Dissolving the Boundaries of Theatre — Cat's First Play at the ARC
Most people have a strange relationship with theatre: some are fanatics — well, I’ve only met one of these so far — others have perhaps attended a handful of performances in their lives and will maybe attend another if a fanatical theatregoer invited them. Then there is the majority. Our everyday man — or should I say ‘young adult’? — thinks the word ‘play’ is a verb, has always been a verb and will always be a verb. You play a game. You play tennis. You play an instrument. But to speak of a play?
Here is a teasing view into the world of the Stockton Arts Centre — dare I say the least ‘run-down’ of all the buildings in town? — where you can attend experimental (and more traditional) high-quality theatre productions on a ‘Pay what you decide’ basis.
In fact, what you witness on stage at the ARC cannot always be described as plays but rather artistic creations that dissolve the boundaries of theatre. The first production of their 2016 theatre programme, (The Story is) Not Set in Stone, is one such piece. It transports its audience into the abstract world of stories and by extension their own lives — tiny bubbles of tales floating around the universe. In this daring, intimate production, actors-producers Matthew Bellwood and Alison Andrews deftly string together a series of ‘storytelling episodes,’ separated by the stringent ding of Ms Andrews’s desk bell.
Starting with a tour of a library in Leeds, Bellwood sets ‘the scene of action’ by describing the different sections of the library using a miniature model. Many memorable phrases trail through the air as we learn about Silent Rooms that are never silent, coffee lounges, librarians making cheese sandwiches and books so old their fungi might induce hallucinatory effects. From there, the audience are treated to ‘readings’ of a type of love story set in a library, retold multiple times with subtle plot changes and different shades of emotions. These are interspersed by Andrews’s challenging, alternate readings of Pride and Prejudice and Bellwood’s captivating yet eerie rendition of a tragic ballad sung in true bard style.
Traditional theatrical boundaries are pushed further as the audience are required to participate from the word go: serving themselves a pre-preformance cuppa at the tea station on stage, sharing their reflections regarding their favourite books and thoughts on parallel universes and the future of Stockton with complete strangers. These spontaneous interactions create a staccato effect with Bellwood and Andrews’s more fluid pieces — the entirety of which highlights the meaning of narratives in our lives.
The beauty of the production does not only lie in the comforting aroma of coffee, the idea of “getting high on literature” or that Stockton might be on its way to becoming the next hipster central of England. It also, and perhaps mainly, lies in the innovative way the actors show the audience that no one story is set in stone. We read into stories what we see in ourselves and what we would like to believe of ourselves.
Cat's Writing Idea #1: An LGBT theatre adaptation of Pride and Prejudice
[Catch the next performance of (The Story is Not) Set in Stone at Stage 3 at the Northern Stage in Newcastle on Friday, 4th of March, at 19:45 or Saturday, 6th of March, at 17:00 or 19:45. They will also be performing the piece in London in the near future.]