A quick post to share a week in June, when WalesLab supported me to start work on a new show (Under the Hooves of Horses) with two brilliant theatre-makers, and long-time friends and collaborators, Lucy Ellinson and Yael Shavit.
We worked in the excellent, bright rehearsal rooms of Y Galleri. We built and then re-built versions of the show on reams of flip-chart paper, we tried things, watched things, and shared research. Sometimes debates spilled out of the rehearsal room, and we walked the streets and beaches of Caernarfon (my childhood home).
At the start of the week what we were working on was a show ‘about’ the suffragettes. We had a clear focus on the story of Emily Wilding Davison and the hideous, amazing drama of her collision with the King’s Horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. It was always a show about anger, feminist hope, and the nature of protest, and those things haven’t changed. But after a week of experiments, research and great, difficult conversations, we’d torn up the initial sketchy plans for how the show might look and what it might contain. The show that we’re working on now feels bigger, and odder, less fixed in a historical past, more urgent, somewhat darker, and more like something that we will have to learn together how to make.
Davison is still there, as is the horse, and that moment of collision. We want to find a performance language that somehow captures the bodily experience of pressure, intensity, fear (and excitement) involved in acts of protest: in setting yourself visibly in opposition to the state, the social status quo and the forces of order (the police), inviting confrontation to force change. There’s something of heat, noise, energy, and pressing immediacy: the sense of a moment of transition and slippage when ideas, objections and hopes require you to take action in the present. And the question about public speech is still central to the show: whose voice gets to be heard in our political systems, and who is silenced - forced to make a spectacle of themselves in order to have an impact, to communicate. We’re exploring literal uses of noise, and of noise drowning out voices, we want to play with voices that are too loud and too quiet in performance, and with silence.
We also started work on a second strand for the performance - about agent provocateurs. The idea was fed by recent revelations that police agents married and had children with protestors in order to infiltrate activist groups. Putting those stories next to the story of the suffragette ‘suicide,’ opens up vivid, current questions around the importance (and personal cost) of protest, and how dissent is policed in a state that avows democracy. They are two vivid moments where women’s bodies are set against state power.
In all it was a full, brilliant, destabilizing and expansive week. It feels like a good beginning, with a long way to go. We have some much needed time now to take stock of what we’ve talked ourselves into, and what we will need, next, to make it happen!
Thanks to all at NTW for your great support, and for setting up a week that made space for us to surprise ourselves.
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