blog is proudly pro-Cynthia Nixon for NY Governor by the way. Come on guys, really

Big love, til next time!

 

Baz

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Signals: A Baz Blog on Good Things in the Theatre

Rakish Charm...Gwyneth Paltrow showing that all you need is a cod-piece, a false beard, firm handshake and you've made it. You're an actor in Shakey times! Shakespeare In Love, 1999

Hi there Baztecs! (too weird? Sorry.) I know right? Two Blog posts in a week! Well, it’s only because we love you all so much – and like the ‘fun aunt’ we’ll keep going with the treats until there is an Augustus Gloop type situation. We are looking forward to that. Anyway, we here at Baz like to chat and share what we are up to, and how we respond to modern British theatre: what it encourages and what it lacks, and thought this Baz Blog should be shining a light on positive signals and flares coming from the theatre world – and things that get Baz excited and pleased to be part of the landscape. Bullet points ahoy!  

 

 

  • The Tate Modern gets its first-ever-in-the-history-of ever female director in Francis Morris  http://www.a-n.co.uk/news/new-director-of-tate-modern-announced (Baz heard this name on the radio and assumed it was another male appointment and then nearly spat tea everywhere) Fantastic to have a woman running a big building in central London, looking forward for visiting + inspirations very soon.

 

 

  • A forever shout out to the all round good folk/fiercely talented/ dedicated/ samaritans/warroriors at Act For Change working to banish theatre inequality based on gender, race, sexuality, and disability are a treasure trove of sources of material, wonderful events and talks and the latest news: http://www.act-for-change.com

 

  • And another shoutout to the fantastic work that the fantastic people at Sphinx Theatre  produce, with regular groundbreaking shows, talks and salons on tackling how 52% of the population speak for such a small number of voices in the arts http://www.sphinxtheatre.co.uk and also to Talawa Theatre Company with vibrant, important work and opportunites  always reaching out to the BAME community, and with an wonderful version of King Lear in Birmingham and a smash with Theresa Ikoko’s Girls, it has remained a touchstone of emerging talent and new writing:  http://www.talawa.com/about/ and the same can certainly be said of Tamasha Theatre http://www.tamasha.org.uk who continue to offer wonderful opportunities for new writers and work about the multiculturalism of Britain today.

 

 

  • How could we ignore the momentous occasion that is an female Henry V about to open at the Open Air Theatre in honour of Shakespeare 400 and bound to be every bit of a chest-bump as the original as well as a pleasing reversal of the Shakespearian male: female ratio. 
    https://openairtheatre.com/production/henry-v

 

  • And finally, Bechdel Theatre's awesome work and aims are surpassed by their new venture of recommending Bechdel-passing theatre, setting a date, visiting in a group then discussing it afterwards with the actors, writers and directors. Like some kind of awesome book club but with moving people – the next one in in July: https://bechdeltheatre.com/bechdel-theatre-festival/

 

There. That should sort of set you up, for forever. No need to thank us (there’s no expectation, really, so bin that box of chocolates idea...really) just do so by getting out there and experiencing the art, the culture and the something a little bit off the main path. Then talk about it, gesticulating wildly with red wine in hand. Everyone’s a winner. Just remember white wine doesn’t get red wine out of cotton. That’s a myth.

Just a tip.

Happy theatre-ing! You lucky so-and-sos.

Baz x

 

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