The Playgoer: Complicite Up Close

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Complicite Up Close

by Joe Heissan

Playgoer readers,

The Playgoer is on vacation, so I’m filling in today. I am working currently on my dissertation, which focuses on Complicite (originally known as Théâtre de Complicité) and devised theatre in Great Britain. Deirdre Heddon and Jane Milling have described devising as the way of making a production “in which no script—neither written play-text nor performance score—exists prior to the work’s creation by the company.” Though devising is usually thought of as a group activity, it is possible for an individual to devise a performance.Here in the United States, devising is growing in popularity.In the UK devising was originally associated with alternative or fringe theatre, but increasingly it is being seen as just another way of making a performance.Devised productions have turned up at the National Theatre, in The West End, and at international theatre festivals. Companies in the that devise plays regularly receive support from the Arts Council England. There is no one way to devise. Some scholars and practitioners see devising as synonymous with “collaborative creation,” or “collective creation.” I don’t necessarily feel that these terms as interchangeable, and part of my dissertation research will be to tease out how accurate this might be.

Here in New York we had a chance recently to enjoy Complicite’s award-winning devised production of A Disappearing Number at the Lincoln Center Festival.(The New York Times review can be found here.) If you missed it, the production is traveling to London in October, or it can be viewed on 14 October 2010, at 2 p.m., as part of National Theatre of London Live in HD. This is an initiative to broadcast live performances from London of national theatre plays onto cinema screens around the world. I know, for example, that there will be a screening in at Fairfield University. If at all possible, Complicite productions certainly should be experience live. But if that’s not possible, this might be an acceptable alternative.

Complicite was founded in 1983, when performers Annabel Arden, Fiona Gordon, Marcello Magni, and Simon McBurney got together to devise a play called Put It On Your Head, a flight of fantasy about the English seaside and the social agonies of Englishness on the beach. Arden and McBurney had known each other while studying at Cambridge. Gordon, Magni and McBurney had studied together in Paris with Jacques Lecoq and Philippe Gaulier. Gordon moved on after this initial production. Arden and Magni have had active associations with Complicite for much of its existence, having worked with McBurney to create such memorable productions as A Minute Too Late; Please, Please, Please; The Visit; The Winter’s Tale; Anything for a Quiet Life; Out of a House Walked a Man…; Foodstuff; and The Street of Crocodiles, though in recent years both have gone off to work on projects mainly outside of the company. Arden, for example, recently co-directed Heldenplatz in London, and her 2007 production of L’elisir d’amore will be revived at Glyndebourne in 2011. Magni acted with Kathryn Hunter and Jos Houben in Peter Brook’s Fragments which toured through 2009.

McBurney is now Complicite’s artistic director. In addition to directing productions such as Mnemonic (also actor); The Elephant Vanishes; The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol (also actor); The Chairs; and Shun-kin for the company, he had appeared in films including The Last King of Scotland; The Manchurian Candidate; and Friends with Money, and on TV as Cecil the Choirmaster in The Vicar of Dibley on the BBC.(Hilarious!)Complicite’s network of collaborators has grown extensively over the years, with some working on only one specific production, while others have been involved in multiple projects.

In New York, we have enjoyed visits of Complicite productions every few years, including The Street of Crocodiles; The Noise of Time; The Chairs; The Elephant Vanishes and Mnemonic. If you are going to be in London in November 2010, Complicite’s production of Shun-kin will be playing at the Barbican Centre, and A Dog’s Heart will be playing at the English National Opera. If you’d like to see some work by Complicite collaborators here in New York, be on the lookout for Rae Smith’s set design for War Horse at Lincoln Center; Paule Constable’s lighting design for Phantom 2:Love Never Dies on Broadway; Kathryn Hunter in the RSC’s productions of King Lear (The Fool) and Antony and Cleopatra (Cleopatra) at the Park Avenue Armory in 2011; and Mark Rylance in La Bête (Valere). If you’re a Doctor Who fan like me, Marcello Magni recently guest-starred in episode #501, “The Eleventh Hour,” which I’m sure will be repeated soon on BBC America. Harry Potter fans should be listening for Simon McBurney, who will provide the voice of Kreacher the house-elf in the upcoming …and the Deathly Hallows movies.

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