Down to earth
Three angels herald a new direction for Glasgow’s 7:84 Theatre | Company this Christmas. Cathryn O’Neill hears tidings from the
In stark contrast to the panto frenzy that hits Scottish theatre at this time of year. 7:84 Theatre Company have chosen as their Christmas production a stage version of Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin‘s The War In Heaven. Originally written for radio. the play has its origins in 1984, when Chaikin. an American actor and director. was working on a project with
Shepard. Then Chaikin suffered a stroke which
resulted in paralysis of the right side of his body and the loss of virtually all his speech. The play — which tells ofan angel's fall to earth. and his interpretation of both the beauty and the horror he finds there —
reﬂects his feelings of alienation and entrapment as
he came to terms with and eventually recovered from
Originally performed by Chaikin as a monologue. the script has been adapted for three actors in 7284‘s stage version. In this production. three angels have
crashed to earth from heaven and find themselves
trapped in a confined space from which they cannot escape. They relate the stories oftheir experiences and discoveries on earth. eventually realising not only that their confinement is a prison of their own making but that they have become human. Although
Winging it: The War In Heaven
they cannot return to heaven. they decide to set themselves free, ultimately finding strength and hope in the bonds they have formed with each other. The War In Heaven is a beautifully written play: its
‘Each performer has created a character by drawing on the elements in the play which related most closely
to their own experiences.’
language is sparse and poetic. its imagery is sometimes elusive but always evocative. and its themes of life. death. love and hate — if occasionally existential — are certainly universal.
The production is something of a milestone in
7284’s history. It will be the first time that one ofthe
company‘s community shows. using non- professional actors, will be performed in a main house venue. Directed by 7:84's outreach worker
John Heraghty. the show has been developed using
professional set and lighting designers and an
original musical score.
Many would view such a venture as rather a risky one but Heraghty disagrees. ‘I don‘t see it as a risk at all.‘ he says. ‘Audience-wise our community shows
have always been busy.‘ Rather than worrying about bums on seats. Heraghty looks on the project as a significant stage in the devel0pment of 7384's work within the community. ‘The War In Heaven is the culmination ofa process.‘ he explains. ’In many ways, 7:84's outreach work has been moving towards this point for the last three years.’
All the performers have been involved with the company’s previous community productions and for Heraghty it's vital that the project is focused around the people in it. that decisions about the music and set design. for example. are not imposed on them from without. As Heraghty puts it. ‘We want to give the performers the challenge of working with the mechanics oftheatre.‘
During their extended rehearsal period, which started in September. each performer has created a character by drawing on the elements in the play which related most closely to their own experiences. Without anchoring the characters in some sort of realistic context. the poetic nature ofthe play‘s
language could very easily render it
incomprehensible. Likewise. the depth and immediacy ofthe emotions expressed in the play only make sense if they successfully make contact with the audience's own feelings and experiences. 7:84 aim to give the poetry of the writing the
freedom to connect with its audience. to make the
play an intensely personal experience for anyone who sees it. As Sam Shepard once said. ‘I don't think it's worth doing anything unless it's personal.‘
The War In Heaven. 7:84 Theatre Company. 'l'ranm'a); Glasgow. 'l'lmrs 7—.S'ai 16 December.
If you saw a man remove his glass eye, .
’ then place it in a woman’s vagina in i order to see inside her, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped
; into the twisted imagination of surrealist scribe George Battaille. In fact, this sequence comes from Cross Dressing In The Depression by American writer/perfonner Erin
; Cressida Wilson, and despite the
suggestion of drag-bandwagon-
Chlldhood memories: video image from Cross Dressing In the Depression
jumping in the title, there won’t be a 5 man in a frock in sight.
‘It was an original concept for the play which didn’t make it through the drafts,’ explains Peter Mackie Burns, who’s directing the show hot on the heels of the darkly twisted Penetrafor at the Tron. Set in a Denver whorehouse during the run-up to Christmas, Cross Dressing takes a man who’s only ever really loved one woman into this female environment, where the past still haunts him.
‘It’s about how we perceive memory and how memory is up for grabs,’
explains Mackie Burns. ‘Like the way
f you remember your first love as being more gorgeous than she actually is. I
mean, I remember my mother when she was 22, but that all comes from photographs.’
Produced in association with The Traverse as a ‘seeding project’ for
? experimental work, Crass Dressing
sees Mackie Burns collaborating with
5 two environmental artists who, apart from designing the whole shebang 'r from posters to video backdrop, will
‘ l l l
also be producing a workbook
document to be distributed at the time of production. Very avant-garde. ‘I like working with people who don’t normally work in theatre,’ says Mackie Burns. ‘lt’s exciting and refreshing because they don’t feel constricted by rigid theatrical rules.’
Though little known here, Wilson has
i been playwright-In-residence at
Robert Redford's prestigous Sundance
l Institute in Utah, and has performed in television soaps as well as onstage in
' her own work. Cross Dressing is yet
another recent American play to come blinking into the Scottish cold over the last year, following on from Jose Rivera’s Marisol, Phyllis Nagy’s Disappeared and Cindy loo Johnson’s Brilliant Traces. So what is it about these plays’ decidedly un-naturalistic approach that seems to strike such a chord with the Scottish zeitgeist? ‘liew writing in America is probably the strongest in the world,’ Mackie Burns states bluntly. ‘They still believe in experimenting with form there, and they still seem to have a love of language. I think we’re attracted to the boldness of their ideas, which come out of a bit of a backlash against the world of cinema. Having said that though, this is like a cross between They Shoot Horses Don't They and a cartoon. Except language- led.’ (lleii Cooper) Cross Dressing In The Depresion, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Sun 3-8un 10 December.
The List l- H Dec 1995 53