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THE TIMES, 26th November 2004
- Donald Hutera

This 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.

The 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.”

The 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, rote-like obsessive.

The 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.

Combining 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.

It 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.

This 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.


TIME OUT, 1st - 8th December 2004 - Robert Shore

For 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.

The 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.

It's 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.


LONDON EVENING STANDARD, 24th November 2004 - Matthew Sweet

It's 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.

The 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.

The 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.

But 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
- Lyn Gardner

The 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.

You 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.

Things 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.

Unfortunately 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.


KULTUREFLASH, 1st Decmber 2004 - Ant Hampton

The 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 among us.

Perhaps 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.

Slowly 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

In 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.

Their 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.

Under 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.

The 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.