âShoot/Get Treasure/Repeatâ: preview
Mark Ravenhill‘s mini-epic play cycle ’Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat‘ went down a treat over breakfast at last year‘s Edinburgh Festival. Time Out talks to some of the directors who are bringing the 16 short plays to London
What links a walled garden in Notting Hill, the bar at the Royal Court and a warehouse in Shoreditch with the war on terror? Answer: Mark Ravenhill. Starting this week, they’ll all be sites for shorts from his ‘Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat’ cycle. The series was written last year, at a rate of two per week, after Ravenhill suffered a serious epileptic fit and lost his memory. The plays, which run at 20-25 minutes apiece, refer to great martial classics such as ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘War and Peace’ in their titles and themes. And they link the anxieties of affluent westerners with the shock and awe violence of their governments abroad.
Ravenhill originally earned notoriety on the shock-and-sperm theatre-scene of the ’90s with ‘Shopping and Fucking’, which was co-produced by Out of Joint and the Royal Court in 1996. Since then, he’s been a prolific and ever-provocative presence, in playwriting and journalism. And
this cycle, which is being staged jointly by the Royal Court, National and Gate theatres, and by new writing company Paines Plough, brings together several of Ravenhill’s influential collaborators from the last 12 years, and some new ones too.
At the National, Anna Mackmin, who staged Ravenhill’s last critically acclaimed play, ‘Citizenship’ there in 2006 will direct ‘Intolerance’. And Max Stafford-Clark (the original director of ‘Shopping and Fucking’), Dominic Cooke and Ramin Gray will direct four shorts at the Royal Court. Cooke, the Royal Court’s artistic director, came up with the idea for the festival with Ravenhill after seeing one of the plays at the Edinburgh Festival (they were produced by Paines Plough as rehearsed readings, entitled ‘Ravenhill for Breakfast’). It was, he says, ‘partly inspired by the Antony Gormley sculptures on the London skyline: Mark was very keen to keep a sense of event if we staged the plays here.’
The event will not be homogenous, with each director bringing their own style and sensibilities. Cooke has plumped for a play about a ‘middle-class couple’ which he can stage, challengingly, in the ‘comfortable, urban, middle-class world of the Royal Court bar.’ He was drawn to the ‘less choric’ pieces, in contrast to Roxana Silbert who is staging five shorts, she says, in a ‘very beautiful Victorian East End warehouse whose height really suits the epic chorus-pieces, like “War of the Worlds” and “Women of Troy.” ’
Silbert (of Paines Plough, the influential new-writing company which appointed Ravenhill as its literary director in 1997) was very involved in the Edinburgh readings. They were, she argues, ‘packed with theatricality, which we’re now unpacking, releasing their energy to fill the big space.’
To that end Ravenhill has, says Silbert, ‘rewritten the choral pieces for the spaces they’ll be performed in, adding new characters like a soldier-angel, and taking them further, for stage images which combine the domestic and the epic.’ Over at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, young directors Carrie Cracknell and Natalie Abrahami are extending their double-bill too, through, says Cracknell, ‘the decision to be site-specific’: in ‘Armaggedon’, an illicit meeting between a woman and her young lover will be staged in a room at Guesthouse West on Westbourne Grove. Promenading audiences may ‘stumble into conversations and other characters along the way’.
Although several directors are staging the shorts as double- or triple-bills, they are still very short indeed. Director Ramin Gray (who is taking on ‘Birth of a Nation’, a satire about the export of British culture via a group of actors who go to Iraq) reckons brevity is an advantage, as ‘Ravenhill is a sprinter, the kind of writer who puts on a spurt and is brilliant over ten minutes’. Silbert does recommend going to see ‘a cluster, as they all feed off each other’. But like the other directors, she’s keen to stress that each play stands alone – ‘When you’ve only got 20 minutes to tell a story called “Paradise Lost”, it takes wit and a lot of specificity. So, for the audience, it can be a very intense encounter. And as a director, I think that every single play has an extraordinary turning point which makes you gasp.’
‘Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat’ opens on Apr 3.
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