I was in the room when he kicked her in the stomach. She was pregnant. Her scream was piercing. I was in the room when he drew blood back into the syringe before injecting himself with heroin. I was in the room as others left, unable to cope with what was unfolding in front of them, only a few feet away. I was in the room, at the first showing in London of the play Trainspotting at the Bush Theatre, back in 1995 before it was made into a film. As the eponymous blog says, it was ‘in-yer-face-theatre’.
Theatre is often tarred with the same brush as poetry; that it is elitist, not for the masses, etc.. Some of which may be true, but outside of the honeypot of the West End, in fringe and regional theatre, much of what goes on is done with an inclusive face. Pioneers such as Joan Littlewood, who was called the doyen of working class theatre, conceived such ideas of ‘Fun Palaces’ that linked art and science in a more participative way. Although she did not succeed in this venture it has been revived today in her honour, championed by the writer Stella Duffy, who has said of them: “A revolutionary place that would be both temporary and moveable. A space that would house arts and sciences together. A place by and for the people. The original design says that in a Fun Palace you could see a show, learn about painting or mechanics, listen to a symphony, try starting a riot, or lie back and look at the sky.” Elsewhere, the Hull Truck Theatre, has been innovative in putting on many working class dramas, with John Godber as its artistic director, and notable plays such as ‘Bouncers’. I have worked myself with small companies and theatres such as Sandpit Arts, and The Space theatre, with two of my plays about the Arab Spring.
This spirit of inclusiveness in theatre, is brought into focus with Anthony Anaxagorou’s poem, This Thing Moves. The poem is part of his residency at the Bush Theatre, and is an homage to its history. “This things moves /all the way into the arms of a theatre/far out west. 1972 raised above a pub,/makeshift and ordinary/it was never supposed to last/it was never supposed to work/adversity filled its seats way before people did.” It is theatres like The Bush that grow because of their independence and creative strategy of being different. Anthony’s poem really reflects this success. “This thing kept moving, years on/as a theatre that opposed tradition and class/sidestepped convention, took risks/holding the struggles of its people together/placing their voice way above the grandeur of skyscrapers.” There is nothing quite as breath-taking as sitting in a 100 seat space, with the floor as the stage, and watching a play, “and all that has been absorbed and all that’s been felt/now lives on in the body of those who sat amongst its alchemy.” It is only theatre that can do this, and the more intimate, radical, and innovative, the better.
You can watch Anthony perform the poem here: https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/watch/
Anthony Anaxagorou is an award winning poet, prose writer, playwright, performer and educator. He has published eight volumes of poetry, a spoken word EP, a book of short stories and has written for theatre. www.anthonyanaxagorou.com
This Thing Moves
This things moves
over and up the Uxbridge Road
ordinary folk waking under a peeled sun
through traffic and bustle, repeat, rainy days make it hard
on the bones, commotion draped in fragments of drama
love leaves, love arrives
both things happen on the stage of a heart.
West London, winter seasons
around the domed churches and poised mosques
a flock of pigeons explode beneath the sky,
market canopies collect bits of secret rain,
road sweepers lean wearily on their livelihood,
languages reverberate off each other’s phonics,
shopkeepers rattle awake metallic shutters
and a morning paper gets picked up by the hands of wind.
This things moves
all the way into the arms of a theatre
far out west. 1972 raised above a pub,
makeshift and ordinary
it was never supposed to last
it was never supposed to work
adversity filled its seats way before people did
but we all need stories because stories are
who we are and the places we left behind
and the scars we survived.
Soon enough they would all come to fill
the shadows kicking out the dust and long echoes
eager to feel the mythical, the realm of magic
and pretend as applause startled the evening hours again.
This thing kept moving, years on
as a theatre that opposed tradition and class
sidestepped convention, took risks
holding the struggles of its people together
placing their voice way above the grandeur of skyscrapers,
etched script into walls, shattering moulds
and inventing fresh paths,
it moved and moved along its line
championing forgotten whispers, igniting fury,
placing a spotlight on the galaxy under tongues.
This thing, this force, this necessity
giving, adding, stirring us into a new way
perspective and plurality culminating
in the grand lesson of theatre,
and it is here that this thing slows to stop
like the end of a play or the closing of a book,
and all that has been absorbed and all that’s been felt
now lives on in the body of those who sat amongst its alchemy.
The actors take a bow, the audience stand to applause
and one by one each filter out returning to their lives
with a new world alive and swelling
in the home of their synchronised blood.
[This Thing Moves was commissioned by The Bush Theatre]
The Bush is a cracking theatre, and Anthony’s poem made me feel nostalgic for West London. Used to live very close to Shepherd’s Bush. Now I live in Brighton and am very proud of Brighton’s Fringe and how that can often flare with theatrical innovation. I went to the official launch of the Fringe a few weeks ago, and Brighton’s mayor was talking about the millions the festival and the fringe brings to the city every year. Weaving innovative theatre into a city shouldn’t be an afterthought or the first thing to be cut by our nauseating ‘austerity for everyone-else’ mongers. Not only does it makes people’s lives more interesting and provide a valve for real creativity but it brings money in too.
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Thanks for that Peter. My first play was shown at the Nightingale Theatre in Brighton.
Reblogged this on Proletarian Poetry and commented:
Today is World Theatre Day. Here is Anthony Anaxogorou from 2016 writing about the Bush Theatre.
I’ve only just found this. I like the poem.
Having been involved in theatre in Brighton and in London and in the West Midlands, and for a couple of decades also in performance poetry, it saddens to know that, outside of London, theatre and poetry both remain practically invisible to national institutions and reporters of flashes and bangs.
There is a thriving community of performance across the UK that remains unnoticed beyond the M25. To all intents and purposes one would believe that it barely existed.
I don’t know The Bush or Uxbridge Road, but imagine they are both in the London conurbation and I applaud the highlighting of such an enterprise. I don’t care whether it makes money, only that it exists, survives, has an audience.
Art is real as long as it concerns itself with human experience. As soon as the urge to make money becomes more important, it loses its reality and its contaminated heart slides away like jelly through spaces in the pebbled beach of fiscal success.
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