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PULSE FESTIVAL 2016: Work in progress shows promise

Ipswich Pulse Festival has always championed new work, from finished pieces to work in the very earliest stages of development. Glen Pearce reflects on the impact of this unfinished work in the 2016 edition of Pulse.

There’s a fine balancing act when producing new theatre. Audience reaction is, of course, key, but when do you put that work in front of an audience to gauge response? Too early and there’s not enough to share. Too late and you risk producing work in an isolated bubble, risking producing something that doesn’t resonate with your target audience.

While some practitioners are scared of letting audiences into the creative process, feeling that non-theatre-makers may lack the ‘intellectual capacity’ to understand an unfinished work, many have realised that constructive feedback is something that can help, rather than hinder, the development of new work.

Scratch, or work in progress, showings have always been a centrepiece of Ipswich’s Pulse Festival, and whether it be one of the nine shows taking part in the dedicated ‘Scratch day’ in the festival or more established companies such as Eastern Angles and Gecko trialling new work in the main body of the festival, artists are keen to engage their audience in getting feedback.

What is evident, despite the divergent themes and the various stages of development the work has reached, is the sheer variety of work being created. Drama, verbatim theatre, physical theatre, comedy, monologues –no two pieces are alike, but in one of the strongest work in progress lineups the festival has seen in recent years, there’s a real sense that these are pieces with a real future, audiences left more than once craving for more.

Fat Content’s Skin Of The Teeth, Richard Chilver’s Hold and Eastern Angles’ script in hand reading of an excerpt from Tara Lepore’s The Fitting Room all show a return to strong storytelling and a compelling narrative. It’s often something missing in scratch pieces, the excerpt format not lending itself to sweeping dramatic narratives, but all three pieces tantalise with the possibilities that full-length production could afford.

Staging work where there is a local connection also allows creative teams to judge regional reaction. For Murphy &Co’s Carry On Jaywick, the chance to share early work on their verbatim piece on residents of the Essex seaside town is probably the closest they’ve come to a ‘home’ audience so far and it will be interesting to see how the piece develops for HighTide, further up the Suffolk coast later in the year.

For more experienced scratch performance veterans there is often a higher expectation of finished product, and although it’s not planned to be ready until 2017, Gecko’s The Wedding is already shaping up to be an accomplished piece of physical theatre, while Chris Thorpe and Rachel Bagshaw’s The Shape Of The Pain also looks set to be a future must see. Thorpe and Bagshaw’s piece has just been announced as the first of three Testing Ground commissions for Pulse 2017, exploring how accessible theatre can be made for the festival environment.

Performers can find the scratch process intimidating, with performers such as Byron Vincent readily admitting to feeling nervous sharing a work ‘hastily written in the car’ but, as the response to his show Live Before You Die shows, audiences are supportive of risk and understanding that this isn’t the finished polished work but are clamouring for more.

Pulse Festival Director Paul Warrick of China Plate describes scratch days as peeking at an artists sketchbook. With shows such as Live Before You Die, The Wedding and The Shape Of The Pain, we can’t wait to see the finished canvas.

Image:Richard Haughton




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The South East team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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