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Weaving a story

Michael Pinchbeck talks about weaving several narratives together to make his piece, The Beginning, for the Edinburgh Showcase

The piece I’m bringing up to Edinburgh is called The Beginning and it’s part of a trilogy. Two years ago I took up a show called The End, and this year I’m also going to the Forest Fringe with a show called The Middle. The trilogy combines a contemporary approach to Shakespeare with personal history and autobiography. It’s about theatre, really.

Pinchbeck 1

The Beginning is about what compels us to perform, what makes us walk on stage in the first place. It also brings together memories of what it’s like to do that for the first time. The two other performers in the piece and I were all in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the first performance we ever did. So we take the storyline and the stage directions from AMND and we deconstruct it and we wrap it around how it felt to be performing for the first time. At the same time, we’re bringing in another story, a love story, that of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. We use his music in the show to really draw out the themes of love. It relates to amateur dramatics, too. I fell into theatre through amateur dramatics, and the word “amateur” comes from the Latin “to love” – and the idea of performing for the love of it. That again goes back to AMND because in that there are a group of amateurs putting on a play.

The Beginning is about what compels us to perform, what makes us walk on stage in the first place

Bottom is a weaver by trade and we’re trying to weave these stories together. The first part I played in AMND was Bottom. So in a way I’m re-visiting the personal relationship to theatre, through the lens of these other texts. The show you’ll see now is also a weave of these narratives. With any weave, you have to make sure there aren’t any loose threads. On the back of the tapestry, there are loads of threads going everywhere, but what we’re trying to do is to make sure that the front of the tapestry shows the audience what we want them to see. I keep thinking, maybe if we threaded that over there, or tightened up that knot it’ll be a little clearer. My PhD is on dramaturgy and the role of the dramaturg. I’m really interested in this idea that dramaturgy is the weave of the performance. It’s a case of refining and taking away, to see what’s the least I can do to make this clear.

It’s also an exploration of what happens when you’re faced with an empty page as a writer or an empty stage as a performer. It looks at how we perform text. The voiceover in the trailer really encapsulates how I feel about the piece. It’s about how it feels to perform onstage for the first time and how you feel when you’re performing. The Beginning is really about the relationship between the performers and the audience.

The Showcase puts us in a place to reach audiences that we wouldn’t normally reach

Being part of the Showcase is a huge stamp of approval and a wonderful opportunity – it’s my third showcase in a row. Each time has been an exciting time in my career and it’s led to exciting opportunities. Last time, two years ago, led to taking the work to Brussels, Cologne, Dresden and Berlin… I’m aware of the impact that it can have. I’m also excited about the potential for this show to reach a different kind of audience, perhaps in French-speaking countries. We speak French in the show, we use the music of Serge Gainsbourg, there’s something in the aesthetic that I think would appeal to those audiences. The Showcase puts us in a place to reach audiences that we wouldn’t normally reach, alongside some other really exciting artists.

After Edinburgh, it’s back to Bolero [you can read about Bolero in Michael’s blog here]. I’m actually going to Sarajevo again before Edinburgh, to work with artists there. The British Council has been very supportive. The plan is to premiere it in Nottingham next year and then tour it in Sarajevo and possibly the wider area. The exciting thing about doing Bolero at the moment is that next year is 30 years since Torvill and Dean performed to Bolero, and it’s the centenary of the First World War, which was triggered by an assassination in Sarajevo. So you’ve got these two anniversaries resonating in that place, and that’s where we’ll be showing it. It’s a very timely commemoration of those events.

Interview with Eleanor Turney originally published on the British Council blog:

British Council Showcase



The Programme

Pinchbeck is such an interesting theatre-maker
The Guardian

The Performance Trailer

The Prologue

It’s a rich display of aesthetics
Exeunt Magazine

Images: Richard Kenworthy (GIFT 2012)

Images: Richard Kenworthy (GIFT 2012)

Subtly performed and cleverly creates theatre in absentia
Total Theatre

Images: Richard Kenworthy (GIFT 2012)

Images: Richard Kenworthy (GIFT 2012)

The Beginning asks us to reassess how we watch a play
The Stage



The Interview

Live blog from Sampled 12

The shows have been continuing, and we’re struggling to keep this live blog updated enough when there is so much going on. I’ve just come out of Michael Pinchbeck’s The Beginning which has left me questioning. Lots of questions, about the relationship between performer / audience, about the work of theatre itself. We’ve just interviewed Michael about his work. His tips for starting out in theatre: “See as much as you can, and talk to artists. When you attend a festival, make sure you talk to people”. Michael started his work in amateur dramatics, and he said that this was a great place to begin to develop his skills as a performer. Our conversation (which was filmed, so expect a clip on YouTube), covered lots of ground to do with being an outsider and how you look at work. As he makes work he remembers all the pieces that have come before it, and all the pieces that he has seen. They all influence his work, the weave, and work their fibres into what he is creating now. The Beginning is the start of a piece (kind of given in the name, but it seems like it needs to be mentioned again), it starts at the beginning of a performance, and looks at the rules and invisible contracts that the performer / audience share. Pinchbeck addresses these invisible contracts and pushes them into the main space. It’s really easy to see this now that I’ve spoken to him about it. In the piece itself, it leaves you questioning, laughing with questions and being bemused with questions. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a good healthy feeling. A feeling that we shouldn’t just sit and be an audience, we can be so much more.

Jake Orr

A Younger Theatre



Beginnings and Endings

I was born on Mill Road in Cambridge at a hospital that no longer exists. I found this out before presenting The End at Anglia Ruskin University recently. We were performing in the Drama Studio off Mill Road and, when I told my parents, they said ‘That’s where you were born’. In The End, I say: ‘I’m standing where I started. You see I’ve been here before’. Usually, wherever we’re performing is somewhere I’ve performed before, so I say: ‘Last year or maybe the year before that’, and name the years I’ve toured there. I’ve never performed at Anglia Ruskin before, so I said: ‘I was born here’ instead.

Recently, we’ve been performing at theatres before they close because of the current climate. We were the final act on the bill at The Greenroom last year and Leeds Met Studio Theatre this year. And as we performed, I could tell the audience were not only watching our show, but all the shows they had ever seen there, all the ideas that were ever born there. I felt both the honour and the responsibility of standing on a theatre’s stage for the last time. I thought about retiring after The End but I couldn’t keep my promise. I didn’t want to stop making work at a time when some people might not have had the choice.

I got into theatre because of amateur dramatics. Amateur comes from the Latin for ‘to love’ and a lot of people meet and fall in love through amateur dramatics. Often when you read the programme, everyone has the same surname. My parents met in 1970 after an amateur production of The Sound of Music. My dad didn’t have a lot of lines but he wore a lot of make up. The male chorus rewrote the songs backstage to sing at a post-show party but, while they were singing, a man collapsed and died. I made a show about it with my parents, The Post Show Party Show, and we went on tour together. At the beginning of each show, we would tell the audience what the venue was in 1970. At The Junction, my Dad said: ‘In 1970, this theatre didn’t exist’.

The theatre where I first performed doesn’t exist. It’s been knocked down. I was in a college production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream there in 1992. I played Mustard Seed. I didn’t have many lines but I wore a lot of make up. Now, 20 years later, I’m revisiting the same play for The Beginning. In the show, I talk about the birth of my children and reflect on what it means to begin a career, a relationship or a life. I’m working with Nicki Hobday and Ollie Smith for the first time, so it’s the beginning of our relationship too. We’ve practised playing the guitar, we’ve learnt how to mix Pastis and we’ve kissed a lot. We’re looking forward to beginning again at Sampled. A festival that definitely exists.