revew: RashDash – Three Sisters
Three Sisters, by RashDash, after Chekhov/
after Anton Chekhov/
The Royal Exchange/
/ththere are wayS to talk about theatrere//
All writing is self-portraiture so allow me some self-definition for a moment. I am a full-time freelance writer and theatre maker. The most money I’ve made from writing about theatre in a year is probably about one hundred quid. I don’t keep myself alive by writing about theatre, is my point. The reason I write this blog/website is to fit as slimly into a useful definition of ‘critic’ as I can, so that theatres will give me free tickets to shows they have on. And the reason I want free tickets is because I couldn’t afford to see shows otherwise because theatre is too expensive and it has been for a long time. I can’t afford to see shows on my own money because I work in theatre and writing and that’s a career path that doesn’t pay well.* And I want to see shows, because I want to make shows and I want to learn from those that are already making great shows/plays/theatre.
This blog is part of my practice as a writer/artist/maker. It’s where I shape my thoughts and I come back to read old revews a lot and I often leave the writing of a revew with a better sense of what a piece of theatre has left me with. I come here to give myself perspective because I think perspective is important if I want to make good and better work. The main reason for all the writing on this website is for my own benefit.
I am also thinking about propaganda. To a degree, an artist in the scene today must be their own propagandist, encourage people to think of them as much as they can: write incisive tweets; do theatre criticism; go to press nights and networking events; wear bright clothes; be a pleasant person to bump into; be unambiguous about their values. Perhaps. But in a large way, this blog is an act of propaganda on my part. It’s a ‘for your consideration’ reminder that I exist. There are plenty of people I would never have met or even be friends with if I had never written any of the revews on here. In some small way (or perhaps a larger way I don’t fully understand) this blog has helped my career.
A company I am part of have been shortlisted for the 2018 Hodgkiss Award. In the application, we were asked ‘Describe an artist or a piece of work which inspires or excites you’. We wrote the following:
We are inspired and excited by RashDash and their ability to create political theatre which communicates with its audience non-verbally, through dance, movement and sound elements. In a RashDash show, the different formal elements involved in a piece of theatre (movement, text, sound) are inseparable from each other in the final piece. The company use the interaction between performed text and more abstract forms, in shows like Two Man Show and Three Sisters, to express complex political motives in a nuanced and entertaining way.
We believe theatre has a responsibility to use spectacle and entertainment to politically energise audiences. RashDash implicate their audience in their work from start to finish, with no single form taking the lead, switching between different simultaneous combinations of music, abstract movement and overt political demands to connect on both an emotional and intellectual level.
We draw inspiration from RashDash’s making process as much as the work at the end of it. The shared, devising process they use to make their work is evident in the form and politics of the finished work. There is a beautiful simultaneity in all the elements of a RashDash show, which we personally aspire to in the work we make.
I think that kind of question and the answer we gave is interesting because it’s a very ‘industry’ scenario. We are asked to be ostentatious about our admiration of another artist, but we also must understand the subtext that we need to be able in our answer to show understanding on an abstract level of the cultural weight of the artist we talk about. Our answer has to overlap with the panel’s judgement of what RashDash are and why they are important, and if we are successful, our assessment of them is reassuring and will get us approval. We must prove we have (and are able to articulate) the right ideas about the artist we like.
We cite RashDash in our application and their identity as a company becomes part of our act of propaganda. “I like RashDash, you like RashDash – You’ll probably like me, give me money.” In person, I’d never talk about RashDash in so many words. By which I don’t mean to suggest our answer is disingenuous, but that this industry demands multiplicities of us. We are required to cannibalise each other as makers. Our work is made to be eaten, and when our political selves are part of our practice we make ourselves to be eaten, too. (I say ‘we’ – clearly in this scenario we are the pilot fish and RashDash are a powerful whale shark).
On a felt level, my response to RashDash is far more difficult to translate and less coherent.
I recently tweeted the following (presented below in chronological order):
i watch a lot of video game criticism videos
which are markedly different from the theatre reviews i write and read
because they treat the audience as a consumer
and very often talk about value for money
whereas theatre reviews are more academic
more about assessing how well a piece of theatre fits into an art world
and not so much about centering a rewarding, good value user-experience
which i think is because theatre is very rarely worth the money
i see a lot of theatre with the understanding its a new iteration
of trying to understand the world
and trying to understand theatre’s relevance to it
rather than being pure entertainment
or a visceral experience
i think i expect theatre to be cerebral and well-meaning
rather than affecting
(i am surprised when theatre is exciting and affecting)
(and worth the price of a ticket)
which isn’t to say it’s never affecting
but that when it is it’s experienced as complementary to a ‘message’
rather than the only reason im there
and i think all this contributes to (and emerges from) the idea
that theatre is Posh and Hard Work
for an audience
and that One Must Think to winkle out some enjoyment
and that if you are tired it’s best not to go
and that if you go there is pressure to ‘get it’
this is the impression i get from my friends who are not
and also how i feel about the world i work in
this isn’t always the case tho
and this thread is a long road to walk to say
(this isn’t my revew so much as me urging you to go see it before it is gone)
The most frequent thing I have been saying to friends is that Three Sisters is actually worth the money. That’s what I reckon is most likely to get them to go see it. And more than anything I become incredibly genuous when I write about RashDash because that’s easy because I have a strong positive emotional response to their work and I believe my friends will, too. Regardless of whether they like Chekhov or theatre or think that any of that noise is for them or not. As a result, I become less articulate because the best way to communicate my affect is to spur someone to go and watch the show themselves.
RashDash and the work they make are useful to me, personally, because:
- they make me feel alive
- they help distract me from whatever else im feeling that i dont want to be
- they make Chekhov more interesting
- they form a shorthand for the ‘kind of art that i like’ – “Oh yeh. I’m really into RashDash.”
- they facilitate me increasing the volume of propaganda on my website
Back to cannibalising. Quite the largest work of cannibalism is that which RashDash are doing on Three Sisters itself. Which is a play I don’t really know, but I’ve seen enough Chekhov to understand that there’s a lot of talking and frustration and not actually getting shit done. Three Sisters, by RashDash, Does stuff. The set is Done to; it is altered and part of the journey; the wardrobe is Done to – there are upwards of twenty costume changes (and that’s probably actually a very conservative guess); most of all Chekhov’s Three Sisters is Done to – chopped up and redistributed in a way that nothing ever is in ‘Actual’ Chekhov: it doesn’t matter whose words a line might have been originally, or what some dead Russian bloke might have wanted them to mean, cos we’re here now and we’re the one’s listening.
I think perhaps the pilot fish and whale shark metaphor from before is more useful here because it implies we are all different species with different measures of what is successful. The most successful life on Earth after all is aquatic and tiny and invisible. Perhaps Chekhov is more of a huge lumbering creature than RashDash; he easily has more fans.** RashDash’s treatment of ‘his’ text (/cultural object) strikes me as anarchistic – the performance space feels an equally accessed one, some acknowledgement is inherent, in the division of performance moments and solos, of a diverse cast of abilities in the company. Any struggle onstage is between the production and the company members as equals against Chekhov, critics, lookers-in, a world outside of theirs. Any dispute between characters is between characters, artifice; the real women onstage are in arms.
Three Sisters is a big, deep complex piece of work which above all is entertaining and really stylishly and strongly executed. It’s just a good bloody time and I want more frequently to have an unambiguously good time in a theatre.
*Tho also I think paying ‘well’ as a concept is pretty bougie – I’m keeping myself alive which I’m constantly impressed by. Whatever I’m earning is clearly enough, I mean.
**My next thought is that maybe Chekhov is one of those immense carcases on the sea floor, slowly chewed away by the more multiple living things that survive off of turning him into bones. He has lots of fans.