To celebrate the end of a great year for culture, both in the UK and abroad, we’ve decided to share some of our personal highlights. For this entry, we turn our gaze to theatre, art and exhibitions.
2017 was a great year for place-based theatre. Exemplary of this was Wolf Child by theatre company Wildworks. A magical outdoor performance set in the beautiful rambling Trelowarren Estate on the Lizard in Cornwall, using the naturally beautiful landscape, this production was on a scale of a movie set. It was beautifully choreographed and set to enchanting live music - characteristic of Wildwork’s playfulness and magic. It was moving and sad - even more so as it marked their first production since the company lost their much loved founder and creative director Bill Mitchell.
A highlight for two of the BOP team was the critically acclaimed Thebes Land at the Arcola Theatre. This tells the story of Martin (Alex Austin), a killer enclosed in a forebodingly sparse cage structure, supposedly there for our safety. Our narrator and guide (Trevor White) is a writer attempting to create a play about patricide - choosing Martin as his subject. We loved the intimacy of this play; creating a very unusual experience through the stage setting (using only a cage) and camcording and projecting the image live. We also liked the idea of a play about creating a play - as the characters discussed what should be in the script or not, it makes you think how much of what you’re watching is ‘based on real story’ or simply ‘artistic creation’.
Next, we have Frogman - a theatre/virtual reality hybrid show by Curious Directive. Here, the live theatrical performance was interspersed with passages of VR film. Performed in the round, circled by a single row of swivelling chairs, each chair came with a pair of headphones and a virtual reality headset. The live performance takes place on the stage, and at clearly signposted intervals the audience is invited to wear the VR headset where the performance continues in a different reality – an exciting new take to immersive theatre.
We’re big fans of David Bowie at BOP – writing our own obituary for him last year. Therefore, it’s probably not surprising we were keen to see Lazarus, a musical by David Bowie and Enda Walsh. Based on the book, The Man Who Fell To Earth and shown at a pop up theatre in Kings Cross, starring Micheal C Hall, Lazarus focuses on Thomas Newton as he remains still on Earth - a ‘man’ unable to die, his head soaked in cheap gin and haunted by a past love. We follow Newton during the course of a few days where the arrival of another lost soul might set him finally free.
A final theatrical highlight was from this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, Boy Blue Entertainment’s Blak Whyte Gray at The Lyceum. The sheer physicality of the performance, alongside a battering electronic score, created a really visceral experience. It was an emotional response to what we understood as the performance of contemporary personal and social anxiety, conflict and frustration.
Art and exhibition
How does one represent a little known but historically hugely important nomadic civilisation? The British Museum’s Scythians does it brilliantly, bringing to life the lives and culture of a people that ranged across Siberia and the Russian steppe from 800 to 200 BC. Stunning jewellery is the big draw, but there is plenty more to enjoy from the spectacularly well-preserved burial tombs. Sensitive animated visual enhancements wrap round the exhibits and the whole experience is rooted in understated but deep scholarship.
Next, we have the Barbican’s exhibition, The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945. On the surface, an intensely niche and cerebral subject, the exhibition takes this simple idea and created a contemplative and strangely uplifting experience. Beyond the architectural innovations and ideas presented, the show was greatly enhanced by threading through the political, economic, social and environmental subtext: a nation facing the aftermath of the devastation and moral bankruptcy of the second world war, economic booms, bust and corruption, and constant earthquake threats.
We also loved Jasper Johns exhibition at the RA. The exhibition brings together artworks that rarely travel from international private and public collections and new works by the artist. The exhibition, co-curated by Dr Roberta Bernstein and Edith Devaney, was very well curated, well displayed and thoroughly researched. To us, it really conveyed the way Johns dedicated his life to challenge the status quo: his work and certainly the pathway showed by the RA exhibition explores notions of truth and perceptions, reminding us that perceptions shape reality and that there is not one way to look at the world. If we instead watch closer and look deeper, we might discover our own truth - important in the current social political state of affairs.
A final nod goes to the exciting collaborations over the last year between touring exhibitions and multimedia, music and sound. Particular highlights of this was Bjork Digital at the CCCB, David Bowie Is… at the Museo del Disseny, and Brian Eno: Lightforms/Soundforms at Santa Monica Arts in Barcelona this summer. Seeking to appeal to local and visiting audiences alike, each was multi-sensory and very dependent on the immersive spaces they were shown in. We expect to seemore of this, as well as the touring of non-visual art ‘names’ in galleries in the future.