Ask Me Anything: two plays in one

The Paper Birds pull off a huge challenge with a play that says two different things to two different audiences. But as a vehicle for change, there’s one more thing they could do.

If there’s one thing you cannot fault The Paper Birds for, it’s ambition. Anyone who saw Mobile can vouch for this. I gone on long enough about how brilliantly this was staged – a small site-specific piece in a caravan, with talking clock radios and microwaves, moving views out the windows, astral projections as so on – but I’ve not really talked about how difficult it is to pull something like this off. There’s a lot more to this than technical know-how: you need a vision, the ability to guess if an audience will buy into this vision, and – the hardest one seeing as there’s no knowing what an audience will make of it – the audacity to attempt this in the first place. But, that achievement under their belt, where do you from there? In terms of technical ambition, I don’t see how you could top Mobile. And when you’re scaling up to a bigger audience in a co-production with Live Theatre, an intimate performance in something caravan-sized isn’t an option either. And yet their follow-up, Ask Me Anything, is just as ambitious as Mobile, but in a different way.

Apart from their innovative staging, the other thing that The Paper Birds are noted for is their verbatim theatre. This time round, they did something similar, and based the entire show around asking teenagers to write in and ask them anything. Some of them asked for factual information (answered in a song at the beginning going into the joy of tax returns), some asked for some more personal questions, and some questions were tough to answer. Whether The Paper Birds realised it or not, they set themselves a real challenge, because this is, in effect, two different plays being told at the same time. To a regular theatre audience, this is an interesting measure of how teenage life has – or hasn’t – change since we were that age. But to teenagers themselves, it’s going to be a guide as to what to expect in the years ahead – a kind of theatrical version of the personal pages of Mizz or Just Seventeen. Continue reading

Live Gardens and Mobile

PIcture of Live Gardens

Skip to review of Mobile

Whilst I recover from Brighton, I can turn attention to the big theatre news up here in the north east, which is the opening of LiveWorks, Live Theatre’s latest development. Ever since the cuts started in 2010, Live has been busy expanding its estate, presumably motivated by getting itself a reliable income stream from real estate. With a mixture of artistic and commercial functions, we first had the Broad Chare Pub, then we had the addition of the Old Schoolhouse, and now we’ve got this addition on formerly derelict land running all the way to the water front.

As I’ve been writing about before, one question that can reasonably be asked is: should Live be getting involved in this? Some parts of the new building will be used for the arts – youth theatre is the big one this time round – but other parts are simply being rented out to any business who bids for the office space. Is it appropriate for an arts organisation to play such a strong role as a commercial landlord? It’s a valid question, but I’m okay with this. A business (especially a creative one) prepared to pay for office space on the quayside is quite likely to be prepared to pay a premium for the prestige of being part of such a prestigious theatre. Provided Live don’t lose sight of what they are there for, I look on this as a smart use of assets and a smart way of getting money. Continue reading