Friday 20 April 2012

Forest Fringe at the Gate – 10

Augusto Corrieri – In place of a show

[Dan Canham – 30 Cecil Street]

[Sam Halmarack and Miserablites]

I'm writing this straight after watching Augusto Corrieri's In place of a show, in place of watching Dan Canham's 30 Cecil Street for the third time this week. I imagine I will watch it tomorrow or on Saturday however.

Part of the reason for not watching tonight, is my desire to get as much down about In place of a show while it's still fresh in my mind.

Which is an odd decision, since on many levels, it is the sort of piece that I might benefit from spending some time with before writing about it.

In place of a show is a performance lecture. A genre, the more of which I see, the more I think is one of the best ideas ever. And Corrieri's is one of the best of a Best Idea I've seen.

Its basic question is about empty theatres. Its contention – similar to Chris Goode's (aptly titled for this week) the Forest and the Field, (aptly, written up under that link by star-of-a-couple-of-nights-ago Tassos Stevens), and, in a different way, to Alex Kelly and Annie Lloyd's The Dust Archive – is that an empty theatre is never empty. There are lights, and chairs, and a stage. And memories. Etc. etc. (his full description, which includes a chandelier, took me right back to Berlin and the Volksbühne).

Corrieri goes on to suggest that even if you were to remove all these elements, you would still have an empty room. A room with walls which keep out the outside. A theatre, he suggests, is a building with a door. And he tells us that he is interested in that journey between inside and outside.

Corrieri is researching a PhD and to this end, he found himself at the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Northern Italy – Europe's first purpose-built indoor theatre. He describes the space, noting its ceiling, painted to look like a sky, and its walls, painted to look like (then contemporary) street scenes. He notes the orchestra pit and the auditorium shaped like the standard Roman amphitheatre.

He goes into the theatre and sits, experiencing an “empty theatre”. For the first ten minutes he is all alone. Then some people turn up. The theatre is, after all, a tourist attraction as well as a site of academic interest. He describes the other people. Wittily.

And then a swallow flies across the space's painted sky.

[now writing at 15.51 the next day after spending way too much time on Twitter, of which more later]

This swallow gradually takes over the piece. Symbolising an element of “outside” *inside*.

Corrieri thinks his way round the possible meanings, symbolisms and paradigm shifts that this bird effects. He quotes John Berger writing on a similar incident in an opera house in [Vienna?], and notes the superstition that if a bird is killed on the stage of an opera house, then the building will burn to the ground. He notes that this very theatre that Berger is describing already burnt to the ground in 1951, although he does not know, he wryly notes, whether the death of a bird was involved.

As well as being fiercely intelligent stuff, what's lovely about Corrieri's piece is also his performance of it. He's got a really lovely way of talking that sounds at once precise, but also slightly amused by this precision. Although he remains straight-faced throughout, and the thing really is an academic lecture, it also feels brilliantly, enjoyably wry about its academic-ness. Actually, along with the sudden appearance of the bird, it does seem to share a certain amount of common ground with Emma Bennett's Bird Talk from the previous night – at least in its ability to make what could be quite a difficult form (her: modernist poetry, him: the academic lecture) into something incredibly *watchable* and listenable.

The piece also now has a coda, which I really can't decide whether to reveal or not. I think, on balance, I shouldn't, at least not while the piece still has a performance life, as it really does lift the piece from mere brilliance to something pretty much sublime. It's a real-life final twist in the tale that is so perfect that you'd think it was made-up (I made a conscious choice to ask afterwards and it isn't). But it's real life pretty much imitating a short story by Italo Calvino or Paul Auster, or perhaps Jorge Luis Borges in a way that makes you giggle at how brilliant the world can sometimes be.

I really hope a lot more people get to see it at some point in the future.

[after In place of a show there was then last night's performance of 30 Cecil Street, during which I wrote some of the above]

Then, after the interval, was Sam Halmarack and Miserablites.

Which is playing again tonight.

And I'm very tempted to leave writing it up until tomorrow, just because I knew literally nothing about it going into the show, and that does feel like the ideal way to experience it.

I do urge anyone who's around tonight to come and see it, though. That much I will say.

Although I don't even really want to burden it by raising people's expectations.

It was, for me, a highlight of a fortnight of highlights.

It's also quite a different show to a lot of the other shows of the last fortnight.

So, yes. I'll start writing about it now, but will post that review as part of tomorrow's write-up of tonight.

But seriously, it's still quite early, if you can get along to the Gate tonight, just do it.

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