Review: Roehampton

We recently ran a four-day conference on the first thirty years of theatre-making in this country, exploring the earliest London playhouses and their impact on literary and theatrical culture. Whilst we gathered together a range of scholarly approaches to this topic (archaeological, archival, literary and performance-focused), it was important to me to get real live performers into the conference and part of our conversation. We saw Dolphin’s Back perform a full production of John Lyly’s Woman in the Moon and explore non-theatrical archival material, and the Royal Shakespeare Company and the theatre-maker Emma Frankland each shared work-in-progress. Our delegates therefore saw major publicly-funded companies alongside younger, fringe and experimental approaches to early modern drama. But they also saw Edward’s Boys share their own work-in-progress, and consequently saw the unique blend of playfulness, rhetorical skill and company dynamic that the Boys bring to all of their work. We got to see Perry set up and run a rehearsal, and watch the boys allow the status, age and language-choices of their characters determine where they moved onstage and how they spoke to the audience. As many delegates have commented, including on our blog, this transformed the scope of our conference and helped scholars to think about how to learn from, and with, performers.

Dr Andy Kesson

University of Roehampton

…when we watch a performance (as we did during the workshop from Edward’s Boys on the Friday) open with a talented and enthusiastic boy player playing a reluctant boy player playing Will Summers reluctantly introducing a play about a personification of Summer, theories of meta-theatricality that use alienation as their baseline assumption might need to bend a little to accommodate the drama of the “before Shakespeare” period…

What are the implications for the modern theatre practitioner of considering acting as playing, performance as a species of game?

So I think there were a lot of provocations in the material covered by this conference for those of us involved in current theatre practice. But the influence works both ways. It was wonderful to have actors and directors with practical experience of staging these plays such an integral part of the conversation at this conference. Emma Whipday’s keynote provided a rich example of what can be learned through practice-as-research, while the practical workshops from The Dolphin’s Back, Perry Mills and Edward’s Boys, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Emma Frankland’s company raised a number of useful questions…

As all of this indicates, I left the conference with more many questions than answers. But one of the things that the conference convinced me of, above all else, is that this is most definitely a good thing.

Dr Stephen Purcell

University of Warwick