Review - The Master and Margarita - Complicite @ Barbican

Another company whose work I have admired for some time, and one which I had the immense pleasure of participating in a weekend lab with over the past two days (look for the blog on that too!). This piece, based on the Bulgakov pre-WW2 novel, was visually stunning, taking the audience through a mad and twisted fairy tale land of devils and talking cats, all with the assistance of 16 committed performers, minimal furniture, and amazing lighting design. True to their form, Complicite work from minimal props and sets, and will use physical theatre defamiliarization techniques to use these props to make all sorts of locations, objects, and feelings. In the hands of these capable performers, chairs become olive trees, weapons, stairs, you name it. The sheer imagination of the piece had me on edge, and completely wanting to invent work like this of my own.

That said, I did have some concern over the vocal work on the show; at times actors were not understandable (notably, the lead "The Master" was unintelligible from the upper stalls) while others' voices were strained and overworked. As well, I did find myself wondering how the show would be possible without the multi-million dollar lighting rig and amazing sound and lighting design they had. Obviously this is just my poor theatre student sensibility coming out, but there is something to be said; there were moments where I felt without the lighting or sound the energy of the piece would have been mute.

On the whole, I have immense respect for Complicite's work, and was fully inspired by the piece, despite a couple small queries or misgivings.

New Perspectives

Spent a long and meandering day today, moving from one project to the next. Began with a voice tutorial with Adrienne Smook, an MA Voice student at Central who is offering small group and private tutorials for voice work with us. We first did a 45 minute group warmup, focused primarily on breathing - connecting breath with thought and the impulse to speak. One exercise I quite liked was a visualization of a specific place, where noises were used to identify things. This really served to help connect intention with breath and therefore voice. Another exercise I think I will use in workshops and classes is throwing a ball around the space, connecting breath, then a specific vocalization with the movement of the ball....aiming to curb the impulse to stop the breath and movement, allowing for smooth and continuous flow.

We also had a smaller private session with Adrienne, working on some more specific deep breathing and breath connection exercises. These really resonated with what I have been doing individually, connecting movement to voice - in this case, relaxation to voice relaxation, but using gravity in fetal or child's pose.

After this, went over to the Old Vic Tunnels for a dance dramaturgy workshop with Maryann Hushlak, dramaturg on Without Words. In some ways, this simply echoed our classes from last term with Paul Sirett about the role of the dramaturg. What I did find useful was the exercises and discussion on finding a language of creation. Maryann emphasized the importance of listening to how the creator talks about the projet, the kinds of words or phrases they use - this helps create a shared terminology of description for the process, and also enables creation of more practical materials like grant proposals. She also talked a lot about her process, particularly in the performance phase - analyzing the performance as well as the audience's reception. This is something I want to work into my workshop presentation in the dissertation - I am wondering if a Q&A would be useful to help understand the impact of the versions we see....and then help me draw some conclusions about identity and ghosts.

Finally, off to Birkbeck for Scene Study. A lot of talk of Hegel and Antigone today, so very apropo for my thoughts (not just now...always, really). I'm formulating my approach to the manifesto assignment, and think that I want to flesh out an anarchist tragedy of sorts...why do we need to define tragedy? Why do we spend so much time worrying about this? Now just to figure out how the form can merge...


While last term the focus with Tom was on really clearly presenting the text (as in the words), our focus with Andrew this term is more on the ideas, the themes, the sense that comes out of the play, and how to get that on its feet. Working with Genet, particularly in an English rational theatre tradition, there are certain problems when presented with a text that is so clearly visceral. The words are important, but just as important are the physical acts, the representation.

Today our scene presentations were interesting; with selected scenes from The Blacks and The Balcony, what emerged was a very clear sense of the difficulty of this work. One thing that stood out regardless of directorial choices was the ability to clearly understand the spoken words. There were scenes in which I felt that the director had paid too much attention to staging and emotions, and not enough to simply understanding the text, and understanding the modulations genet provides in his script. This is something that I want to try to balance when I approach directing a scene.

I am really interested in how to do this now; the idea of presenting an aboriginal "the blacks" in Canada really fascinates me. There would obviously need to be some adjustments to appropriate the text, but the ideas, the fear and violence the blacks feel in the play seems a strong parallel to what I have seen in Canada. Something to continue to consider.


We have had to submit our choices for approaches groups for next term. I had initially wanted voice, but in my email told our course leaders I would be ok with Laban too. I was really torn on this decision. On one hand, I find LABAN and historical dance to be extremely interesting...but with so much history in dance related forms, and being known already as a "movement" person back home, I worried that this wouldn't open up any new doors like voice would. I also liked the idea of creating a voice project, what this might entail. And not to mention, I really love voice work in general. So as I expected may happen, I was put in Laban. And at first I was a little upset...but now have realized that it is going to be immense fun, and I will learn things I haven't seen before, particularly the historical social dance. And my ever-practical brain has recalled that it will give me some ground on which to look for work with theatre companies choreographing historical dance, such as RMTC or the Opera. So I am now feeling good about these things.

Our second approaches choice was between directing and playwriting. I immediately chose directing, mirroring my choice of Scene Study directing, because I do not in any way fancy myself a playwright. The numbers were really lopsided, so some of us who were doing scene study directing too were asked to consider switching. I gave this some serious thought...was I willing to risk an entire module in something that I don't think I am capable of doing with any success? Again, I sat to re-evaluate. I have devised/created work, and choreographed with success, and this too is playwriting. Perhaps I can approach playwriting from this perspective, and hone my voice as a creator, not just as a director. And who knows, maybe I will find I can actually write things. I think back to undergrad and our Style & Genre class, where Per had us write our own monologues...in fact, that didn't go too badly. And it is important to do things that take you outside your comfort zone as an artist; that is how we grow.

So next term I will be doing Directing Scene Study (major module), Laban, Playwriting, and Birkbeck Scene study (major module, audience perspective). I have opted out of the producing course; again here, this would be nice to have, but I don't fancy myself a producer, it is too far removed from creation itself.

New Perspectives

Voice and Movement Fridays. Voice was lovely...we did quite a lot of resonance work. I found Adrienne's take on some of the resonance exercises to be extremely helpful; moving on from the ha-humm-ah I had done with Gail, Adrienne uses the relaxed buzzing lips, turned into a hum, turned into the ah. This really pulls the voice forward. I also took a lot from her exercises showing us the capacity for resonance in your mouth, moving a humm from being far back (tight back teeth) to far forward (much space - ideal). We also used a bit of text toward the end of the lesson..I used Imogen from Cymbeline, which I have done for some time. I found that doing this resonance work leading into it really slowed me down and forced me to taste the words, really relishing in each. On a speech where I have been known to rush (excited, energetic....thoughts come too quickly!) I was able to maintain the level of excite, but really slow down and enjoy the words.

Movement was fun. We learned the diagonal LABAN scale and its associated movement qualities: float/thrust, dab/wring, etc. We also continued to work on the Saltieri, adding in the containment of renaissance dance and reverence to begin and end with a partner. Darren informed us of a lecture he is leading in January at the National Gallery as accompaniment to the DaVinci exhibit. I can't wait to attend!


Today was the first half/half Friday, with voice and movement on the same day. Adrianne was back for voice, and we continued to build on the work with releasing and relaxing the spine to free the voice. God, i love Alexander Technique work. Love it. It is amazing how much more freedom you can have in your voice simply from releasing tension in and around the spine...it is as if it fixes everything else.

Movement was lots of fun today as well; continued to build on LABAN's work, moving into deriving physical work with a story...and then on merging stories with other groups to create an expressionist piece. The story itself isn't what is important, but rather the relationships between the movement, the planes or spheres we are moving in. It was tough not to have my inner choreographer come out and to just let things happen. Even unwillingly we managed to create something circular. I think my brain moves in circles when it comes to movement-based things. It was also interesting to see how the other groups worked together to merge, seeing where their ideas went in terms of layering or merging the movements that were already created, or as our group did, modifying them to work together.

Don't Be Too Well Behaved

Our regular voice coach, Adrienne, was away to attend a funeral, so had Katya Benjamin for our class. Although Katya is primarily on RADA staff as a movement teacher, she (as she told us) has a fascination with voice. She teaches in Alexander technique, and uses it (as Alexander did) to free the natural speaking and singing voice.

All our exercises began with looking for ways to align our bodies not through telling them what to do, but asking what they need to do to free the voice. So we did the stand/sit from a chair exercise, imagining pusing down to get up, and forward and up to sit down, in varying degrees of exaggeration. Adding text to this was quite surprising; I used a Goneril soliloquy I have known for ages, and managed to surprise myself a couple times through this simple physical action. We then went on to look at aligning; we went around the class and looked at each person's body, then Katya made adjustments to us and had us speak. We did this one by one, watching the change in others; it was remarkable to see and hear the difference a couple simple physical adjustments could make in a voice. For me, pressing into the floor while allowing the body to float up really works; I can make more space in my rib cage, and even more between my shoulders than I have built up in the past. This centered my voice to my body quite significantly.

We then did a great exercise for the spine; with a partner, one lying face down, the other first holds a hand with light pressure on the sacrum, feeling the hips and pelvic bone relax. As we did this, I felt almost a separation of my legs from my body, so it felt like they were attached only by tendons. Then the partner takes their fingers and goes up the back, feeling one vertebrae at a time, until they reach the top. Then the one lying down gets up and walks about the room. I felt an immense lightness but confidence in my movement after this, and my voice was placed at that nice centered location. I want to do this exercise every day.

Finally, we did the "octopus" where you lie on the floor, fully feeling the floor support the body, then begin to move limbs and body about as if you are under water. Throughout, feeling that everything is relaxing, driving into the floor.

The final, most important piece of advice Katya had was for us to not to be "too well behaved" - we talked a bit about how an actor needs to be a little naughty, willing to laugh, cry, yell, scream, and be calm at once...and that our bodies need to be poised and ready for this. Mischevious, perhaps.

Tonight's excitement includes finishing dramaturgy homework, Laban homework, and more reading...while the hubby goes out to enjoy Ministry of Sound. Looking forward to his pictures of the night!

Language of the Body

Had our first class in Laban Friday afternoon with Darrell Aldridge. He began the class by talking a bit about his background, and about the background and history of Laban. Darrell is a very passionate teacher, who began with a degree in dance but then moved further into movement theory and personality analysis. After just a few minutes, we got on our feet, and Darrell took us through a devolution to get us from walking human beings all the way to jellyfish. From here, we slowly worked through a physical evoluation from jellyfish to fish, quadropeds, apes, and then humans, focusing on the specific movements of the spine and 6 limbs (arms, legs, head, tail) through these. This was paralleled with the physical development of a baby. Quickly I learned that despite having never specifically studied Laban, I had encountered these concepts through other teachers in dance years ago.

We then learned one of Laban's physical scales. The scales are structured in a similar way to a centre floor adagio, but with the intention to move the body in oppositions, opening and then closing from the navel in all directions. I really enjoyed this connection of movement.

Next we moved into the efforts of movement within the 3 dimensional cube, exploring how to exaggerate movement as light, sustained and indirect (float) or strong, direct and sudden (thrust). Homework is to complete the cube, filling in the remaining combinations of movement quality through space, time and weight.

After this, we attended a performance from some NYU students on exchange to RADA to study the arts of Shakespeare. These young american students had been studying the music, dance, combat and clown of Shakespeare's time, and performed about 1.5 hrs worth of sonnets, scenes and song/dance. What I found interesting to watch was the clarity between those performers who really understood and felt comfortable in the language compared to those who didn't. When the performer really understood the language of the sonnet or scene, the immediately relaxed, had better vocal quality and a more confident physicality. By contrast, when the actor didn't connect with the text they were wooden and awkward, and tended to poor vocal habits (bad diction, poor connection with breath).