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These you have missed

These you have missed
29 August 2011 posted by John Wyver

I really did intend to post this earlier. Even so I wasn't expecting that, in their final hours, you would rush out to visit the Roundhouse or the V&A. Yet I still want to mark two exceptional installations in London that closed today. Both, I hope, will have another life elsewhere - although that will be easier with the latter than the former. Curtain Call (pictured above via my iPhone) was conceived by designer Rod Arad to occupy the whole of Roundhouse interior. A bespoke means of celebrating the the fifth anniversary of the revived venue, it will be hard to mount elsewhere. Katie Mitchell's Five Truths, in contrast, is more flexible and, while undeniably less spectacular, is the richer of the two, and (like her glorious staging of A Woman Killed with Kindness at the National Theatre) was the one that left me with much to reflect on.

The Roundhouse is one of the great interior spaces in London - and it's one for which many of us have our own personal histories. I saw Jerome Savary and his Le Grand Magique Circus here on Christmas Eve in - could it have been? - 1969. Vanessa Redgrave playing Ibsen's The Lady of the Sea here remains one of the my most vivid theatrical memories. It was the setting for the private memorial event of a dear friend, Jay Reddaway. And of course it was where, in the autumn of 2000, we filmed Gregory Doran's Macbeth with Antony Sher and Harriet Walter.

Yet it can be a pitiless venue, and I have seen a number of theatre shows here that were swallowed up by it. So it demands a grand statement, and that's just what Ron Arad offered. Curtain Call was massive screen of silicon tubing. Hung in a circle around the empty interior, it leaked projections played its inside through to the outside. Thrillingly, it could be pushed through, so that you stepped into the pictures. Inside (which is where viewers gathered) it enveloped you, immersing you in the surrounding images. But you could appreciate it sculpturally from the outside too -- and everywhere there was the insistent and immaculately transmitted sound.

The curtain was used for a number of performances and other events, but I saw it in everyday mode. A loop of specially commissioned artists films ran continuously, punctuated only by details of the films past and to come and by an acknowledgement of the sponsor, Bloomberg (you paid what you wished). I stayed for six of the commissions, the only disappointment being Ori Gersht's Offering. We watched a matador prepare to enter the ring in one frame while opposite him, on three others, an audience enjoyed an (unseen) bullfight. But there was no resolution, no pay-off - which I realise was the point, but it was frustratingly point-less.

The other films all made use of continuous projection right round the circle. David Shrigley's Walker was a line-drawn nude giant that plodded around the perimeter while Mat Collishaw's Sordid Earth enveloped us in a digitally imagined apocalyptic landscape of torrential rain and threatening flowers. Greenaway and Greenaway offered a more conventional layered, looping portrait of the Roundhouse's interior while ProlongGone by Gabriel Klasmer and Shira Klasmer wrapped developing digital line sculptures around and around the curtain. This I found the most beautiful film, while Christian Marclay's Pianorama, comprising a continuous circular keyboard being played by multiple hands was the wittiest.

The installation evoked all sorts of associations: 360-degree movies in theme parks like Disneyland, Victorian dioramas, the artworks of Jeffrey Shaw and the seduction of real world Cinerama images, as well as the trippy light- and sound-shows of the late 1960s so strongly associated with the Roundhouse. Yet it was the unpredicatibility and the analogue messiness of such shows that I missed from the pixel-perfection of the projections. Somehow, for all its achievement, this was spectacle without a soul.

Katie Mitchell's Five Truths certainly has soul in abundance. Created with the super-smart 59 Productions, this room-size presentation of ten differently shaped and deployed video screens offering continuous views of five distinct performances based on Ophelia's 'mad' scene. Working with Katie Mitchell, actress Michelle Terry had developed interpretations grounded in the ideas and working methods of five giants of European theatre: Constantin Stanislavski,  Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Jerzy Grotowski and Peter Brook.

As the films ran simultaneously on a loop that lasted ten minutes or so, you were only aware of which was which when a cycle came to an end and captions revealed those who had inspired each approach. I found it captivating and - unlike the works at Curtain Call - it became more engrossing as you watched repeats. You noticed new details, inflections that you had missed, comparisons that could now be followed up.

There are nine remaining performances (including tonight, with tickets available) of Katie Mitchell's dazzlingly good National Theatre staging of A Woman Killed with Kindness by Thomas Heywood. Both production and installation share many qualities: ferocious intelligence, steely precision, surprise and constant invention. In the Lyttleton you can see the director and her cast not only revealing the text and weaving choreographic patterns of movement but also exploring ideas explicitly drawn from film, such as 'rewinding' the action and 'cutting' between parallel strands of action.

At the V&A it was the filmic qualities of Five Truths that I also found fascinating. For this is a work not only about how Artaud, Brecht and the like have shaped our ideas of performance but also how they bring forth different notions of the cinematic. Where the suggested vision of Peter Brook has a direct simplicity and unflinching honesty, Artaud prompts the use of distorting lenses and visually warped images. The harsh lighting of a scene 'by' Brecht contrasts with expressionistic shadows and angles grounded in Grotowski.

As is almost invariably the case with Katie Mitchell's work (and as the above perhaps suggests) I took a great deal from both installation and production -- and, as always, I remain as keen as ever to see what Katie does next.


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