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Megan Vaughan: March is the time of planetary alignment

Schonheitsabend. Photo: Karolina Miernik
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I have a note on my phone which lists all my favourite shows since January. I do this every year, mainly because I’m not in education any more and I don’t have kids, and how the fuck else are you supposed to mark the passage of time, if it’s not through time-specific lists of your favourite performances? Matt Trueman’s recent piece about award ceremonies said this on an industry-wide level – “awards define the narrative of theatre – not just in any given year, but over the decades as well” – but it rings true for individuals, too.

For me, May and June of 2014 will forever mean Mr Burns, A View from the Bridge, This Is How We Die, Adler and Gibb and Secret Theatre’s Show 5. I literally could not tell you a single other thing that happened to me during that time. For a few weeks at least, my life was those shows. I could barely sleep for loving them, thinking about them, obsessing over them. Likewise, I can’t remember the date that I first met my old friend Nick, but I can tell you for certain that it was the same night I saw Black Watch. Nick is now so entwined with Black Watch in my head that his voice is basically just bagpipe wheezing.

If I was a superstitious hippy, I’d claim these were moments when the planets had aligned or something. Really, I prefer to imagine that at any one time, there is an artist somewhere in the world making a significant connection with an audience member, and I’m just lucky enough to have found myself in the right place at the right time for a handful of those fleeting moments. (There is a chance this makes me more of a hippy than the planets thing.)

I’m telling you this because, every year, the list on my phone follows the same pattern. January and February: it’s empty. Maybe I put one show down, smiling to myself that there’s no way whatever it is will still be in the list at Christmas. But then March appears and everything is… just wonderful. March is the month where I go from hating everything to loving everything. If the list in my phone starts the month with one entry, it’s got 20 things on it by the end.

There are probably two main reasons for this. The first is obviously that our theatrical ‘seasons’ are still so predictable, with so much of the year’s exciting and risk-taking work pushed into a couple of windows in spring and autumn, but I think the second reason might be more to do with my personal outlook. In March, the world is brighter and warmer and more pleasant than it’s been for ages. Getting up in the morning is easier. There are so many unexplored beer gardens.

And I have seen some great, great shows in recent weeks. Shows that make you want to shout about how wonderful everything is as soon as you leave your seat. Greg Wohead recreating Elvis’ 1968 Comeback Special at Shoreditch Town Hall; Hannah Sullivan at Camden People’s Theatre, articulating fury by shaking a huge cluster of bells on her back; Nick Steur disappearing under a pendulum at Cambridge Junction; Deborah Person’s Made Visible, a hilarious analysis of awkward white people at the Yard, London; and Bloody NORA at Trinity Laban, choreographed by the defiantly brilliant artist Liz Aggiss, who dressed dancers Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley in red sheets and shower caps and had them dive into menstruation.

Quarantine's Summer
Quarantine’s Summer

I headed up to Manchester for Quarantine’s mammoth quartet of works all named after seasons, which each commented on the life cycle in some way. Autumn, Winter and Spring were all interesting, but Summer was an absolute belter, floodlights bringing an artificial dawn across the huge Granada Studios building to the sound of Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky. Performed by local volunteers who followed instructions fed to a screen, the show was like a massive outdoor dance party, with histories, futures and possessions shared around in the contemplative moments that bound the whole thing together. Quarantine is one of my favourite, favourite, favourite companies. They don’t just make interesting participatory work; they make interesting work full stop.

Just like Islington Community Theatre, whose much-praised Brainstorm I finally saw last week, after missing out on tickets for every single previous run of the show. And oh boy was it worth the wait. I can feel tears pricking at my eyes just writing about it. Ostensibly ‘about’ neuroscience and the way brains develop during puberty, it’s actually a chance for teenagers to tell us what it’s like to be them. How quickly we forget the way anxiety and confusion reacts with an insatiable yearning to try everything. Now.

Brainstorm. Photo: Richard H Smith
Brainstorm. Photo: Richard H Smith

My adult brain automatically generates a wish for Ned Glasier, Emily Lim and the team at ICT to get a knighthood or something, in recognition of Brainstorm’s contribution to theatre, but fuck no – that’s not right. Instead, the distant memory of my teenage brain tells me that every single member of their young ensemble should gatecrash the Queen’s next garden party in dinosaur onesies, throw canapes at each other and play music you’ve never heard of from their mobile phones. What a triumph it is.

I was kinda hoping April would look shit so I could have a bit of a rest, but I’m afraid not. Here are just four things (from a list of many) that should be great:

Wrought Festival takes place in Sheffield from April 15-17, featuring work from Leo Burtin, Third Angel and Michael Pinchbeck, as well as The Reservation, an intimate, reflective piece for hotel rooms by Ellie Harrison and Jaye Kearney that looks really beautiful. I also love how Wrought programmes more in its emerging artists strand than in the main programme. Get yourselves up there and discover something brand new.

My personal fave Christopher Brett Bailey takes This Is How We Die out for a few dates in May and June, but before that he presents a double bill on April 20 at the excellent Hackney Showroom. You can see the B-Sides and Rarities version of TIHWD, as well as experience This Machine Won’t Kill Fascists But It Might Get You Laid, an early 360-degree sound experiment for his next show…

In Leeds, Transform Festival returns, and I reckon Florentina Holzinger and Vincent Riebeek’s Schonheitsabend is going to be quite something. Strictly for an adult audience, these radical choreographers will interpret queer avant-garde dance traditions of old. (Under no circumstances should you Google image search this from work.)

The Destroyed Room. Photo:: Mihaela Bodlovic
The Destroyed Room. Photo:: Mihaela Bodlovic

For the next couple of months, A Nation’s Theatre festival brings work from across the UK to venues in London. It’s masterminded by David Jubb at Battersea Arts Centre, and one of the most interesting bits of programming arrives there from April 27. The Destroyed Room, by Scotland’s Vanishing Point, takes the form of a dreamlike debate, recorded live, and I’m already getting excited imagining something like Gob Squad or Katie Mitchell’s experiments with onstage filming.

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