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THE TIMES, 26th
- Donald Hutera
unusual production by the young British theatre collective Mapping4D
offers critics the perfect excuse to openly take notes. Designer
Mamoru Iriguchi has converted Riverside’s small studio space into
a classroom. The audience, numbering just under 50, are the students.
We sit in neat rows of graffiti-scarred desks, five of the actors
dotted among us. The setting is powerfully regressive; I had to
resist the temptation to wad my chewing gum into a ball and stick
it beneath my desk.
first thing lecturer Lucy Ellinson writes on her chalkboard is “History
(all of it) DISCUSS”. Authoritative but anxious, this slim, big-eyed
woman seems burdened with responsibilities as both teacher and citizen.
“Remember the facts,” she advises worriedly. “Especially the pretty
ones.” And with equal gravity: “Never use funny voices when you
say the word empire.”
show, made with a £30,000 award from the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre
Trust, was devised by the actors with Sarah Levinsky and co-director/dramaturg
Wendy Hubbard. The intelligent, ironic text rewards close attention.
Ellinson’s clipped, coded cautions bounce off and blend with the
fragmentary utterances of other cast members, initially playing
sketchy archetypes: science geek, poet-activist, mischief-maker,
piece gradually shifts gears once Ellinson’s teacher begins to home
in on an invidious slice of Britain’s bloody imperialist past. The
classroom setting blurs into an elliptical, absurdist yet deadly
serious re-creation of rebellion and atrocity in the Punjab, 1919.
a clever theatrical imagination with a questioning and timely social
consciousness, The Pink Bits is no little achievement. Bitingly
funny parallels are suggested between Britain’s education, government
and military systems, popular and political culture and, most critically,
the occupation of foreign countries then and now. The cast is game
and gifted, the production itself intriguing and unsettling. Lewis
Gibson’s evocative sound system is a big plus, especially the creepy
scrabbling noises issuing from the desks.
was smart of Mapping4D to base its ambitious production on long-ago
genocide. The distancing is mind-sharpening. And yet the performance
in toto is neither as disorientating nor earth-shattering as intended.
The hermetically sealed theatrical world we occupy could be made
far more disordered. Despite flashing lights, desktop-banging and
gusts of stylised physical frenzy, it remains rooted in an intellectual
zone. The failure is, however, entirely honourable.
is a stimulating evening by a group brimming with talent and promise.
As a bonus, it is worth sticking around afterwards to lift the lids
and inspect the installations inside each of those mysterious desks.
OUT, 1st - 8th December 2004 -
Mapping 4D's award-winning sliver of devised absurdism, the auditorium
has been handsomely made over as a classroom: spectators sit at
school desks while Teacher (Lucy Ellinson) writes the subject of
today's lesson on the blackboard: 'History (all of it). Discuss.'
The other performers are camouflaged as school children and mingle
with the audience, whispering and passing notes to one another as
Teacher tries to get them to pay attention.
goal is to explore the gulf in our attitude to history between 'the
mess of events on the ground and the neatness of the words on the
page'. There may be an echo of Ionesco's 'The Lesson' in the set-up,
but this fades in the development, as we move from generalisd teacher-led
chatter about 'global contexts' and the like to the more precise
subject of the British empire (the words are written up on the board)
and the Amritsar massacre of 1919 in particular. As
a telephone starts to ring inside one of the desks, the students
take on the roles of key historical personages and begin to enact
a seemingly spontaneous reconstruction of events that culminates
in a physical freak-out.
impressively done - intelligently directed by Sarah Levinsky, with
excellent lighting and sound work and committed performances all
round. The point it makes about history - and the wickedness of
empire (of course) - is hardly ground-breaking, however.
EVENING STANDARD, 24th November 2004 -
back to school at the Riverside. For The Pink Bits - devised by
the cast under the supervision of director Sarah Levinsky - designer
Mamoru Iriguchi has ripped out the plastic seats of Studio 3 and
replaced them with ranks of wooden desks.
evening begins as a lecture on good historiographical practice,
develops into a talk on British colonialism, collapses into a jumble
of disconnected words and phrases - "Red Flag ... rebellion
.. coup .. depression ... ethnic cleansing" - and finally transforms
itself into an acrobatic re-enactment of the Amritsar Massacre,
complete with forward rolls across the classroom floor and gunshots
provided by the slamming of desk lids.
company has few original observations to make about Indian decolonisation
or the politics of Empire. Their attempts to draw parallels with
the current war in Iraq seem opportunistic, and a yah-yah caricature
of the Ripping Yarns variety remains an elderly comic stereotype
even when processed by the conventions of experimental theatre.
the larky performances (particularly by Greg McLaren and Hilda Eusťbio)
and Lewis Gibson's fiecely imaginative sound design generate a strange,
cranky, frantic atmosphere that almost makes you believe you're
in the presence of something profound. It's also the only play in
town in which the members of the cast may offer you a wine gum,
press a dried leaf into your hand, pass you a note in Morse code,
or whisper in your ear to ask you for a definition of syndicalism.
THE GUARDIAN, 25th
November 2004 -
teacher enters the classroom and writes on the board: "History (all
of it). Discuss." Over the next 100 minutes the class do just that
in the latest piece from Mapping4D, winner of this year's Oxford
Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award, which aims to encourage risk-taking.
can see why the award panel was seduced by the idea of a school
history lesson as a metaphor for Britain's colonial past and present.
As the balance of power established at the onset begins to shift,
the classroom becomes a battle ground where the struggle for self-determination
is played out.
begin well enough: on entering the classroom we are seated at rows
of desks. A packet of sweets is shiftily passed around. The teacher's
gradual loss of control, moving from firm but apparently fair authority
figure to complete physical and mental wreck, is done well too.
After 90 minutes the show builds to an effective climax as unrest
in the Punjab in 1919, leading to the massacre at Amritsar, is re-enacted
by the class, with desks opened to reveal ringing telephones and
the English ruling class displaying typical mixture of pluck and
downright stupidity and rushing around like headless chickens.
there is a lot of padding in between. The devising process seems
to have encouraged verbal diarrhoea and while the show's format
is in some ways innovative (audience participation is discouraged,
so it is not as innovative as it might appear), its view of history
is no more radical than you would find in the average A-level classroom.
It is not long before the whole event starts to feel like a tedious
double period of your least favourite subject.
1st Decmber 2004 - Ant Hampton
sudden deja-vu obtained by walking into Mamoru Iriguchi's set for
The Pink Bits quickly establishes the tone for the rest of this
cleverly crafted (and award-winning) piece of theatre; it's a classroom,
simple as that. We sit at desks, the performers likewise, dotted
the heavy legacy of Kantor's 1975 Dead Class has frozen attempts
to explore the classroom as performance space. But as Mapping 4D
shows, the possibilities here for an overwhelming, total theatre
are endless -- one moment picking up fragments from a confused teacher,
the next reading notes passed from another audience member, and
constant chatter all around from the performer-pupils subverting
or questioning what's going on.
some kind of understanding builds, curiously and cumulatively; a
feeling for how our inflated aspirations to somehow belong to/take
responsibility for our own history are largely punctured by the
horns of various emotional, ethical and political dilemmas. The
clever structures support a beautifully arranged, absurd-yet-intelligent
text delivered in impossibly offhand fashion -- a style typified
by Greg McLaren, currently one of London's most
rewarding performers. Surely the shortest hour and a half in theatre
for a long time, this is fortunately more interesting (and entertaining!)
than the somewhat austere blurb suggests. NB: runs till 11/12.
THE STAGE, 15th December 2004 - Gerald Berkowitz
this company-devised piece, the audience sit at desks in a replica
schoolroom as the harried teacher played by Lucy Ellinson attempts
a rambling lecture on imperialism, to the groans of the actors playing
students sprinkled among us. But when her topic narrows down to
a specific 1919 Indian uprising, the students become possessed by
the material and begin to act it out. The class bully becomes a
general, the teacher's pet a cannon-fodder soldier and so on.
enactment expands to emcompass such post-colonial wars as Vietnam
and Iraq, before coming to the 1919 official inquiry and cover-up,
unforcedly implying that such rewriting of repellant and embarrassing
history inherent in the subsequent wars as well.
Sarah Levinsky's direction, the performers effectively exploit the
initimacy of the setting and employ a range of physical theatre
devices, some of which, like the relentless repetition of mimed
deaths, recall the Living Theatre of 1968. The battle sequence is
the most powerful part of the evening, with the intensity level
dropping somewhat for the inquest scene.
play may be, at its core, a convential thesis piece about the evils
of imperialism, the horrors of war and the seeming impossibility
of learning from history. But the company's inventiveness and energy
make it a strong illustration of the power of in-your-face theatre
to make a political point viscerally alive.