I remember fondly one of the very last outings I went on before the world was turned upside down: Saturday 7 March 2020, closing night of Be More Chillat the Annex Theatre, University of Southampton.
It’s only about six weeks ago, but it feels like at least a year has passed. Therefore, I couldn’t possibly call this a review because I couldn’t be objective (can anyone ever be, really?) – that night is already rose-tinted with nostalgia. So I would like to offer my apologies for the delay, Showstoppers – I got majorly distracted, I hope you understand… but I’m here now, ready to sing (not half as well as you) your praises.
A well-known figure in the Southampton arts scene, as well as an Artist Facilitator for the University of Southampton-led project Connecting Culture (focused on understanding the impact of the arts on Southampton-based young people aged 5-25), Anna Carr is a theatre maker who works across different platforms to create autobiographical theatre experiences.
Kindred is one such experience. The self-produced show, exploring the story of Carr’s grandparents and seeking to understand the harrowing experience of abuse undergone by her grandmother, was part of the a celebration of Sotonian theatre, the Make it SO Festival. The festival took place in NST City’s Studio space across most of February and showcased 19 ‘work-in-progress’ productions, proving just how much exciting theatre is being made locally.
Two of our University of Southampton Arts Ambassadors – Kate Briggs-Price and Thea Hartman – were in attendance at John Hansard Gallery’s bumper opening event on Saturday 25 January 2020. Join them as they explore the exhibitions, mingle with the artists, interview some of the people behind the shows and generally have a good time.
Although we have been telling you about how much there is to see at John Hansard Gallery and teased you with a few snippets of what the new exhibitions within the Spring Season have to offer, we thought it’s high time we introduced these exciting events while also answering a question that I know I had been wondering about before this job illuminated me: what is the link between the gallery and University of Southampton?
The internationally renowned John Hansard Gallery (JHG) is part ofUniversity of Southampton, aiming to provide a platform for a variety of exciting contemporary artists, events and community-based research projects. Our lecturers themselves collaborate with the gallery to explore and develop ideas they have been interested in for their research in ways that go beyond academic articles – across departments, across disciplines, and across media.
One such example is one of the three current exhibitions at JHG, Many voices, all of them loved (1 February – 11 April), curated by Dr Sarah Hayden, a lecturer in the Department of English whose background is in experimental writing and the relationship between literature and visual art. The link between her research and JHG seems intuitive enough. However, the journey from her research to Many voices is much more intricate than that – so intricate that I spoke to Dr Hayden herself about it to understand it fully.
Many voices is part of the two-year project Voices in the Gallery, developed by Dr Hayden to explore how the voice operates in contemporary art. Her research, so far culminating with the carefully curated exhibition, beautifully encompasses how much more the voice represents than just people talking.
“In the works brought into conversation here, the voice is made present as rhythm, as visible pattern, and as carrier of meaning that extends form, and extends speech”, Dr Hayden explains. “The works gathered together in Many voices invite us to reflect on some huge themes: migration, displacement, legacies of colonialism, climate crisis, bio-surveillance, disability, and the role of art in resistance.”
Many Voices came out of a place of curiosity. Dr Hayden’s perception of the meaning of voice was widened by paying attention to it; and with this exhibition, she opens up the idea of voice to the Southampton audience:
“I noticed how often I was listening to voices in exhibitions—particularly in video art and installation. I wanted to understand how the presentation of the artist’s writing as an audio track rather than, say, on a wall, changed how audiences experienced the text. I was also interested in how artists were departing from the traditional format of the voiceover as we know it from documentary film and TV, and in how they were pushing vocality in a range of other directions, for purposes other than description or explanation.”
Artists Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Kader Attia, Willem de Rooij, Laure Prouvost, Liza Sylvestre and Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa all work with voice in different ways to explore a variety of themes; a voice can be a dog’s howl, a name on a screen, a person with auditory difficulties subtitling a film, a voice-over that seems to have little to do with the visual sequence of a short film.
As Dr Priti Mishra expertly summarises it, the idea of voice has a lot to say about power dynamics: “Sarah’s exhibition has enabled us to think about the ways in which dominant power is being contested by artists from different subject positions.”
Dr Mishra and Dr Jones ellaborate on the importance of the public programme experienced alongside the exhibition:
“We’ve recently seen a resurgence of eugenics in mainstream UK politics, an increased glorification of our colonial past and present combined with a denial of its most brutal aspects, and continued inaction on climate, so talking about these things is more important than ever – and it’s also important for us to talk about creative ways to resist them, and learn from people who have been doing so for a long time. We hope our programme can offer the space for this creativity!”
Many voicesand Interruptions/Disruptions have a lot to offer to any audience, especially students. Not only do they tackle themes relevant to our political climate, they also help us to think about concepts we are familiar with and which we may have studied in a completely new setting, or, if you are not a frequent gallery-goer, in a completely new place as well.
It’s true, the thought of going to a gallery can be quite daunting for some people, but the colourful sign at the entrance of John Hansard Gallery is more persuasive than I could ever be: “You belong here.”
I didn’t know what to expect heading into the NST for Le Navet Bete’s production of Dumas’ classic The Three Musketeers. Subtitled ‘A Comedy Adventure’ and with a poster with some rather striking facial expressions and a BMX, I wasn’t sure whether I was about to watch the actual musketeers being heroic or four men running around in musketeer outfits for children’s enjoyment.
As it turned out, it was definitely more of the latter, but without the negative connotation – I enjoyed the running around perhaps more than the children. The classic, exhibitionistic comedy acting was finely interlaced with a sterling production, and a script which is both timely and timeless. In a Nuffield Southampton Theatres spring season filled with literary adaptations, this production does not beat around the bush when it comes to questions of adapting a literary text and tailoring it to their audience. The apparently necessary aspect of historical and textual accuracy is dropped from the very beginning, when the four actors present themselves to their audience out of costume, breaking the fourth wall and clarifying that the production does not claim to hold the ultimate understanding of the 700-page novel, but just wants have as much fun with it as possible, without taking itself very seriously.
Whether or not this is a recipe for a great adaptation is a completely different, less fun conversation with likely no verdict whatsoever. The only conclusion I can get to is that it’s definitely a recipe for roaring laughter. The four actors were a delight to watch, having the time of their lives on stage, flawlessly switching between characters with quick changes of costume, and even when the changes weren’t as smooth as they should have been they acted so naturally that I doubted whether or not the mistake was actually planned. Stand-out characters were Madame De Winter, Cardinal Richelieu, and D’Artagnan, played with fantastic consistency throughout, but every single change of costume brought a fresh round of raucous laughter, whether caused by an oblivious Lord Buckingham or a vindictive nun. The sheer amount of events happening and the relations between all the characters were confusing, but instead of running away from this, Le Navet Bete flipped it on its head, aware of just how much was happening and having the characters explain things they did not understand themselves.
engagement was a huge positive part of the show. The fourth wall, removed from
the very beginning of the play, never returned, with the actors thriving when
improvising reactions to the audience’s own. The funniest moment of the show
required the audience to throw plush ducks at Madame De Winter as she was
proving her hunting skills to Lord Buckingham. The willingness of the actors to
improvise and the natural manner in which they did it really elevated the show.
production value was also outstanding, from a simple yet versatile set, to the
similarly versatile costumes. The stage was a constant whirlwind of moving
props, flying costumes, and musketeers riding bikes instead of horses – and
whilst it may have seemed quite natural, it required calculated coordination
and elaborate choreography that did not go unnoticed. However, it was the sound
that truly enhanced the comedic effect. For instance, if the shotgun sounds
didn’t play exactly as Madame De Winter was ‘shooting’ the plush ducks, the
effect of that scene would have been significantly diminished. The sterling
synchronization between sound effects and the onstage acting deserved a
standing ovation in itself.
Overall, The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure was a witty, self-aware show, unafraid of tapping into the childish side of all the audience members – children or adults – of questioning its own script, or of pushing the limits of what onstage performance is: if you get a line wrong, acknowledge it and do it again, it might make the whole scene funnier that it was meant to be intentionally!
Le Navet Bete provided a complete escape from the worries of everyday life – I laughed more than I have in a long time, and isn’t that what we all need?
The Three Muskateers: A Comedy Adventure ran atNST City from Tuesday 18 – Saturday 22 February 2020.