Read the latest news from Birkbeck Centre for Contemporary Theatre members, Fellows and alumni about projects, research initiatives and publications.
Birkbeck’s MFA Theatre Graduates Headline London’s Stages
Graduates of Birkbeck’s MFA Theatre Directing are currently headlining London’s stages in 2023.
Currently, both productions at the Royal Court Theatre are directed by Birkbeck graduates who are Associate Directors of the theatre: Mates in Chelsea in the downstairs theatre is directed by Sam Pritchard and Blue Mist in the theatre upstairs is directed by Milli Bhatia.
Both of the main house shows for the festive period at the RSC and the National Theatre are directed by Birkbeck directors: Justin Audibert has just opened The Box of Delights in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and Lyndsey Turner’s production of a new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches is in previews at the Oliver Theatre. Lyndsey Turner is an associate director of the National Theatre and the first female winner of the Olivier Award for best director. Justin Audibert is also the Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre.
14 November 2023
Birkbeck students attend NO LIMITS Disability and Performing Arts Festival in Berlin
In November 2022, Birkbeck theatre students attended the NO LIMITS Disability and Performing Arts Festival in Berlin, accompanied by Professor Fintan Walsh. The festival was programmed by a former graduate of MA Text and Performance, Christina Schelhas, who invited Birkbeck delegates to attend shows and participate in workshops as part of its internationalisation strand. Below, some students reflect on the experience:
I saw myself for the first time in Berlin. I was watching the play Vertigo, created and performed by a group of autistic artists as part of the NO LIMITS festival. Through a mix of song, story and beatboxing, these characters relayed their own personal experiences with autism and navigating a world that wasn’t made with them in mind. How rare it is, I thought, to be able to watch a performance about autism without input from non-autistic people. To have your identity and world-view not framed as other, but rather, being able to share a kind of communion between yourself and the artists on stage through your shared non-normativity. I don’t know how many other autistic people were in the audience, but there were times where I was pretty sure I was the only one laughing. It felt great to finally be in on the joke, rather than the subject of it. Throughout the performance, I found experiences and difficulties I thought unique to me reflected in the stories of the actors on stage. It was a profoundly moving and joyful moment for me, one that I wish would occur more often.
Jack McIntosh is undertaking a PhD on neurodiversity in UK theatre.
While theatre purports to be a space for all, the unfortunate truth is that the art form is incredibly inaccessible to many. Representation in theatre is very limited; the medium itself is disproportionately white, able-bodied, neuro-normative, despite the fact that is not the lived experience of most people. I was aware of the imbalance of power in the arts from the time I was very young – and hyper aware of my perceived femininity – but it wasn’t until I started dealing with chronic pain that I became truly aware of the erasure of anything slightly ‘different’ in theatre. It wasn’t just that disabled stories weren’t being told, but disabled artists were boxed out of the industry and the form, with calls of things being ‘too hard’ when you include anything other than able-bodied, healthy people in the process. The incredible thing about a festival like NO LIMITS is that it proves that all the discourse around inclusion is a wooden horse, that thinly veils prejudice and a form-wide refusal to grow and change. And unlike some other ‘inclusive’ festivals, NO LIMITS is not willing to tokenise disabled people as a diversity box ticked, but rather it is carving out space that is necessary and deserved to represent and amplify people who are disabled, sick or non-neuro-normative.
Kathleen Hefferon is a student on MA Text and Performance.
It was a warm, bright, busy hive of an art studio, not like an average theatre rehearsal room. Silke Stuck, from Theater Thikwa, weaves us through large tables and chairs, room after room, full of paintings on the walls, hanging ornaments, and art materials piled on shelves. And smiles, bunches of smiles on artists busy creating. This is Thikwa Workshop for Theatre and Art, established in 1995 (the theatre was founded in 1990), where a forty-four artist with disABILITY ensemble is based and meets daily. They are stipended residents, who participate in producing twelve shows a year. Silke elaborates that due to an irregular rehearsal schedule, with productions that can’t accommodate all the residents, workshop provides stability and holistic routines to all forty-four artists. On the night of our visit to the workshop, we saw one of their shows, LEAP…into the Unknown. We witnessed overwhelming talents such as instrument playing, diabolo tricks, singing, beatboxing, dancing and beautiful self-devised poetical texts on display, as well as the performers’ confidence, vulnerability and joy, which put me in touch with my own life. These are the fruits of collaboration by an all-inclusive ensemble — I am certain such energy could be spawned only by them, in this way. Through endless applause and bows, I see through my tearing eyes the health of Theater Thikwa.
Shino Saegusa is in the final year of her BA Theatre and Drama degree.
Molly Flynn on Women and War in Ukrainian Drama
Women and War in Ukrainian New Drama is a project led by Molly Flynn exploring the role of women in Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine through the performing arts. At its centre are two documentary short plays commissioned for the project, written by two leading Ukrainian playwrights who have been displaced by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. In the eight years between the start of the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and the full-scale invasion in 2022, Ukraine witnessed an impressive boom in socially engaged theatre and political playwriting. These recent documentary plays by Anastasiia Kosodii and Kateryna Penkova exemplify the remarkable culture of defiance and resistance in Ukrainian political playwriting and demonstrate how theatre-makers are using their craft to speak out against the atrocities of Russia’s ongoing war. The texts will be presented for the first time in a staged reading at Camden People’s Theatre on Sunday 4 December at 5pm followed by an in-person discussion with the writers. This event is co-organized by Birkbeck Centre for Contemporary Theatre, Ukrainian Institute London and Camden People’s Theatre. With support from Birkbeck’s Institute for Gender and Sexuality, Birkbeck’s School of Arts Research Committee Funds, and the OSUN-funded Experimental Humanities Collaborative Network. You can book your tickets for the CPT reading here.
Seda Ilter on Performance Art in Posthuman Age
‘Performance Art in a Posthuman Age’ is Seda Ilter’s new project collaboration with dijitalLABperformans – Istanbul, funded by the British Council. The project is an education, research, and design project that explores the intersections of performance art with ecocriticism, ecofeminism, and posthumanism theories with a laboratory approach. Inspired by Donna Haraway’s concepts of cyborgs, freaks, and monsters, the project aims to make collaborative research, readings, and a devised dramaturgy on the iconic gothic characters of ecofeminist literature, Shakespeare’s supernatural characters, and the ‘monsters’ of Anatolian culture and geography. The project will start with eight hybrid seminars (virtual and live) that eight scholars from Turkey and UK will present. Seminars will be followed by a four-month dramaturgy and design laboratory conducted by project owners with the participation of two dramaturgs and the Theatre and Fashion Design Department students at Haliç University.
MA Text and Performance Project Wins Film Festival Prize
Can The Moon Walk Me Home? is the name of my debut short film which I wrote, directed and produced over the summer of 2022 for my dissertation project as part of MA Text and Performance (Birkbeck/RADA). I could not have done it without my amazing cast and crew who worked so hard alongside me in over a period of five months. The film follows the story of Lux who is grieving the disappearance of her best friend Alessia, whilst trying to navigate her own volatile relationship. Through debilitating paranoia and anxiety, Lux explores what it might take to gain closure and help other women stay safe.
I began writing the script in April, drawing largely on inspirations from the cases of women who went missing and were found dead after walking home alone around London. It made me reflect that women should be able to walk and run when and where they want, to wear and do what they want, without the fear of being abused, harassed, or killed. Therefore, I knew early on that I wanted this project to be more than just a creative pursuit and so I reached out to a women’s network, SafeUp, and the new campaign MakeItMandatory, to ask if they would like to be credited at the end of the film so that people watching can research the amazing work they both do to raise awareness for women’s safety.
The film is being entered into festivals and has just won Best Student Film and Best Performance at London Rocks Film Festival (November 2022). We spent the day amongst other wonderful filmmakers having the films screened at the Whirled cinema in Brixton before the award ceremony began, which was hosted by the wonderful actor Jenny Runacre. We can’t wait to see where the film takes us as we hope it can continue to raise awareness for women’s safety! Feel free to follow my production company on Instagram: @23andcounting.prod or @izzietyner to keep an eye out for the trailer and release date.
Isabelle Tyner, MA Text and Performance (2022)
7 November 2022
David Eldridge’s Trilogy and a sneak preview of End
When I wrote my play Beginning on academic research leave in autumn 2015, I had no idea that seven years later I’d be working on End, the final play of a loose trilogy of plays for the theatre.
Many artists and writers often like to pretend that the work is all part of a distinctly wrought ‘grand plan’ but in reality, acting on ideas, and often really good ones, is much more about listening to that nagging formless hunch that won’t go away, or finding the courage to go with an unexpected but compelling moment of inspiration that leaves you unexpectedly obsessed.
If Beginning was an example of the former, a slowly gestated play that wouldn’t leave me alone for fifteen years or so, Middle arrived unannounced as an idea while I waited, notebook in hand, for the third preview of Beginning to begin. I imagined the characters on the stage, ten years older than those in the play about to begin. I knew I HAD to do it.
But the sensible writer in me realised that while I yearned to get cracking on the second play there was no point unless I had an idea for a final play – End. So, I waited, trusted that whirring away in the background a bit of my bandwidth was mulling away while I did other things.
Fortunately, in summer/autumn 2019 I realised what I wanted to do with the final play End and was able to get going on writing Middle early in 2020. Just before Covid locked down London, the National Theatre agreed to produce the second play and last spring as we began to emerge again from pandemic restrictions it opened to critical and popular success at the Dorfman Theatre.
So, this year and early next year I am writing the final play. If you’ve seen the first two plays there are some things you might be able to work out about End for yourselves without seeing it. Like its sibling plays it takes place between night and day, there’s an off-stage daughter called Annabelle, there maybe some dancing, some tidying up… The characters are of course ten years older again, knocking sixty this time.
I never wanted my plays to be linked narratively and to work as sequels — I’m far too interested in the audience speculating about the fate of the characters they’ve just spent an hour and forty minutes of naturalistic shared experience with.
I’m looking more to the idea of the triptych in visual art as an inspiration. Less the kind of triptych we think of in religious altarpieces, say Giotto’s The Stefaneschi Triptych (c. 1330) where some kind of overarching narrative is being created from the three panels. I’m more drawn to Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) where the subject is (re-)considered from three similar but differing perspectives.
My trilogy of plays doesn’t seek to have to the last word on ‘love and loneliness’ but I hope the three plays may say something worth listening to. While the plays may be enjoyed individually I hope they collectively become more than the sum of the three constituent parts when finally seen together.
31 November 2022
Graduate directors on stage this autumn
In theatres across London and the UK this autumn, there are numerous opportunities to see the critically acclaimed work of graduates of Birkbeck’s MFA Theatre Directing – our programme led by Rob Swain, author of Directing (Bloomsbury 2011).
- At the National Theatre, Olivier Award-winner Lyndsey Turner directs Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (14 September-5 November 2022) – hailed as “a scorcher” (Sunday Times) and “The National at its best” (The Telegraph).
- At the Royal Court, its associate director Milli Bhatia presents Baghdaddy (18 November-17 December 2022), a new play by Jasmin Naziha Jones. This production follows her success with Sonali Bhattacharyya’s Chasing Hares (Young Vic, 2022). In 2023, she will take her landmark Royal Court production of seven methods of killing kylie jenner on tour across the US.
- At the Unicorn Theatre, its artistic director Justin Audibert directs a new version of Pinocchio (6 November 31 December 2022). The Unicorn is the UK’s leading theatre for children and young people.
Looking ahead to spring 2023:
- At the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Stage Debut winner for Best Director Atri Banerjee directs William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (18 March-8 April 2023). Recent projects include Jean Racine’s Britannicus (Lyric Hammersmith, 2022) and Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (Royal Exchange Manchester, 2022) (“astonishing”, The Guardian, 4*).
And celebrating summer 2022:
- Ilinca Radulian’s production of Charlie Josephine’s new play I, Joan (Shakespeare’s Globe) was greeted as “a joyous few hours” (The Guardian, 4*).
- Diane Page’s production of Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman (Orange Tree Theatre) was acclaimed as “an electrifying revival” (The Stage, 5*).