Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Second homes in magical John Shapcott

It is not only the wealthy who can afford second homes in magical places. I first discovered the Vic as a Keele student in the late 1960s and, apart from a few years working in and around London, it has been my second home ever since. London theatre is world-class but it doesn’t have that unique combination of immediacy, intimacy, community and involvement found at the old Vic Theatre, and that is now also the magical hallmark of the New Vic.

The Ages & Stages project seems a natural progression for the theatre’s outreach into the local community. Who better to tell of its past glories than those of us who have been audience members for, in some cases, over forty years? Invited to share our memories as part of a documentary, we have been meeting and getting to know each other since September 2011. The most daunting but ultimately most rewarding aspect of the workshops have been the improvisation sessions, challenging our ability to express our knowledge spontaneously without resorting to clich├ęd speech or gesture. Not easy. And not made any easier by the presence of a camera filming every moment – the surprise is that a relaxed and informal atmosphere makes possible a level of concentration that overcomes any concerns about appearing foolish and having blunders recorded.

Before Christmas we older, (mature?) theatre fanatics were joined by members of the Youth Theatre. Their arrival brought a new focus to the sessions, together with the promise of future magic. Their enthusiasm and openness was infectious, awakening memories of when I was young and unaware of the impending demands of adulthood. So perhaps it was just as well that some topics were avoided – fear of a painful death, sex, poverty – in our discussions and improvisations. Maybe an ‘Extreme Ages & Stages’ awaits exploration – the Theatre of Cruelty and the Absurd combined. For the moment, however, young and old approached the tasks of improvised performance with intelligence, sensitivity and wit such that we created a Theatre of Pleasure for an all too brief magical time in which Age was Play. 

John Shapcott - Ages and Stages Theatre Company 

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