Tales of the Tricycle Theatre

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by Terry Stoller

As for the management of the company, a process of bottom-up decision making would, theoretically, be promoted. Lovely Wa r was constructed upon a collectivist principle as unlike dominant modes of composition as can be imagined. The controlling notion for Theatre Workshop was that all aspects of production, including writing, were essentially collective, a concept born in pre-war days. In order to measure that even writing remained part of a process in which, for the overall health of the enterprise, the contribution of the individual should not be valorized, extreme measures were sometimes taken.

To oppose realism, Joan Littlewood encouraged the use of improvisation. Improvisation was the core of the acting process within the Theatre Workshop company, replacing conventional methods, like rehearsal for instance, and spilling over into performance with the audience occasionally invited to participate, as aptly explained by Robert Leach about the situation of drama in the USSR just after World War I:.

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The style of acting resembled the old troupes of strolling players and was often rooted in improvisation based on character types. Because the news changed day by day the actors often had only time to agree on the form of the sketch before going on stage, and performing in the open air they frequently had to cope with interjections and heckling from the audience. On one occasion an agitator interrupted the performance to announce the defeat of Denikin.

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The audience burst out cheering and the actors improvised a scene of Denikin dancing, then being chased off by Red Army soldiers. This dramatic practice was understood within the broader framework of political and committed artistic activities. Their origin lay in the political demands and in social dissatisfaction of the s and s.

Bringing the information as close as possible to the population was Joan Littlewood's ambition after World War II when she decided to transform her company into an itinerant structure, something which would increase flexibility and proximity to the population. During more than eight years, performances were improvised across the whole country to promote an alternative form of information and bring it to where people lived and worked.

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As for the distinction between entertainment and information, it was considerably blurred in the process. The genre promoted the combination of factual and poetic elements, sometimes even openly lyrical ones. This strategy was highly political and the audience, all through the play, was led to adopt a critical perspective on things staged, which were then to be questioned and challenged. Audiences would comment spontaneoulsy and this would heighten the feeling of authenticity; actors would answer the comments, introducing some form of dialogue that, in the process, helped dispel the feeling that the audience was being fed propaganda.

Right from its inception, the Theatre Workshop broke away from the formalities of conventional staging, embracing the audience on three sides. While in ordinary proscenium theatre stages, the audience was face-to-face with the actors, in committed drama, the open stage meant that actors were surrounded by the audience, a device that increased proximity, spontaneity and interaction. The actors would then become active intermediaries between the audience and the issue itself. This setting was in keeping with notions of fluidity and flexibility since the actors would restlessly move around the stage so that people among the audience, wherever they were seated or standing, would see each and every one of their gestures and facial expressions.

It echoed the approach of the Theatre Workshop as drama best suited to adapt to events that rocked the world, be they economic, political, social or even environmental. Spontaneity and imperfection would lay spaces open for the audience to participate. Uranium reviewed the history of science up to Hiroshima through a complex mixture of styles which spanned almost two decades of nuclear experiments. It went down a storm with the working-class audience.

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All these efforts to establish direct contact with the audience were politically motivated and designed to introduce some break from realism. By producing a powerful effect of reality, realism leads to projection and identification which are obstacles to a critical approach of the issues under examination; it induces adherence, something conventional media have been criticized for by analysts of the media ever since the Frankfurt School. Criticizing the conventional medias that acted as channels for a paternalistic organization of society with those in power dictating to the rest of the population what and how to think, the Theatre Workshop offered opportunities for alternative outlooks on issues and offered those usually excluded the opportunity to have a say and express divergent opinions.

All this greatly broadened the definition of committed drama: beyond being a provider of information, it became a recipient of original reactions and unfulfilled expectations. It anticipated the naturalistic British television films of the 50s and 60s by Ken Loach and Peter Watkins, filmmakers who, as embodiments of the working class recently allowed to attend university, intended to use TV as a channel for the promotion of political issues and as an alternative source of entertainment and information that would, in terms of quality, compete with arts, drama and literature.

This actually corresponded with the willingness to revamp the image of drama, to invigorate it and encourage the participation of this part of the population for whom drama meant classic plays that were tedious and earmarked for the wealthy and educated.

Productions used a variety of creative techniques. In addition to the apron that was typical of this type of theatre, the stage would operate on several levels with the use of ramps and runways. Frequent scene changes meant actors, also working as technicians, would often carry props or accessories on and off stage. The dimensions of the stage were extensively altered thanks to the scrim, a translucent curtain that could be illuminated so that action could take place in front of it or behind it.

The relevance of the subject with regard to the s was explained by the persistence of the conflicts worldwide, among which the Vietnam War, the Cold War and the escalation of the nuclear armament on either side of the Iron Curtain. The production asked by whom was it won, and on whose behalf?

Its cutting edge derived from a combination of selected documentary material and inventive stage assemblages. The first audiences of Oh What a Lovely War watched a production cut like a movie with many different sketches, structured as light entertainment.

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Above the stage, a newspanel displayed moving messages and words moved slowly and steadily enabling spectators to read statistics, location, time and sometimes comments. A news panel and a translucent projection screen reinforced the information dramatised by the performers in a variety of theatrical styles, including dance-drama, agit-prop, slapstick comedy, direct-address monologues, songs and dances. As far as rhythm was concerned, the pace provided by the special effects was as important as that provided by the actors.

More recently, the productions that chose the American interventions in the Middle-East as a topic fell perfectly into this tradition of the fictional treatment of politics and, in London, plays were staged that openly criticized these acts of aggression.

Tales of the Tricycle Theatre | Samuel French

Following in the footsteps of Guantanamo , Stuff Happens 37 and Embedded 38 - two plays that denounced British support of United States foreign policy in the Middle-East - adopted the same critical approach. The popularity of these plays was partly due to the decision to tour campuses in the UK and in the USA so as to be as close as possible to the population; it testified to the capacity of the genre to be envisaged as a valuable channel for the provision of divergent viewpoints from those afforded by the mainstream medias.

Thanks to hindsight, the verbatim genre affords playwrights collections of declarations made to the press that can be analysed in the light of what really happened so as to shed light on the true nature of the motivations, features that are summed up in an article from The Guardian about Stuff Happens :. Though ludicrous at first sight, the decision to take a Western leader to court for crimes was justified on several counts, the first one being the fact that there were precedents ever since World War II and secondly that it was felt to be the only way for the population to absolve itself of the shame they felt through having elected someone some still see as a criminal.

Its relevance lies in the all-out and frontal nature of the attack. As it is often the case with docudrama, the purpose is to encourage the public to adopt a critical viewpoint, generally on domestic issues. It is what Peter Kosminsky did, on identical topics, in The Government Inspector , about the state lies to win over the parliamentary vote to join the US forces in Iraq and in The Project , about cynicism in politics. If the closeness between television and cinema is undeniable, because of the use of identical techniques, the link between drama and television, especially in its early stages, was also very strong.

Following the tradition initiated by the experimental Theatre Workshop , the early filmmakers of the 50s and 60s, like Peter Watkins and Ken Loach, approached television the way Erwin Piscator and his followers approached committed drama, namely as a political instrument that would contribute to the birth of the homo politicus. Aesthetics stood at the heart of the early commitments for which he fought as a young director at the BBC, with Culloden and The War Game , and to which he has remained faithful to this day.

From his point of view, politics has much to do with the creative process.

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For Peter Watkins, separating the two is a dangerous thing and refusing to acknowledge the political dimension of aesthetics may result in the adoption of a transparent narrative mode, as imposed by the audiovisual media. The issue was all the more topical in the s as drama was still praised as an art to be admired and imitated and, as such, it still accounted for a major part of the programmes, hence the titles of the most famous ones: Play of the Week ITV, on , Play for Today BBC1, , The Wednesday Play BBC1 The working-class origin of some of these scriptwriters, like Jim Allen and David Mercer for example, gave them the inclination to report on what they had been through; their experience, which constituted first-hand material, lent the fiction films in question their documentary value.

The experimental television films of the mids were characterized, in the choice of topics, by realism in so far as their main concerns were social issues and the ordinary lives of workers. They set about looking for work and somewhere to live. The reference to voice-over is particularly informative, since it highlights one of the techniques that marked both Up The Junction , and Cathy Come Home as being distinctively documentary in their intention compared to other contemporary dramas and films.

The need for the filmmakers to give something that appeared authentic derived from their will to use fiction, which was not considered as the adequate medium, to get personal viewpoints about current issues across. If you have any problems with your order please contact us first before leaving feedback and our excellent customer service help to resolve the issue. We offer a 30 day no quibble money back guarantee. Payments We currently only accept immediate payment by PayPal for all eBay orders. Payment must be received before items can be despatched.

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