My thoughts on True/Fiction: a Welsh Company with a London Production

I have just come back from spending a wonderful evening watching a fantastic theatre event. It was in London and it was a play by a young Welsh company.

It was True/Fiction's newest show, The Exquisite Corpse at Southwark Playhouse.

I arrived in an atmospheric cavernous space under the railway arches at London Bridge to see small tables around which audience members were sat making exquisite corpses. For those who don't know, this is where you draw a head on a bit of paper and then fold it over and pass it to another person who draws the upper body and arms. They then fold this over and hand it back to you so you draw the lower body...and so on. By the end, you have drawn a character whose different composite parts add up to an interesting, connected whole.

There was a wall covered in multi-coloured exquisite corpses, drawn by previous audience members. It was great to feel I was about to step into an experience that so many people before me had also been a part of. There was also a blackboard wall, inviting the audience to write their own poems and reactions with chalk. The third element of audience interactivity was a shelf of objects numbered 1-16, including a snow globe and school bell. The handwritten instructions told us to change the order of the objects because their order at 7.28pm would be the order of the play's scenes.

The play itself was literally an exquisite corpse; individual scenes running in an order decided by the audience's own placing of the objects without any idea of how this then effects the outcome. Through this random scene running-order, this same audience are then allowed to make their own connections, their own meaning, their own through-line or narrative.

The writing (by 5 Welsh writers) was funny, moving and electric. The ensemble performances (by both Welsh and non-Welsh actors) were energised and generous. The design was simple but highly effective - the space drawn out to be filled with the props and costume items in whatever order was needed. The direction was tight and fluid; overall the production was smooth yet chaotic, a lovely mix of confidence and flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants.

I came away energised and excited by this interesting method of storytelling and think that True/Fiction are certainly a young Welsh company to watch. Talking to Artistic Directors Matthew Bulgo and Anna Bliss Scully after the show, I loved their openness and their inclusive way of making new theatre. It would be great to find a way to bring them back to perform on their home turf.

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Comment by Peter Cox MBE on June 2, 2009 at 18:16
I was there last Thursday night and wished I could have gone back Friday. And why not Saturday as well for this fascinating show which would be different again and again no matter how many times I saw it.

This was my first visit to Southwark Playhouse, a dryly ironic name that conjures up visions of a red velvet and gilt Matcham theatre rather than the hugely atmospheric cavern of a well converted railway arch that it is.

There was an edge of anticipation in the audience before the show, a real air of expectation and they were not disappointed. I share many of Catherine's thoughts as posted but just wanted to add a few of my own. The soundscape was very powerful and evocative but never intrusive - almost a character in its own right. The fluid staging and lean, props based, design allowed our imaginations to work overtime giving our own meaning and context to each unfolding scene - never feeling cheated or confused - always engaged. The lighting, spare and finely judged, created an unnervingly bleak but theatrical spectacle. And funny? Oh yeah.

Overall the show lived up to its surrealist pedigree with its verbal and visual swings and its inventive, poetic flights of fancy. If ever a show was on a mission to unlock the doors our collective unconscious this is it.

At the end the audience whooped and whistled. The cast took their calls looking a touch shell-shocked as their intense concentration began to unlock.

As I wandered back to my bed through the nearby glass office blocks that house disgraced international finance houses I was reminded of the Andre Breton quote... 'Transform the world, said Marx; change life, said Rimbaud: for us these two watchwords are one.'
Comment by Matthew Bulgo on June 1, 2009 at 19:49
So very kind of you, Catherine. We were so glad that you were able to make it along and that you enjoyed.

We are very much looking forward to our next chance to perform on home turf.

We'd love to hear anybody else's experience of the show, whether it be from Southwark, Edinburgh or our runs at the Wales Millennium Centre.

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